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Picture Book Review – Ronan the Librarian

RONAN THE LIBRARIAN

Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie

Illustrated by Victoria Maderna

(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Ronan the Librarian cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

 

What do you get when you mix books with a barbarian? You get the delightfully disarming Ronan the Librarian by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with art by Victoria Maderna.

When we first meet Ronan, the barbarian leader, he’s a typical marauder, pillaging with his cohorts and pretty much content. His usual raids involve bringing back jewels and gold, that is until his latest plundering reveals a chest full of books. Not exactly what was in the cards. While at first Ronan considers the haul useless“Kindling? Origami? Toilet paper?”it doesn’t take long for him to get pulled in by a picture and hooked on the book. He reads late into the night, oversleeping in fact. From that moment on, Ronan was a changed marauder.

 

Ronan interior 1
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

Wherever Ronan travels to invade, raid and then trade, his mind is always focused on the current book he was devouring, eager to return home to it at day’s end. As the leader, Ronan shifts the pillaging priority from taking baubles to books and his collection grows and grows. It becomes so huge he needs a library to contain it. Much to Ronan’s disappointment, his partners in pillage show no interest in reading. “Barbarians do not read books.”

Determined to whet their literary appetites, Ronan decides to read a mythical tale aloud to his community. Yet everyone appears to carry on with their work, leaving the barbarian bibliophile convinced his story has not made an impact. However, when he later discovers the library has been invaded, not by pillagers, but by curious villagers, Ronan could not be happier. “It turns out, barbarians do read books.” Ronan lives happily ever after only now he can add librarian to his skill set. With stories filling their minds, everyone’s lives grow richer because we all know what treasures can be found inside the pages of a book.

 

ronan the librarian interior 2
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

I love how Luebbe and Cattie have taken the most unlikely of characters to ever want to read and turned that on its head. Who can’t fall for a big bearded barbarian smitten by the love of reading? Kids will love saying some of the goofy barbarian expressions like “Uff da!” They’ll also find adorable characters (I like Helgi), wonderful rhythm, and repetition that will make this a much requested read. In addition to enjoying every page, kids should make sure to revisit the art. Maderna’s added some fun details in her lively illustrations like a goat eating the paper from the book haul and again in the library munching on a book, a dinosaur skeleton under the floorboards in Ronan’s home, a library sandwich board that reads “Come Read! Free Mead,” and a library bulletin board with some very funny “Rules and Advice” notices. Parents, teachers and librarians will enjoy sharing Ronan the Librarian, a book that subtly and cleverly extols the virtues of reading. This witty picture book begs to be read at library story times and will make even the most reluctant of readers root for Ronan, even if you may think he could use a shave.

Learn more about the authors at www.becktyarabooks.com

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Picture Book Review – Boats Will Float by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

BOATS WILL FLOAT

Written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

Illustrated by Brett Curzon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Boats Will Float cvr

 

After a third and fourth reading of Boats Will Float by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Brett Curzon, I still found myself smiling as if I were reading it for the first time. There is so much to enjoy in this picture book highlighting a bevy of brightly colored boats both big and small.

Rosenbaum’s descriptive rhyme invites reading aloud and the full page spreads beg to be explored in order to find humorous details that Curzon’s included (hint: check out the front of the cruise ship). Readers learn about a variety of vessels that travel on bays, rivers, and oceans as they’re presented at work and play from early morning until night.

 

Boats Will Float int1
Interior illustration from Boats Will Float written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Brett Curzon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

 

The timeless appeal of watercraft for kids cannot be denied and Boats Will Float celebrates that by introducing over a dozen kinds. There are fishing boats, motor boats, tug boats, submarines, freighters, sailboats and canoes. There’s even a welcoming houseboat that bookends the story. First, a child and her dad greet the new day, watching the boat activity from their deck, “Boats are bobbing in the bay/Waiting to be on their way.” Then at the end, the entire family settles down for the night, “Safely moored in dreams all night-/Boats will float … toward morning light.”

I love how there are even nautical flags cleverly incorporated into the book. At story time youngsters can spell out their own name using the alphabet provided. Be on the lookout for a special treat in the mast art of the sailboat spread to point out to curious children. I won’t say anymore than that.

 

Boats Will Float int2
Interior illustration from Boats Will Float written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Brett Curzon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

 

The structure of this picture book, with its vibrant scenes moving to more tranquil ones, makes it ideal for a bedtime read. The art, beautifully complementing the prose, shifts from bolder colors to calmer ones as nighttime approaches. A glossary in the back matter with pictures pulled from the pages that children will recognize provides additional info for your things-that-float fans. What a fun way to have them drift off to sleep!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Picture Book Review – Snowy Farm

SNOWY FARM

Written by Calvin Shaw

Illustrated by Oamul Lu

(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

Snowy Farm cover

 

It may be April, but some parts of the country are blanketed in snow. While those places eagerly await spring’s arrival, we thought we’d share a story about the magic of snow.

