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Kids Picture Book Review – Too Many Bubbles

 

TOO MANY BUBBLES: A STORY ABOUT MINDFULNESS

By Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma

Illustrated by Mags DeRoma

(Sourcebook Kids; $12.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

Too Many Bubbles cover art with mouse

 

 

When Izzy the mouse’s brain fills up with more and more bubbles of unwanted thoughts he escapes to a special spot to quiet his mind in Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma’s interactive picture book Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness, the first in the Books of Great Character series, with illustrations by Mags DeRoma.

My focus was omnipresent when I began writing this review, and even though I have taught mindfulness, reading this book was a reminder of the importance of deep breathing to escape the crazy bubbles in my own mind. DeRoma’s soft blue illustrations of Izzy riding his two-wheeler in his blue striped shirt and red helmet with “only one little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there.” We all know those days, but Izzy’s thought bubbles just wouldn’t go away.

 

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Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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DeRoma illustrates two bubbles with squiggly lines above Izzy’s head. The reader doesn’t know what is bothering Izzy, but whatever it is his thoughts just won’t go away. That night Izzy is wide-awake when he should be sleeping, while his stuffed red mouse is fast asleep. Of course, the mouse sleeps with a toy mouse. And the next day Izzy is trying so hard to go through his day as he climbs the slide at the park while more bubbles appear. “At first, it was simply peculiar. But when another popped up, and another, and another, they started to really get in the way of things.” It’s easy to feel the sadness in Izzy’s blue face.

Trying to enjoy a spaghetti dinner is not easy when Izzy’s mind is crowded with more bubbles. It was inevitable that “Izzy was pushed clean off the page.” Red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange bubbles cover the center spread with no Izzy in sight. When the reader turns the page, a red-faced Izzy fills the two-page spread and instead of giving up Izzy knows “something had to be done.”

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Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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We all have that special spot we like to escape to when challenges set in. Mine is sitting in my yard listening to the birds and squirrels run by. Izzy’s spot is the beach. As Izzy digs his little mouse toes in the sand, “there was a little more space for all the bubbles.” Watching a little white bear blow his bubbles towards the sea, our protagonist looks up and “Izzy took a deep breath in. Izzy let the deep breath out.”

The interactive book concludes when the reader is asked to assist Izzy by gently blowing on the bubbles. This is a fabulous way to teach mindfulness breathing to children. Izzy’s big deep breath makes everything a little bit brighter as the bubbles float away into the sky.

A LITTLE MORE MINDFUL is included in the back matter exploring ways kids can let go of thoughts taking over their day. “What is mindfulness? It is being aware in the present moment,” DeRoma and Peck explain. The mindfulness exercises are great tools for teachers to assist their students, or parents to share with their kids when a day is not going the way it should. And the adult reader can utilize these tools as well. Peck and DeRoma are founders of the boutique kids brand, Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play—and they’re also sisters-in-law.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Kids Picture Book – Bella’s Recipe for Success

 

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Bella's Recipe for Success cover

 

 

It only takes a quick glance at the title to know that we’re in for a treat! In Bella’s Recipe for Success, the debut picture book by Ana Siqueira, we can assume that Bella, the Latina main character, will be engaging in disastrous recipes, resulting in a delicious and successful outcome.

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Interior art from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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The story begins with Bella and her Abuela in the kitchen. As her siblings brag about piano playing and cartwheeling, Bella wonders about herself. She attempts to discover her own talents but loses hope and resigns herself to not being good at anything. Taking comfort with her Abuela, she asks to make polvorones con dulce de leche. To Bella’s surprise, her brother and sister make mistakes too. So she persists. Sometimes the dough is hard as a rock. Other times it crumbles apart. But Bella keeps trying. She beats, blends, stirs, and bakes her way to success! In the end, she realizes that she is good at more than baking polvorones!

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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Ana Siqueira does a great job writing language that reads quickly and light in the spirit of cheering Bella up. She creates delightful similes comparing her somersaults to jirafas rolling downhill and dulce de leche to cocodrilo skin. Spanish words are easily understood through context and round out the setting in the Latinx, intergenerational home. Playful images by illustrator Geraldine Rodriguez also capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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This book reinforces that everyone makes mistakes and that they are okay and even necessary to achieve success. It is el perfecto libro for kids who might need a little boost in confidence.

