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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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Illuminating New Kids Board Book – You Are Light by Aaron Becker

YOU ARE LIGHT
by Aaron Becker
(Candlewick Studio; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

You Are Light board book cover art

 

Starred ReviewsKirkus 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.

int art and text from You Are Light by Aaron Becker

YOU ARE LIGHT. Copyright © 2019 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

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 Are Light by Aaron Becker int illus and text

YOU ARE LIGHT. Copyright © 2019 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Aaron Becker is the Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator of the Journey trilogy and of A Stone for Sascha.

 

 

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Kids Book Review – There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH
Written by B. J. Lee
Illustrated by David Opie
(Pelican Publishing; $16.99, Ages 0-5)

 

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth book cover art

 

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.”

 

int illustration from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Interior illustration from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth written by B. J. Lee and illustrated by David Opie, Pelican Publishing ©2019.

 

int art of pelican from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Interior illustration from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth written by B. J. Lee and illustrated by David Opie, Pelican Publishing ©2019.

 

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.

 

int illustration from There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Interior illustration from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth written by B. J. Lee and illustrated by David Opie, Pelican Publishing ©2019.

 

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!

 

interior illustr from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Interior illustration from There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth written by B. J. Lee and illustrated by David Opie, Pelican Publishing ©2019.

 

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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Kids Books – Celebrate With Pippa’s Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
Written by Vivian Kirkfield
Illustrated by Jill Weber
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

book cover illustration by Jill Weber from Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield

 

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).

 

Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield int illustration in kitchen by Jill Weber

Interior spread from Pippa’s Passover Plate written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Jill Weber, Holiday House ©2019.

 

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.

 

Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield with art by Jill Weber Seder Plate art

Interior artwork from Pippa’s Passover Plate written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Jill Weber, Holiday House ©2019.

 

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.

 

 

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100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita & Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

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.

100 Bugs: A Counting Book by Kate Narita cover artIn 100 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. Narita employs bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.

Kaufman’s bright, 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. 

cover art from Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVINIn FLYING 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. Cusolito uses 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 from Wong enrich 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!

        • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Read another recent #Epic18 review by Cathy here.

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.

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It’s Hippos Go Berserk! For World Read Aloud Day 2018

This little hippo was all alone until …

 

Cover image for Hippos Go Berserk!

 

 HOORAY! ON THIS 2018

WORLD READ ALOUD DAY

HERE IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE

READ ALOUD STORIES:

HIPPOS GO BERSERK!

Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton

 

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 Hatin 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!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Witch-Themed Halloween Picture Books Roundup

WITCH-THEMED HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

Goblin Hoodgoblin-hood
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Piper Thibodeau
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 3-5)

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-witchGrimelda: 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-nightHubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night
Written by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

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.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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

 

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dear Dragon by Josh Funk

DEAR DRAGON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

dear-dragon-cover-image

 

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.

 

interior-spread-1-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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.

 

interior-spread-2-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit Josh Funk’s website here.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo’s website here.

 

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Best Children’s Books for Father’s Day Roundup

BEST FATHER’S DAY BOOKS ROUNDUP 2016

 

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 Book CoverHammer 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 BoxBeard_in_a_Box by Bill Cotter Book Cover
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 SchoolDad_School book cover
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_and_Son book coverMonster & 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 & Son using 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 GrandfathersThe_Most_Important_Thing by Avi book cover
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 SearchPapa_Seahorses_Search book cover
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 by Timothy Knapman book coverSuperhero 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 DadGator_Dad by Brian Lies book cover
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.

 

Additional recommended books include:

Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) 
Written by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen
Illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Little Brown BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals

BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN
Written by Mary McKenna Siddals
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Bringing The Outside In cover image

 

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.

 

Interior artwork of children playing outdoors from Bringing The Outside In

Interior spread from Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Random House Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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.