 

Bundled-up horses and bundled-up hens living on water more than living on land in Snowy Farm, written by author and songwriter Calvin Shaw with illustrations by Oamul Lu, takes the reader on a family’s lyrical journey one day on their farm.

The story opens with snow-capped mountains and frost covered trees as a lone wind mill sits behind the frosty old house. “There’s a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn.” Lu paints a tall farmer with only eyes and a mustache shown on his face as he’s bundled from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet in warm clothing. Standing beside him is his sweet faced horse with red ear muffs and a scarf protecting him from the harsh winter. And his friend the hen has matching red ear muffs!

 

 

snowy farm int
Interior spread from Snowy Farm written by Calvin Shaw and illustrated by Oamul Lu, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

 

Turning the page, we are introduced to two children with smiles on their faces. “They’re living on ice with no grass at hand. They’re living on water more than living on land.” Shaw introduces us to life on an icy farm. The children help their father pick the apples, but they also take time to make snow angels with the chickens and goats. Lu outlines angels underneath the boy, chicken and goat and the cold doesn’t seem to bother any of them.

The traditional roles are kept as mom is cooking while “outside of her window, her kids work the field. The chickens are fed and the apples are peeled.” When dinner is ready the family runs inside and Lu paints warm colors of  a family gathering together on a cold winter night. This is a sweet story of a close knit family that work and spend time together talking about their day by the fire. When the day comes to an end “with the starlight appearing, they’re warm and at ease, while falling asleep to a cold winter breeze.” The page turns to dark and the stars are seen in the night. We know the family is peaceful and happy on the farm.

In the Author’s Note, Shaw explains how Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. He tells the reader about the peak summer months and gives a lesson on how daylight lasts for twenty-four hours. This is a great family bedtime story that teaches kids who live in a snowy part of the world, and teaches those who have never experienced snow. Shaw himself has never traveled to Antarctica, but is able to give the reader great insight and, as he says, until we visit, this book can be our imagined journey there together. I imagined that journey, too, and maybe one day I’ll visit Antarctica, but until then I have Snowy Farm to read and re-read.

• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here to read a review of another snow-themed picture book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World Read Aloud Day 2020 – No More Naps!

NO MORE NAPS!:
A Story for When You’re Wide-Awake
and Definitely NOT Tired
Written by Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Leo Espinosa
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

No More Naps book cover

 

 

If you’re looking for a fun story to read aloud with your child on World Read Aloud Day or any other day, look no further than No More Naps! The picture book debut by NYT’s bestselling author, Chris Grabenstein, with art by award-winning illustrator Leo Espinosa, will bring out the actor in you and lots of laughs from your child.

It’s time for Annalise Devin McFleece to nap, only she doesn’t want to. Sound familiar? How many of you reading this went to any length to get your little one down? Did you desperately drive around the neighborhood, stroll for what felt like a 5k, or read countless stories in a monotone voice until it was you who fell asleep and not your child? Well, Annalise is the type of youngster to prompt such actions. But when her dad takes her to the park in her stroller, everyone they meet including dog walkers, kids playing ball, construction workers and street musicians, suddenly feel the urge to nap. And Annalise?

No!
That’s right.
She was the only one in the whole wide
sleepy world who would not fall asleep.

When Annalise finally feels ready to nap, it seems all the naps have been taken … except those belonging to a kind and generous gray cat. This spare and much needed nap comes just in the nick of time because Annalise’s dad appears to be sleepwalking at this point.

 

int spread by Leo Espinosa from No More Naps!
Interior spread from No More Naps! written by Chris Grabenstein and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, Random House Books for Young Readers ©2020.

 

This whimsical 40-page picture book offers a unique twist on a story time tale that is certain to delight little ones. The humor in the retro-looking illustrations adds to the pleasure of this recommended read aloud. While I cannot promise sleep for anyone besides Annalise, I can guarantee smiles!

Find out more about World Read Aloud Day here.

Read a review of another Chris Grabenstein book here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Book Reviews – Christmas Board Books Roundup 2019

CHRISTMAS BOARD BOOKS

– A Roundup –

 

Merry Christmas Transparent Clip Art

 

 

christmas puppy book coverCHRISTMAS PUPPY:
A Wag My Tail Book
By Salina Yoon
(Little Simon; $7.99, All Ages)

The 12-page, pull-the-tab board book, Christmas Puppy, begs to be read and enjoyed by parents and youngsters alike. Who can resist a furry tail that either parents or children can pull each time there’s a puppy pal sound effect?