A sweet bonus: The polvorones con dulce de leche cookie recipe at the end of the story. Are you ready to put your baking talents to the test?

BUY THE BOOK

Order signed copies of BELLA’S SECRET FOR SUCCESS here.

or from the publisher here: Bella’s Recipe for Success | Beaming Books

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Find more about Ana and her books at: https://anafiction.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SraSiqueira1307

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiqueira1307/?hl=en

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20267025.Ana_Siqueira

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/asiqueira1307/_saved/

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Twitter:  @GeryRdz
Instagram: @geryrdzart
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Five Picture Books for Snowy Days – A Roundup

FIVE PICTURE BOOKS

FOR SNOWY DAYS

 

 

We may be fast approaching spring but many parts of the country are still getting snow so we thought we’d share five picture books to read on a snowy day.

 

 

AlltheLittleSnowflakes coverALL THE LITTLE SNOWFLAKES
Written by Cindy Jin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

This 18-page, die-cut board book for little ones invites readers to explore all the lovely cut-outs of snowflakes while learning about their magic effect on all who see them. Children will see all the different places snowflakes fall in a rhyming text that highlights the word snowflakes to help with word recognition. The exuberant illustrations are achieved by hand-cutting, something parents can try with kids. Every joyful scene as snow falls all around is colorful and will motivate kids to go outside to play. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Can Bears Ski coverCAN BEARS SKI?
Written b
y Raymond Antrobus
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
(Candlewick Press; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

Award-winning deaf poet Raymond Antrobus, and partially deaf author-illustrator Polly Dunbar, tell a story with feeling and emotions that only those who have lived a non-hearing life could tell in Can Bears Ski? Antrobus’s picture book debut takes the reader into the life of Bear who awakens in the morning by shakes on the banister, and stairs flinching, but not quite sure what Dad Bear is saying. The young bear is confused with everyone’s question of “Can Bears Ski?” Is that what all the bears are asking? The sweet drawings of Bear’s confused face as Dad Bear speaks are heartwarmingly touching. Turning the page, Bear is surrounded by all the young bears in school who are laughing but our main character doesn’t know why. What a wonderful read for children going through their own difficulties with deafness. The excitement is palpable when Bear receives hearing aids, and we see the happiness on his little brown face. Antrobus wrote a book that he said he could have used as a child. I love the strong connection of this father/son duo and the happiness the bear feels when he realizes that Bears CAN Ski! – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

APolarBearintheSnow cvrA POLAR BEAR IN THE SNOW
Written b
y Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Shawn Harris
(Candlewick Press; $17.99; Ages 3-7)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal

Acclaimed author Mac Barnett, winner of the Caldecott Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Extra Yarn sends a polar bear on a majestic adventure through snow, visiting seals and hunkering in caves, while each page turn asks where is he going? A Polar Bear in The Snow features illustrator Shawn Harris’s white torn-paper illustrations layering white-on-white hues and bursts of blue. I read the book a few times, including once to a first grader that I tutor, and with each read, I discovered new aspects of the art I hadn’t noticed before. There is excitement as the story progresses while readers ponder will the polar bear be alright as he wanders through the snow. The turquoise art that suddenly appears is truly beautiful to view when the polar bear sees his reflection in the water. That blue continues through the remainder of the story until returning to the white pages of snow. Barnett leaves a lot of room for a child’s imagination with each delightful read. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

IfWinterComes coverIF WINTER COMES, TELL IT I’M NOT HERE
Written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

Living in Southern California, I don’t have a lot of experience with the changing of the seasons. But reading London-based author-illustrator Simona Ciraolo’s 32-page picture book If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here, showed me the relationship of a big sister and her little brother as she warns him to beware because summer won’t last forever. The expressive soft colors depicting the young main character floating in the still turquoise water invite the reader into the moment as he relishes his love for swimming. His sister warns him that summer is going to end soon, as we turn the page to the red and orange colors of the changing seasons. This is a fabulous book for both parents and teachers to share with kids who live in a place where they see the leaves fall and the cold rain turn to snow. It’s also for those of us who could eat ice cream all year and bask in the sun but sure would love to throw a snowball once in a while and cuddle with the family on the couch. The boy comes to realize that living in the moment can be an adventure no matter what time of year. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