 

Interior image of children playing at beach from Bringing The Outside In

Interior spread from Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Random House Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Show Me Happy by Kathryn Madeline Allen

SHOW ME HAPPY
Written by Kathryn Madeline Allen
Photographs by Eric Futran
(Albert Whitman & Company; $15.99, Ages 3-7)

ShowMeHappycvr

From the team that brought you A Kiss Means I Love You comes their latest, Show Me Happy. This photograph-rich, 24-page picture book with kids populating every page is the perfect introduction for little ones still learning “how to use their words.” Kids are picking up important early concepts and experiencing a range of emotions long before they have the language to express them so, by sharing books like Show Me Happy, we can help youngsters learn to communicate effectively.

Show Me Happy is actually more than just a book depicting emotions. With easy to interpret images that demonstrate actions such as a mom helping her son with measuring while cooking up a tasty treat (show me helping), an older boy handing a ball to a younger girl (show me giving), a little girl cutting the lawn with a toy mower (show me pushing), a boy cupping his mouth and yelling (show me NOISY), it’s a fun read-aloud with some subtle rhyme:

Show me pushing,
show me pulling,
show me sharing when we play.

Show me NOISY,
show me quiet,
show me putting things away.

This cheerful picture book would also be ideal to read with special needs children. Many kids on the Autism Spectrum, for example, may have difficulty identifying how they are feeling or what’s appropriate behavior in a certain situation. Furtran’s warm and inviting photos and Allen’s simple, upbeat text are both appealing and engaging. It sometimes feels as if the kids in the photos are smiling right at me! Books like Show Me Happy that are accessible to everyone, provide photographic examples that children can relate to making this picture book one your kids will certainly enjoy and one you’ll be happy to have on hand.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa by Anna Dewdney

LLAMA LLAMA GRAN AND GRANDPA
Written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, 2 and up)

LlamaGramandGrandpacvr.jpg

The dedication in Anna Dewdney’s latest, Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa, reads “For grandparents everywhere, and the little llamas who love them.” And if you’ve got a little llama fan, this sweet tale of a first overnight away from home, is sure to delight.

Dewdney’s rhyme is impeccable and infectious and the premise relatable, making this new picture book the perfect read-aloud and go-to bedtime story for Grandparent’s Day on September 13th.

Mama Llama brings her son to spend the night with his grandparents.


“Mama’s picture in a frame.
Different. Also just the same.”

intspreadLlama

Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

But, as he settles in, little Llama realizes he’s forgotten to bring along his beloved plushy, Fuzzy Llama!

 

intspreadLlama

Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Rather than dwell on Llama Llama’s disappointment and despair, Dewdney shows young readers all the fun activities he gets up to with Gram and Grandpa. There are some good distractions to be found; A ride on the tractor, pulling up carrots in the garden, woodworking, trying new foods and scanning the night sky, all destined to become cherished memories.

 

IntspreadLlama

Interior artwork from Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney, Viking Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

It’s only when Gram spots tears at tuck in time that

“Llama’s lips begin to quiver.
Llama starts to shake and shiver.
Llama needs his Fuzzy near,
but FUZZY LLAMA ISN’T HERE!”

Grandpa comes to the rescue with a more than suitable substitute, his very own “special toy” from childhood to keep his grandson company. Content, cared for, and comfy, little Llama learns that a grandparent’s love can make any house feel like home. Dewdney’s empowering story and sympathetically illustrated characters combine to make Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa my pick not only to allay the fears of any reluctant overnighter, but ultimately to celebrate the joys of grandparenting.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime by Marcie Wessels

PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME
Written by Marcie Wessels
Illustrated by Tim Bowers
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

PiratesLullabycvr.png

I first heard about Pirate’s Lullaby when Marcie Wessels spoke at a writer’s conference almost a year ago and it’s been worth the wait to get the book knowing all the hard work that went into. So did I enjoy reading Wessels debut picture book, Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime? Arrrgh! Can ye hear me, mateys? It’s a keeper alright. Kids love a good pirate tale and with Wessels’ perfectly metered rhyme and illustrator Tim Bowers’ adorable artwork, they’ll be in for a treat.

The story isn’t complicated, but it’s charming and one that so many parents and children will relate to, which is why the subtitle, Mutiny at Bedtime is so apt. Papa Pirate wants his young son, not-so-sleepy Ned, to get to bed, but alas the little scalawag balks at the suggestion.