Puppy knows there’s a gift waiting for him under the tree, but which one will it be? Each time he thinks he’s found it, that particular present is actually intended for either Mouse, Hamster or Cat. Readers can imitate the accompanying animal squeaks, chirps and meows while pulling the wagging tail tab to their hearts’ content. Yoon’s sweet story with its four adorable animals concludes with Puppy finding and unwrapping his special gift. Have fun with Puppy and friends and enjoy a wag-ful Christmas.

grandmas christmas wish coverGRANDMA’S CHRISTMAS WISH
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $8.99, Ages 0-4)

Now available in board book, Grandma’s Christmas Wish celebrates the unique bond between a grandmother bunny and her grandbunny. It’s a gentle reminder that multi-generational relationships mean so much and can bring such joy.

I love how this grandma bunny expresses herself so beautifully in her rhyming couplets. As the pair frolic in the burrow and the snow covered woods, Grandma shares her wishes which are so much more than material ones. Instead they’re about spending time together and her feeling of unconditional love for her grandbunny. “But, you with your grin and all of your charms, you’re my best present, just wrapped in my arms.” Be prepared to smile with every lovely page turn in this heartwarming story just perfect for any little one’s first Christmas.

christmas is awesome coverCHRISTMAS IS AWESOME!
A Hello!Lucky Book

Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

The merry, colorful illustrations and simple rhyming text of Christmas is Awesome! convey exactly what children think of when describing Christmas. “… Twinkling Lights, Silent Nights, Busy Elves, Jingle Bells!” Joy jumps off every page of this charming new board book from the sisters who founded Hello!Lucky, “the award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio committed to using creativity to spread joy, fun, and kindness.” They succeed.

In addition to the festive feel of this 24-page board book, there are many laughs in store. Inside readers will find humorous spreads—I’m partial to the “Ugly Sweaters” one—that are study-worthy to see what surprises have been included. For example, a lump of coal gets up to all sorts of antics and experiences all sorts of emotions in every spread. I discovered new things with every read and children will enjoy doing the same. Kids will love the variety of animals featured throughout the book such as an elephant, a mole, a penguin, a cat, a squirrel, a dog, a mouse and lots more. Easy to memorize, this terrific read-aloud is recommended for little ones who like the fun and funny side of Christmas.

santas cookie is missing cvrSANTA’S COOKIE IS MISSING!
Written by Chris Ayala-Kronos
Illustrated by Anne Passchier
(HMH Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Die-cut board books are always popular with toddlers and Santa’s Cookie is Missing! is no exception. I like the premise of this story; after a family’s Christmas Even dinner has ended, the narrator (a young girl) notices that the cookie usually saved for Santa has disappeared. The child sets off to solve the mystery first at home, then outdoors, and then inside again.

Every new die-cut reveals something related to the narrator’s search in a circle shape that will hopefully lead to the missing snack. Whether it’s a plate, a Christmas tree ornament, a snowball, the hollow of an old oak tree or even a mug of hot cocoa, there are lots of places to look and several possible suspects. Make note of the cat and dog in the artwork and see if your kids can anticipate who might be the culprit. I’ll admit I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I was too busy checking out all the pretty die-cuts. The tree-ornament and the present with their respective sparkly and shiny designs were my faves. What will be your youngsters’ faves? Don’t miss picking up a copy of this book to gift or to enjoy at home.

The little winter book of gnomes cvrTHE LITTLE WINTER BOOK OF GNOMES
By Kirsten Sevig
(The Countryman Press; $12.95; All Ages)

This compact book (not really a board book, but the same size) makes a wonderful gift to bring to family and friends for the holiday season. It’s packed with playful gnomes in watercolor illustrations coupled with proverbs inspired by author illustrator Sevig’s Norwegian family and her childhood. Though raised in America, Sevig explains that she and her sister were brought up “in the only Norwegian speaking household on the block.” Clearly her fond memories have influenced the warm upbeat tone of this collection.

Early on, Sevig points out how the meaning of the word gnome actually has a double meaning that’s depicted in every illustration. Not only is a gnome a small woodland creature, it’s also a “wise, pithy saying” and The Little Winter Book of Gnomes is filled with them. I knew the majority of the sayings, but the way they’re lovingly paired with assorted gnomes is the true pleasure that’s to be taken away from any reading. Read just several at a time or sit back, have a cup of warm tea and delight in all 128 cheerful pages. Some noteworthy gnomes include “A tree with strong roots laughs at the storm,” “A warm drink is a hug in a mug,” and “Don’t waste time looking back. You aren’t going that way.” Marzipan and Rice Cream with Berry Sauce are just a few of the recipes that are also included, making this book a go-to read when the weather turns cold and party plans get underway.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Have you read IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS by Ann Whitford Paul?
Illustrated by David Walker, Paul’s book is now out in board book format.
Read my review of the picture book from last year here.