RaccoonsPerfectSnowman cover

RACCOON’S PERFECT SNOWMAN
Written and illustrated by Katia Wish
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Raccoon’s qualities will resonate with many young readers and that made me really appreciate the premise of this adorable picture book. Since Raccoon has invested a lot of time perfecting his snowman-making skills he’s now offered to help his friends work on finessing theirs. The catch is that he’s so busy focusing on creating yet another perfect snowman that he neglects helping out his friends. In fact, he hogs all the good stuff needed to make one he considers just right.

Rabbit can only find dirty snow. Fox cannot master the snowball shaping and poor Mouse cannot find a single worthwhile item to use for decoration. When it’s time to check in with everyone’s progress, Raccoon is less than complimentary. He criticizes their humble efforts and offends everyone leaving him feeling “perfectly awful.” And rightly so!

When Raccoon realizes how selfish and hurtful he’s been to his pals, Raccoon convinces them to give it one more go. Unlike the first attempt, this time Raccoon’s encouragement makes all the difference. With his friends all pitching in, they create a charming snowman far from perfect by Raccoon’s original standards but perfectly wonderful just the same. This snowman has been built on forgiveness and friendship, so who really cares how it looks? What matters is that when working together, everyone’s contribution counts. Wish’s art is lovely, full of white space that works well for the wintery environment. And the forest animals’ expressive faces add to the reading enjoyment.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Day Saida Arrived

THE DAY SAIDA ARRIVED

Written by Susana Gómez Redondo 

Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

Translated by Lawrence Schimel

(Blue Dot Kids Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

The Day Saida Arrived cover

 

 

Originally published in Spain, The Day Saida Arrived is a powerful story of friendship and love that bridges the gap between cultural differences.

The book begins by looking at the issue of immigration through the lens of a classmate whose heart is stirred with compassion to befriend a new student from Morocco. Reading the sadness and silence in Saida’s “large amber eyes,” the narrator sets out to find her friend’s words, thinking Saida has lost them. But after a discussion with her parents, the narrator realizes Saida indeed has words-yet she doesn’t want to “bring them out.” They are “different from the words” used in her new surroundings. The narrator’s father explains to his daughter: “In Morocco, … yours wouldn’t work either.” 

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Interior spread from The Day Saida Arrived written by Susana Gómez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

 

Once the narrator understands this all-important lesson of seeing herself in the other person’s struggle, she sets out to help and learn from Saida. Together, in this reciprocal relationship, the two friends share a wealth of new words. Double page spreads of Arabic and English words playfully interact. Some are easily remembered, some are “carried off by the wind,” while those that were forgotten earlier return like “good weather.” In fact, throughout the pages we see graceful Arabic and bold English letters flying about, blown by the wind like butterflies, “sometimes look[ing] like flowers and other times like insects.” The illustrative theme of nature is beautifully consistent, comparing the process of language acquisition to the ebb and flow of the natural world. 

 

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Interior spread from The Day Saida Arrived written by Susana Gómez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

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Through poignant scenes and lyrical language, we see the girls’ mutual respect and friendship blossom. In trust and appreciation, they exchange stories and treats from each other’s culture. A side by side spread of the English and Arabic alphabets in the backmatter extends the opportunity for readers to learn.  

A touching story that breaks boundaries, The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful addition to the school and home library.

Find book resources including a Teacher’s guide and a coloring page here.

Here’s an interesting interview with the book’s translator Lawrence Schimel
Read about author Susana Gómez Redondo here.
See more art from illustrator Sonja Wimmer here.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

  • Click here to order a copy of The Day Saida Arrived.
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  • Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

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Picture Book Review – The Homesick Club

THE HOMESICK CLUB

Written by Libby Martinez

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

(Groundwood Books; $17.95; Ages 4-7)

 

The Homesick Club cover

 

 

Written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, The Homesick Club expresses the longing for home and connection. 

