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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.

But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

 

BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Dan Taylor
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-6)

 

Cover image from But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

 

In the charming new picture book, But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Dan Taylor, it’s a classic case of “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone” which so many of us know oh too well.

What’s an unsuspecting kid supposed to do? When a hulking brown bear toting a tiny blue suitcase knocks on his front door, eager to enter and become friends, a little boy (the story’s narrator) sends him away with the reminder that “bears do not belong in houses.” The sweet and gentle looking bear is persistent and on his second visit he’s got a flamingo in tow. Once again the big guy is told to leave. Determined to become pals, Bear returns not once but multiple times, intent on insinuating himself into the little lad’s life, all in the nicest possible way. Taylor’s tender and top notch illustrations clearly depict the boy’s displeasure with the bear’s benign presence, but it’s not easy to stop a bear from wanting to read together, paw paint or commandeer the bathtub.

 

Interior artwork by Dan Taylor from But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

Interior illustrations by Dan Taylor from But the Bear Came Back written by Tammi Sauer, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

 

When finally the story’s narrator yells for the bear to go home, Bear departs and doesn’t come back. That’s when the youngster soon finds out that doing things he had done with the bear are now no longer fun alone. So he enlists the help of his neighbors and posts missing bear signs in the vicinity. He even sets out a bowl of berries. When he’s finally convinced Bear will never return, the boy is delighted to get just one more knock on the door. The bear has come back and the narrator is truly grateful. The final line, “And that was that,” is a wonderful rhetorical device we see repeated many times throughout the story so that when Bear does indeed come back it is not only expected, but fitting and satisfying.

But the Bear Came Back provides a welcome conversation starter to have with kids. I can imagine parents and/or teachers pausing at certain points while reading the story with children to chime in and say, “He sure didn’t appreciate Bear when he was around, did he?” or “Is this a good way to make a friend or keep one?” The narrator’s behavior in the beginning of the book versus in the end are examples of what the right and wrong ways to treat other people are, how to be respectful and how important it is to be grateful for our friends (old and new) and family because “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone.”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

I Have a Balloon Written by Ariel Bernstein

I HAVE A BALLOON
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

I Have a Balloon cover illustration

 

It’s a clear and clever case of the balloon is always redder as opposed to the grass is always greener in Ariel Bernstein’s debut picture book, I Have a Balloon featuring illustrations by Scott Magoon. I absolutely adored this story because it not only took me back to my childhood, but reminded me of so many episodes I had to navigate with my children when the dreaded sharing demon reared its ugly head. I appreciated the slow, steady build up of this timeless tale that takes the dislike of sharing to humorous new heights.

Int spread of Owl with red balloon and monkey from I Have a Balloon

Interior spread from I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein w/art by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Owl’s got a lovely red balloon he’s pretty darned pleased with. Monkey would like it. Owl says no. Persistent in his pursuit, Monkey offers to trade something of his in return. Owl’s not interested. But it would make Monkey SO HAPPY! Forget about it! Forget the teddy bear Monkey’s willing to swap. Or the sunflower. Or for that matter, the robot or the hand drawn picture of ten balloons. No. No. No. Not a ball or a pin. But something about the sock with a star and a perfectly shaped hole seems to suck Owl in. Suddenly the play potential of this single sock is just so appealing that the tides turn. Following creative, circular prose, readers end up at a similar point from where the drama of this delightful book began.

From the playful book jacket flap copy spoiler alert of: This is NOT a book about sharing to Bernstein’s spot on prose pitting Owl and his special, it’s mine and I’m not sharing it red balloon vibe to Monkey’s earnest desire to possess said balloon, I couldn’t read this book fast enough to find out what happens. From Magoon’s subtle yet oh so successful depictions of the the pair’s interaction (check out Owl’s expressive eyes!) to the perfect (and sweet) finish, I Have a Balloon is wonderfully entertaining. In fact I can’t think of a parent, teacher, caregiver or relative who hasn’t encountered this exact situation. Tightly told, tongue-in-cheek, and relatable, I Have a Balloon is guaranteed to garner grins when shared with kids. A truly treat of a read!

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

After reading The Bad Seed  written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.

Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!

Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.

The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.

 

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The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017

 

Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).

He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.

He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.

We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.