Looking for more Christmas book reviews? Click here.

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Kids Book Reviews – Five Holiday Picture Books 2019

 

WINTER HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOKS 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

happy holidays clip art

 

vegetables in holiday underwear coverVEGETABLES IN HOLIDAY UNDERWEAR
Written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, ages 3-7)

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.

 

one wild christmas book coverONE WILD CHRISTMAS (Life in the Wild series)
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.

 

peanut butter and santa claus coverPEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS:
A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE

Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, ages 3-7)

What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!

snow globe wishes book coverSNOW GLOBE WISHES
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Claire Shorrock
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this yearwith or without a power outage.

the teddy bears christmas surprise cvrTHE TEDDY BEARS’ CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Written by Bruno Hächler
Illustrated by Anastasia Arkhipova
(Mineedition; $17.99, ages 5-6)

I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?

Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

Read about last year’s picks here.

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Kids Board Book Review – Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah

BARNYARD BUBBE’S HANUKKAH

Written by Joni Klein-Higger + Barbara Sharf

Illustrated by Monica Gutierrez

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Little ones will love the mystery, rhyme and repetition in Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah, an entertaining read-aloud board book written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf with colorful and sweet illustrations by Monica Gutierrez.

In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.

 

Barnyard Bubbes Hanukkah intart
Interior artwork from Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf and illustrated by Monica Gutierrez, Kar-Ben ©2019.

 

Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!

MEET THE AUTHORS

Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum.
This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Go, Girls, Go!

GO, GIRLS, GO!
Written by Frances Gilbert
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

go girls go book cover

 

Who said transportation stories are just for boys? Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief Frances Gilbert never did, and her new picture book, Go, Girls, Go! proves it. This energetic rhyming story with its bold and bright artwork puts girls behind a wealth of wheels to inspire future Danica Patricks, Sally Rides and Molly Williamses.

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg3
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

A dozen diverse and spirited drivers, pilots, motorcyclists and more demonstrate that girls get a kick out of things that go Wooo!, Whirr! and Toot! just the same as boys do. And who knows what future vehicles might strike their fancy when they see themselves positively depicted on the pages of this picture book? Gilbert’s written about girls conducting trains, operating giant cranes and flying planes because anything and everything is possible, especially when powered by girls.

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg4
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

What I especially enjoyed about Go, Girls, Go! was the anticipatory page turns that had me wondering what would come next in terms of rhyme, sound effectsVroom! Hoot! Clank!types of transportation and of course, the illustrations. I immediately found myself repeating “Go, Girls, Go!” with as much enthusiasm as a preschooler. In other words, be prepared for multiple, lively read-alouds because this is not a quiet book. It’s also a celebration of girls moving over from the more passive passenger seat and taking control, and that’s something to shout about.

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg5
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

Allison Black’s cheerful, graphic-style illustrations complement Gilbert’s entertaining and fast-paced rhyming prose. Youngsters will happily follow the visuals while learning the words because the modes of transportation are easily identifiable and the rhythmic language is easy to memorize. What a fun way to get excited about things that go Roar! Honk! and Crunch! So make tracks to your local bookseller and get a copy to help your child’s imagination soar.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Follow Frances Gilbert on Twitter @gogirlsgobooks

Follow Allison Black on Twitter @allisonblackart

Click here to read a guest post by Frances Gilbert about using rhyme in Go, Girls, Go!

 

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Editor and Author Frances Gilbert on Rhyming Picture Books

 

A GUEST POST

ON THE CRAFT OF RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS

BY EDITOR

&

GO, GIRLS, GO! AUTHOR

FRANCES GILBERT

 

 

Today I’m happy to share an enlightening post on craft by Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief, and Go, Girls, Go! author, Frances Gilbert. Many picture book authors face a challenge when writing in rhyme. Does the meter work? Does the rhyme feel forced? Is the story best told in rhyme? Frances offers helpful insights into her approach from both sides of the editor’s desk so please read on.

 

ON RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS BY FRANCES GILBERT

I’ve been a children’s book editor for over 25 years and one of the most common reasons I reject picture book manuscripts is that they rhyme badly. So why, for my first foray into writing a picture book myself, would I choose to write Go, Girls, Go! in rhyme??! Rhyming, we’re so often told – by editors, by agents, by fellow writers – is not encouraged. Bound to fail, hard to translate. But I love rhyming books. I love reading them, and I love publishing them. Turns out, I love writing them too.