Mónica and her best friend, Hannah, share a special bond: they are both immigrants.

Mónica is from Bolivia and Hannah is from Israel. Together they form The Homesick Club, complete with a handmade sign they display on their lunchtime table illustrating their favorite memories from their respective homelands.  Mónica yearns for the mango trees, green vines, and the “family of hummingbirds” that she and her grandmother would feed every morning. Similarly, Hannah misses the warm weather, sandy dunes, desert whistling wind, and a neighborhood tortoise. Their conversations highlight how different aspects of a landscape make it a unique and special place called home.
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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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When they meet their new teacher, Miss Shelby, they discover she too is far away from her home, Texas. Ironically, as Mónica and her teacher discuss their different backgrounds, they discover how much they have in common. Mónica’s beautiful transitions from English to Spanish echo Miss Shelby’s “soft and slow” voice, “like…words…stuck together with syrup.” They miss similar things from back home, too:  a “big and wide” sky that displays an abundance of stars as well as hummingbirds. Mónica misses seeing them since the big city noise “probably scares them away.” Miss Shelby longs for her favorite hometown dessert, hummingbird cake, “sooooo sweet, like the flowers that hummingbirds drink from.” Gibbon’s bright and friendly illustrations include rich detail that expresses the individual personalities of each character. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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In honor of her beloved hummingbirds and a budding friendship with her new teacher, Mónica prepares a surprise to share with everyone during Show and Tell. Through this kind gesture, she is able to bring a little bit of home back to both of them and to us readers who are gifted with the recipe at the end of the story. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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A great conversation starter on issues of diversity and geography, The Homesick Club reminds us that though we may look different and come from different parts of the world, we have many experiences connecting us. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookiane
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    Click here to see How To Bake Hummingbird Cake with Author Libby Martinez
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    Click here to order a copy of The Homesick Club.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

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Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of passionate kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate link above. Thanks!

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Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

The Arabic Quilt interior1
Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

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Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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Picture Book Review – Just Like Me

JUST LIKE ME

Written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

(Knopf BFYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Just Like Me cover

 

 

Beautifully written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Just like Me is a book of poems honoring, encouraging, and shining a light on little girls everywhere.

The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.

Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”

 

Just Like Me interior
Interior spread from Just Like Me written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and  “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself.  ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.

Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.

This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.

  •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Anxious Charlie to the Rescue

ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE

Written and illustrated by Terry Milne

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Anxious Charlie book cover

 

Every day Charlie kept his routine the same, fearful that something bad would happen if it changed. Anxious Charlie to the Rescue, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, tells the story of Charlie, the little dachshund, who forgets his own fears when his friend Hans needs his help.

 

int spread 2 from Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne
ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE. Copyright © 2018 by Terry Milne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“Change is a difficult thing Charlie,” Big Bruce, the large pup with floppy ears, tells Charlie in the opening page as Milne illustrates a shaky Charlie. Milne escorts the reader through Charlie’s day beginning every morning with hopping out of bed, “One, two, three … hop like a flea” to walking once around the fire hydrant on his way to the market and continuing as he walks on the same side of the oak tree.

In the illustrations the little brown dog with the large eyes is surrounded by fire hydrants and soft colored trees set on white paper. His fear continues at night as he checks under the bed and behind the curtains, arranging his toys in a neat row. The picture bubbles depict Charlie’s thoughts as he memorizes what he did today, so he can repeat them tomorrow because today “things turned out ok!”

 

anxious charlie.int.3
ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE. Copyright © 2018 by Terry Milne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“Early one morning the phone rang. It was Duck. Their friend Hans was stuck.” Charlie was in such a hurry to save his friend that he and Duck rushed past the fire hydrant and went the wrong way around the old oak tree. Charlie wanted to start all over again, but his friend needed him. He had no time to worry! Charlie’s friends had tried everything to free Hans (who had chosen a pipe to hide in during their game of hide-and-seek), but it was Charlie who had the successful idea.

“On his way home, Charlie felt so happy that he didn’t think about which way he passed the old oak tree.” Charlie collapsed onto his bed and thought “I forgot everything today, but things turned out ok.”