PiratesLullaby_INTERIORS-3

Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Bowers portrays Papa Pirate as a kind, smiling man. Wessels gently demonstrates that, despite Ned’s dad being nice, he’s also a limit-setting father, who dearly loves his son and gets a kick out of his stalling antics. Still the laddie must get some shut-eye! Thus the story pits the persistent papa against the procrastinating pirate-in-training in a playful back and forth that never misses a beat.

PiratesLullaby_INTERIORS-7

Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

First Ned has some chores to finish up. Then he can’t locate Captain Teddy, his eye-patched cuddly companion. Could he have fallen overboard?

There’s the requisite request for water followed by a plea for Papa to spin a yarn or two and, last but not least is Ned’s desire for Papa Pirate to sing “a shanty of the oceans vast and deep.” The clever twist at the story’s end will surprise and delight readers young and old.

PiratesLullaby_INTERIORS-9

Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Of course, Wessels has included all the appropriate pirate verbiage kids love such as:

Ned shimmied up the mainmast, grinning ear to ear.
“Walk the plank to catch me,” cried the little mutineer.
“Ho, ho,” laughed Papa Pirate, “I’m afraid ye’ve met yer match!
Gotcha, little rascal. Down ye go into the hatch!”

                         OR

“Ye’ve got yer mate, ye’ve had a drink,
Ye’ll have yer bedtime tale.
Ye must be getting sleepy.
Ain’t the wind out of yer sail?”

And though Talk Like a Pirate Day is soon approaching, why wait until September 19th to practice your Aye, Ayes, your Batten Down the Hatches and your Yo, Ho Hos? Pirate’s Lullaby just begs to be read aloud with the best pirate voice ye can muster!

It’s hard to resist a well-crafted picture book with artwork that’s warm and inviting coupled with rhyme that’s top notch, so what are ye waitin’ fer, mateys? Add this little gem to your own little pirate’s bedtime book treasure chest so yer both can go catch yer forty winks with satisfied grins on yer faces!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert

MUMMY CAT
Written by Marcus Ewert & illustrated by Lisa Brown
(Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Reviewer Cathy Ballou Mealey just can’t keep mummy about this picture book!

MummyCatcvr.jpg

A loyal and loving feline searches for his devoted owner, a young Egyptian queen in Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown’s clever picture book MUMMY CAT. The catch? He’s just woken from a hundred year’s sleep after having been mummified and entombed in a beautifully decorated pyramid.

For young readers, the tale works on the simplest level as the pet seeks to reunite with his owner. The determined, inquisitive cat is appealing and adorable despite his elaborate linen wrappings. The tomb is bright and colorful, filled with interesting artifacts, a swirling moth, and cute little mice. Even a few spiders and cobwebs are so delightfully depicted that timid listeners will have nothing to fear.

As he wanders though the pyramid, the cat gazes fondly at painted murals showing his past life with the queen, Hapshupset. Indeed, the murals tell a more complex story within the story about a jealous, scheming sibling that complicated the young queen’s life. This aspect of the book will hold enormous appeal for older readers. Looking beyond the captivating mural images, we slowly decode the devious actions of Hapshupset’s sister and her evil lion-monkey.

An author’s note explains mummies, cats, queens and hieroglyphics for readers who want to know more, and seventeen hieroglyphs hidden within the illustrations are spelled out in more detail.

Ewert’s rhyming text is short yet descriptive, moving the story forward at a steady pace. Deep within this maze of stone, a creature wakes up, all alone . . .Spanning the full scope of this once-a-century event, Ewert leads us from the sun setting over hot desert sands into the tomb, through the night, and closing as the sun is beginning to rise. The spare but rich narrative leaves plenty of opportunity for Brown’s engaging, creative illustrations to flourish and add poignant, tender touches.

Just as Egyptian priests tucked magical amulets and symbolic treasures into a mummy’s linens, Ewert and Brown have slipped countless sweet delights into the pages of MUMMY CAT. Turn the pages slowly and savor them one by one. I’m certain you will also be en-wrap-tured by its many charms!

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of MUMMY CAT from my library and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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