The number one mistake in rhyming texts is when the rhyme overwhelms the story rather than serving the story. The monotony of a 32-page story all told in the same rhythm can wear a reader down after a few pages. As an editor, I often start these submissions thinking, “Okay, let’s see if this can be sustained . . .” and after a few stanzas say, “Oh please stop. I can’t do this anymore.” The sing-song-y-ness of “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah” in line after line pummels a reader with sameness. It also encourages authors to make terrible word choices: odd or forced descriptions or line endings because that last word HAS. TO. RHYME. My test: Extract a line out of your rhyming text and ask yourself if you’d write it the same way if it DIDN’T have to rhyme. If the answer is no, it’s a bad line. The rhyming has to feel effortless.

Effortless AND creative. Listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. I know it’s a high bar, but learn from how Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an entire musical in tight, creative rhyme full of variety and rhythm changes and surprises and cleverness and word-play delights. Internal rhymes, humorous rhymes, break-outs into a different rhythm altogether. A surprise around every corner. Now imagine if all two hours and forty-five minutes of “Hamilton” had been “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah.” That’s not a ticket you’d have paid $300 for.

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg3
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

I broke “Go, Girls, Go!” into four primary sections, each one showcasing three girls, their vehicles, and the sound of their vehicles. It starts: “Emma drives a fire engine, / Meg conducts a train, / Jayla steers a big red tractor hauling loads of grain.” Those lines alone are not breaking any creativing writing boundaries. It’s a pretty standard A-B-B rhyme scheme. Had the rest of my text been in the same rhythm and rhyme scheme, it could have gotten old quickly. But my next two scenes actually don’t rhyme at all; they introduce the sound words and, after another page turn, end in a rallying cheer: “Vroom! goes Emma. / Hoot! goes Meg. / Clank! goes Jayla! / Go, girls, go!” The break from rhyming in these scenes, while still maintaining a bouncy rhythm, gives the reader a different reading experience for a few pages before launching into the next set of girls.

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg4
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

This is the pattern for four sets of girls, and then for the finale we break into a different rhythm and rhyme scheme, A-A-A-B this time: “Girls can race and girls can fly. / Girls can rocket way up high. / What about you? Give it try! / Go, girl, go!” It gives the reader an indication that the book is approaching a crescendo, and then it lands on one final cheer on the last page (which doesn’t rhyme with anything).

 

GoGirlsGoIntArtPg5
Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

Frances Gilbert photo courtesy of Lance Ehlers
Photo of Frances Gilbert by ©Lance Ehlers

Did I plan this structure deliberately ahead of time? No, I just wrote it. But I followed this mantra the entire time: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”

I was grateful that reviewers picked up on this: Booklist called the rhyming “propulsive”, which is the best descriptor I could have hoped for, with the style of the rhyme matching the forward-moving vehicles in the book. And Kirkus said, “With repeated readings, pre-readers will be reciting the words on their own,” which thrilled me, because rhyming can help kids quickly get the hang of reading along if the rhythm grabs them. And that leads to repeated readings, which is the test of any good picture book.

So don’t be afraid of writing in rhyme, but please remember: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”

 

Follow Frances Gilbert on Twitter: @GoGirlsGoBooks 

Click here to read more about Frances in an SCBWI Kite Tales interview by Christine Van Zandt.

Come back tomorrow (Wednesday) for my review of Go, Girls, Go!

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Kids Picture Book Review – Mr. Scruff

MR. SCRUFF

Written and illustrated

by Simon James

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

MrScruff book cover

 

Junior Library Guild Selection

In this heartwarming story about companionship, award-winning author and illustrator Simon James shows readers that you don’t have to be perfect to find your perfect fit. Mr. Scruff tells the story of a large, scruffy dog who had no one until he finds his certain someone, even if it’s someone that may not have been initially considered the perfect match.

 

MrScruff int.1
MR. SCRUFF. Copyright © 2019 by Simon James. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The  story opens in a park setting of fall colored leaves and happy people walking their children and pets. Running ahead on the grassy pathway is a little dog named Polly, with her curly hair and red ribbon on top of her head. We turn the page and see a woman walking Polly in a stroller, who also has curly hair and a red ribbon on top of her head. “She belongs to Molly.” Simon’s illustrations clearly show that these two are visually quite the match.

They say dogs start looking like their owners and that is definitely the case with the dogs we meet. (My own dog Bailey had red hair matching my husband’s!) Eric, hairless, with his nose pointed in the air, is on a leash crossing the street with a hairless man. “He belongs to Derek.”

“But who’s this? It’s Mr. Scruff …” We find the unkempt bottom heavy beige dog with a long face sitting alone inside a cage surrounded by a dog bed, a bowl and a toy ball. The next room shows the vet with a small boy and his small dog.

 

MrScruff int 2
MR. SCRUFF. Copyright © 2019 by Simon James. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Page after page of adorable artwork in ink and watercolor with a warm Quentin Blake quality introduces readers to various dogs whose names and features resemble their beloved owners. “But things are looking rough for poor old Mr. Scruff. Wait a minute! Who’s this?”