Milne’s colorful drawings and sweet expressions on the animals’ faces draw the reader into this charming friendship circle. And the rhyming prose provide an upbeat rhythm as well as giggles for the reader. The feeling of satisfaction Charlie experiences after helping his friend proves to be greater than his need for routine. This time Charlie realized that “nothing bad would happen and maybe what did happen would be wonderful!” That positive self-talk message is so important.

Anxious Charlie to the Rescue is a helpful read for parents who watch their own young children struggle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, and for children to see they are not alone with these thoughts. It can also lead to meaningful discussions. The idea for this story came from Milne’s own daughter who struggles with anxiety and repetitive behavior. Both children with anxiety, and those who may have a friend or sibling with anxiety, will see that as hard as it is to change behaviors it can turn out okay. Everyone has some fears and Charlie shows young readers that when you let go of those fears wonderful things can happen.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read a review about facing fears here.

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

int spread1 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

int spread2 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
e
One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
e
I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
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Int art IAmaThief
Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
e
As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
e
BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
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A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
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  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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    e

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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 Two

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART TWO

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

The King of Kindergarten cvrTHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.

It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.

A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.

See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA

 

Truman book coverTRUMAN
Written by Jean Reidy
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.

There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donuta small donutand every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis)  who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.

This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.

Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.

Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11:  See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!

Pirates-Dont-Go-To-Kindergarten-cvrPIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!
Written by Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by Eda Kaban
(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.

When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class:  a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.

A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read more back-to-school book reviews here.

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What’s a Cross Cookie to do? Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill

ANGRY COOKIE
Written by Laura Dockrill
Illustrated by Maria Karipidou
(Walker Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Angry Cookie book cover art

 

Written by Laura Dockrill and illustrated by Maria Karipidou, Angry Cookie is a hilarious and clever way to engage young children with the topic of emotions. Ironically, the conversation begins because of Angry Cookie’s every effort to shut us out.

On the book jacket, Cookie warns us readers with an adorably menacing look, “You opened the book! You better not read it … I am very angry, and there is NOTHING you can do about it!” He calls us (silly) names, he bids us an abrupt farewell, and even tries to end the story prematurely with a curt “The end.”

 

int spread by Maria Karipidou from Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill Walker Books
ANGRY COOKIE. Text copyright © 2018 by Laura Dockrill. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Maria Karipidou. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Try as he may, he knows he can’t get rid of us. In fact, our presence begins to slowly shed light on his dark mood. Though he may feel anger gives him a sense of power, we see it’s his way of protecting his hurt feelings. Dockrill’s sense of humor creates a safe space for children to approach the issue of anger and the multiple layers of emotion it masks. When you’re angry every little thing gets on your nerves—even the fact that you have to use the “grown-up spicy” toothpaste when the “delicious, yummy, strawberry-pudding” one ran out. But it’s never about the toothpaste … or the bad haircut … or the ice cream parlor running out of your favorite “most wonderful vanilla sundae.” Underneath the anger, feelings of rejection, pain, and loneliness trouble Cookie. Illustrations wonderfully balance this vulnerable side of the story. Karipidou’s soft pastels create a friendly space with Cookie being at the center of many pages, drawing our attention to his voice (and, on two occasions, his butt!).

 

int illustrations by Maria Karipidou from Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill Walker Books
ANGRY COOKIE. Text copyright © 2018 by Laura Dockrill. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Maria Karipidou. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Once his anger is gone, Cookie can finally see the truth—that the person he found “annoying” is really the friend he needed to care about him and lend a listening ear. Feeling validated, Cookie can shed off his former perspective and start enjoying the things that previously bothered him. He can separate himself from his feelings and recognize that, though he was acting like a “grumpy lump,” he’s not the same cookie anymore.

This book is a wonderful resource parents, educators, and caregivers can use to talk to young children about how anger feels as they’re going through it themselves or when they notice it in someone else. Angry Cookie will leave readers feeling anything by angry.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

ARTWORK AND TEXT NOTE: ANGRY COOKIE. Text copyright © 2018 by Laura Dockrill. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Maria Karipidou. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

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The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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