The seemingly sad story of Mr. Scruff takes a positive turn when an unsuspecting new character is introduced. He is small, not big; black not beige; young not old and his name does not rhyme with Mr. Scruff. But “They seem to like each other.” The boy, Jim, and his parents know Mr. Scruff “needs a place to call his very own and that is what matters.”

This poignant story of companionship is a super fun read with its uplifting rhymes. The drawings and story left me with a smile on my face, demonstrating that we can always find friends that are both similar and not so similar. Teachers and parents alike can share the message that we are surrounded by a whole world of people who may look different than us, but who still may be our most perfect companions. Jim gave Mr. Scruff a chance and together they became an absolutely perfect fit! And what happens to the little dog named Tim and scruffy, old Mr. Gruff? Shhh! You have to read the book to find out …

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read a review of another picture book about friendship here.

 

 

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Halloween Picture Books 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

A ROUNDUP

PART 3

free clip art pumpkin

 

 

Skulls book coverSKULLS!
Written by Blair Thornburgh
Illustrated by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Halloween or any day for that matter, Skulls! will entertain young readers with its eye-opening facts and fun watercolor illustrations featuring oblong faces and childlike representation.

Blair Thornburgh’s hit the nail on the head with this unique picture book that introduces kids to an important part of the human body via an adorable young narrator. Made up of twenty-two different smaller bones, the skull accounts for “about 10 percent of our body weight” but we often don’t think about it. When we do, as Thornburgh points out so perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing, kind of gross and thoroughly entertaining.

We tend to take for granted how a skull is “like a car seat for your brain,” keeping it safe and in place. It’s also actually full of holes otherwise it would be so much heavier. “But most important of all: skulls are not trying to be scary.” Once kids learn about all the cool skull-related things shared in Skulls!, they’ll probably want to share them with you, especially the jaw and mouth ones. And when they do, they’ll probably ask for a grilled cheese sandwich which means they’ve learned something. After they’ve eaten they’ll probably thank you for helping their “skull grow hard and strong.” In turn, you can use your mandible bone and connecting muscles to smile.

Happy Halloween Pirates book coverHAPPY HALLOWEEN, PIRATES!
Written by W. Harry Kirn
Illustrated by Inna Chernyak
(Clever Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3 and up)

Happy Halloween, Pirates! is a large-sized, kid-friendly, 18-page lift-the-flap board book that’s a rollicking, rhyming read aloud for Halloween. Toddlers will love hearing the story then peeking under the flaps to see what treasures the illustrator has buried beneath.

Shiver me timbers! A pirate crew receives an invitation via crow to a Halloween party. The action starts immediately as they and assorted pirate ship creatures (a cat, some mice) plan their costumes.

Next the pirates go ashore to have some fun with friends galore. They find the haunted party house and join in the festivities. Whoa! The kids who invited their sea-faring pirate pals surprise them by dressing up as pirates themselves on board a mini pirate ship! Between the flowing rhyme, the interactivity of the flaps and the vibrant artwork, children will stay entertained this Halloween as they play with and say Happy Halloween, Pirates! And who doesn’t enjoy a pirate party?

Ghastly Ghosts Book CoverGHASTLY GHOSTS
Written by Teresa Bateman
Illustrated by Ken Lamug
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

My level of manageable frightening can be found in Ghastly Ghosts. This pleasing and well paced rhyming picture book starts off by setting a Halloweenish mood, but the main character, Old Dave, refuses to be scared by the moaning noises emanating from coal shed. The rhyme works wonderfully in moving the story forward with a subtle upbeat vibe so as not to make little ones’ (or my) hair stand on end. The art style is appealing with a lovely palette that also keeps the fright level slight.

Old Dave wishes for some company as it gets lonely up in the middle of nowhere which is exactly where he lives. But alas, no one goes out on a night so dark and freezing, and if they do it’s not to the place where a ghostly choir can be heard loudly saying, “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” Oh how I admire Old Dave’s guts. Rather than cower at the scary sounds, our hero faces off with the spirits who he reckons might also enjoy the warmth of his cottage once he replenishes his coal supply. Still more of the “Ghastly ghosts …” chorus erupts, but they’re interrupted by brave Old Dave. “I know. I do. I’d like to bet you’re cold ghosts too.” Together with the ghosts, Old Dave’s coal pail gets filled and everyone is welcome in his now warm and cozy place. “In fact, they’re quite good company. His friendless nights are history.”

clever little witch book coverCLEVER LITTLE WITCH
Written by Muon Thi Van
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

Clever Little Witch is more of a sibling tale than a Halloween one, but since witches abound during this season, it still feels appropriate to share. Plus Thi Van has written a story that will definitely resonate with older kids who’d like nothing more to get rid of their younger siblings.

In this charming picture book narrated by Little Linh, we learn instantly from her that she’s “the cleverest little witch on Mãi Mãi Island” if she does say so herself! She tells us what she needs which are a broomstick, a book of spells and a rare and magical pet. What she doesn’t need is an annoying baby brother who does things like ride her broom without asking, chew pages from her spell book or use her magical mouse “as a flashlight.” Yup, the little guy’s gotta go!

Baby Phu is offered around by his older sister, but no one on the island has any desire to take her little bro off her hands. Nope, not the troll, not the forest fairy queen and not the Orphanage for Lost and Magical Creatures. Youngsters will get a huge kick out of these scenes when the reasons why Baby Phu is rejected are explained. The troll, for instance, got hiccups from the last baby brother he ate.

When Little Linh turns to her magical book of spells she sees that “Baby Phu had eaten half the spell.” Clever as she was, she could certainly figure out what the rest was and transform her brother into a goldfish. When the spells go awry and she creates first a frog, then a seal and finally a dragon that steals her wand, things are not looking good. The story’s heroine chases the dragon on her broom. But when the dragon’s tail accidentally knocks down the broom and Little Linh begins falling, guess who comes to her rescue before she crashes to the ground? YESthe dragon, much to her surprise! Does the dragon stay a dragon or does he turn back into Baby Phu who becomes more appreciated? Ahh, you’ll have to visit Mãi Mãi Island to see for yourself! Hyewon Yum’s illustrations of acrylic gouache and color pencil are full of energy. The variety of colors she uses exudes a warm and happy feeling with every page turn. What a sweet, humorous and imaginative sibling story to share with kids!

Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster cvrGINNY GOBLIN CANNOT HAVE A MONSTER FOR A PET
Written by David Goodner
Illustrated by Louis Thomas
(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Ginny is a force of nature and, though perhaps not the best role model for children, will definitely make them laugh and maybe even answer back to the narrator speaking right to them, and that’s just what an ideal read aloud like Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet should do.

As I read this picture book, the follow-up to Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, I thought about a little girl some 22 years ago. No matter what her parents told her, she’d do the opposite. I always worried about her, but she’s actually doing great now that she got all those wild escapades out of her system … and a horse as a pet.

What’s so fabulous about this story is that Ginny’s crazy antics ultimately get her just what she wanted in the first place which is a goat, a non-monsterish pet unlike all the unbelievable others she goes in search of page after riotous page to drive her point home. Whether it’s on a beach where the narrator hopes “she’ll find a tropical fish, or a cute little hermit crab,” Ginny always has something else in mind and goes for it. In one case that means going into the deep, dark sea in a submarine seeking a kraken. We’re reminded that krakens “are unfathomable monsters, and Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet.” I can just hear the kids at story time repeating that phrase and loving it.

So what do you suppose happens next? You guessed it, as will young readers. Down she goes into a cave in search of a dragon. That sized pet won’t fit in a house will it? So of course Ginny’s taken to a forest where birds who make great pets live. Ha! Instead Ginny catches a basilik, but a magical pet isn’t the answer either. If you think she’s done thinking about getting a monster for a pet because she’s distracted by a visit to a space museum, think again. Ginny commandeers a rocket to outer space where an acid-spitting alien is on her agenda but not the narrator’s.

Goodner skillfully brings the readers and Ginny back to Earth where the idea of a pet like a goat is suddenly looking a lot better than it originally did! Paired with Thomas’s whimsical gouache and pen-and-ink artwork, Goodner’s prose take youngsters on an amusing and mischievous  journey that will delight them and anyone lucky enough to read the story to them.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read another Halloween Books Roundup here.

 

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Boo! New Halloween Books for Kids 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS

∼ A Roundup ∼

Part 1

 

Free Halloween clip art Pumpkin

 

 

Halloween Kitty Book CoverHALLOWEEN KITTY (A Wag My Tail Book)
Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 3 and up)

Award-winning creator Salina Yoon captures your little one’s attention with this adorable children’s board book, Halloween Kitty (A Wag My Tail Book). The orange and white tabby has a sturdy orange felt tail that little hands can easily move by pulling a tab or touching the tail itself. The cute kitty wants to find a friend but the animals she encounters are all too busy. Luckily, her persistence pays off. This 12-page book is suitable for preschoolers on up. Even adults will feel drawn to zen-like pleasure of wagging the tail. Makes a great party gift!

 

Give Me Back My Bones coverGIVE ME BACK MY BONES!
Written by Kim Norman
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Give Me Back My Bones! reminds me of a modern version of the “Dem Bones” song—you know, “the toe bone’s connected to the heel bone.” However, Kim Norman’s picture book changes the story from a spiritual to a fun romp at the ocean bottom where a stormy night has scattered a skeleton’s bones. Her smart rhyme summons the reader to “Help me find my head bone, / my pillowed-on-the-bed bone, / the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone— / I’m scouting for my skull.”

Kids will unwittingly learn a bone’s name and function as they seek the bones—some are being absconded by various creatures. The lively beat of the lines is fun to read aloud as the skeleton is pieced back together until, once again, ready to set sail.

Bob Kolar’s art expands the playfulness of the book; bones seem to glow against a muted backdrop of ocean water. Sea critters lend a friendly fin, tail, or tentacle. I like how the skeleton, true to pirate fashion, has a peg leg in place of one of its tibia bones.

Don’t forget to peek under the jacket for a full-length “bone-rattling” poster. This extra detail elevates the book from a great read to one you’ll want to buy.

 

Bunnicula 40th Anniversary Edition coverBUNNICULA: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Written by Deborah Howe and James Howe

Illustrated by Alan Daniel
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $10.99, Ages 8-12)

As much as I love Halloween, the classic story of Bunnicula had somehow eluded me. But, a pet rabbit who may be a vampire sounded irresistible and I was not disappointed. The book pulls you right in from the Editor’s Note (explaining how the manuscript was delivered to her door by a “sad-eyed, droopy-eared dog”) to first-person narration by Harold, the Monroe’s family dog. We soon discover that the problem is a new edition to the family: a black and white bunny found in the movie theater showing a Dracula movie.

Harold already shares the household with Chester the cat. Adding another animal takes some adjusting but weird things start happening to vegetables. For example, a tomato turns white and seemingly has teeth marks! As Harold and Chester try to solve this mystery, we discover the true charm of this book is crafty elusion. Is Bunnicula a vampire rabbit? What do you think?

This 40th anniversary pocket-sized edition has a plush red velvet cover and an Introduction by James Howe about the story’s origins and various renditions over the past four decades. Throughout, Alan Daniels’s art enlivens the story with humor and detail. At the end, best-selling authors Max Brallier, Holly Black, and Dav Pilkey share their personal experiences about this book. Bunnicula has six popular sequels and a spin-off series Tales from the House of Bunnicula and Bunnicula and Friends.

Click here for a link to last year’s Halloween Books Roundup.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas

PIRANHAS DON’T EAT BANANAS
Written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey
(Scholastic Press; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas cover

 

Channel your inner Australian and read Aaron Blabey’s silly picture book Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas with an accent so the words “piranhas” and “bananas” rhyme. It’s worth the effort for the laughs you’ll receive from your child. You see, Brian the friendly looking piranha has a taste for bananas, much to the chagrin of his carnivorous buddies. Actually, Brian’s appetite encompasses quite a variety of fruits and vegetables. When he gleefully asks, “Well, I bet you’d like some juicy plums?” The others set him right: “That’s it Brian! We eat bums!” (Americans, we’re talking about butts here.) Kids will howl over this line and the accompanying illustration.

 

piranhas int3 from Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas
Interior spread from Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey, Scholastic Press ©2019.

 

 

The art throughout is humorously exaggerated and expressive with the abundance of white skillfully allowing the fish to be the focus. Happy-go-lucky Brian’s just not dissuaded from wanting to share his vegetarian tendencies, while the other piranhas make it toothily clear that they’re meat eaters.

 

piranhas int illustration8
Interior spread from Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey, Scholastic Press ©2019.

 

Details make this book stand out in my mind. The front and end papers’ factual information about piranhas and bananas come with a twist. For example, the list of what piranhas eat includes “old ladies who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” and “little children who’ve actually been pretty good”—unless they get lucky and run into Brian instead.

Aaron Blabey is the award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of the Pig and Pug picture-book series, and The Bad Guys middle-grade series (movie adaptation in development with Dream Works Animation).

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Three – A Roundup

 

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART THREE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! coverTHE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion Books for Children; $16.99, Ages 4-7) 

When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.

Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”

Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!

pigeonpresents.com

 

Take Your Pet to School Day coverTAKE YOUR PET TO SCHOOL DAY
Written by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

“Enough!” says Mr. Paul. “It’s clear —

these animals should not be here.

Now, why would someone change this rule?

Pets do NOT belong in school!”

If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.

Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.

 

I'm Trying to Love Math coverI’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH
Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”

What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers⁠—and a whole page of pi⁠—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.

•Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part One

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART ONE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.

 

flight school book cvrFLIGHT SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.

There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.

Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.

Bunny's Book Club Goes to School coverBUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL
Written by Annie Silvestro
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.

Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.

Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.

With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.

Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.

If I Built a School coverIF I BUILT A SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.

Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.

This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”

I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!

See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.

 

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