I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker – A Giveaway Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY
FOR
BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER
by Shelley Johannes

Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out,
and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker cover image

Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!

 

REVIEW:
In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.

Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.

Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.

Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GENERAL DETAILS:
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
By Shelley Johannes
Release September 19, 2017
Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10

ABOUT THE BOOK …
Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—
where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the
greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband
and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book
she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.

 

 

FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the Official Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Be An Upside Down Thinker!
One (1) winner receives:
Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
And branded pencil case and notepad!

Open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today
for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!

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Walter and the Wallet – A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

“Doing the Right Thing—Not Always So Easy”

A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

 

Cover image for Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

 

A wallet lying in the street, stuffed with cash. Not a single person anywhere in sight.

It’s a universal question for children and adults alike: when no one’s watching, will you do the right thing? How about when doing the right thing runs counter to your own self-interest? That is the premise of Walter and the Wallet.

Walter Whippingdale has been having the worst day of his life. As he walks home, shoulders slumped, head down, he discovers a wallet overflowing with cash. And suddenly, his awful day is awash with possibilities.

It’s a situation that most people have to deal with at some point in their life. And that includes me. I was working in my second year as a substitute teacher on Long Island. The school day had just ended, and, after straightening up the room for a few minutes, I headed for the parking lot.

Almost everyone had left the building by then, so no one was in front of me or behind me as I exited the building.

And there it was, just outside the doors: a small pile of cash.

 

interior spread from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

I feel like I’m a very honest person. When playing volleyball, I always call it on myself when I touch the net. I’m a firm disciple in the Golden Rule—and believe that if everyone would just live by it, the Earth would be an infinitely nicer place.

So I bent over, picked it up, and counted it. $23. I obviously knew what the right thing to do was. And yet … there was the tug. From some dark corner of my brain, a tiny voice was saying “You could just slip it in your pocket. There’s not a soul in sight.”

I didn’t keep the money; I turned around and brought it into the office, telling them that if they couldn’t determine the owner, to use it to buy some school supplies. They thanked me profusely. But as I left, I felt a sense of shame. I’m a good person, I thought—so why did some small part of me want to keep that $23? It wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have changed my life one iota.

Such is the conflict in Walter and the Wallet. But it’s not a purportedly mature, allegedly honest adult who’s confronted with a near-identical situation—it’s a 9-year-old child.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. One might be too busy, too tired, too distracted. But doing the right thing when it runs counter to your own self-interest is even harder. That is the dilemma I want children, their parents, and their teachers to discuss after reading Walter and the Wallet. It all comes down to that Golden Rule: what would you want a person to do if they found your wallet?

 

Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom interior spread 2

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

Children can learn several lessons from reading about Walter: a bad day can turn around on a dime. Money can’t buy you happiness. And of course, if you find something that isn’t yours, do everything in your power to get it back to its owner.

Walter ultimately makes the right choice, and finds that it comes with some unanticipated rewards. I’m hopeful that reading my book will help children do the honorable thing when they inevitably confront a similar scenario in their own lives.

Brief Summary of Walter and the Wallet:

Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes has been making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street … a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how?

In this engaging tale of life lessons, first-time children’s author Billy Bloom has created a story to spark some important conversation between kids and parents about making good choices. Accompanied by Tanya Leonello’s charming watercolor illustrations, this story of childhood morality and the daily dilemmas children face, is sure to pull young readers in and get them thinking.

For more info/to order copies:

Eifrig Publishing

Amazon

About the Author:

Billy Bloom is an elementary school teacher in New York. Before becoming a teacher, he had several other jobs, including professional Frisbee player (finishing 6th in the World Championships in 1983), newspaper editor, advertising copywriter, and volleyball league owner. He currently referees middle and high school volleyball and basketball games after school and on weekends. This is Billy Bloom’s debut children’s book.

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A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PASSOVER
Written by Linda Leopold-Strauss
Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
(Kar-Ben; Hardcover, $17.99;
Paperback, $7.99; eBook, $6.99, Ages 4-9)

 

Cover image of grandpa in bed from A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

 

Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate to        A Different Kind of Passover. But even those who haven’t will appreciate the sentiments expressed and the lovely twist author Linda Leopold-Strauss has added in this heartwarming story I’m delighted to share.

Grandpa is sick and has just come back home from the hospital. That means the Passover seder will be different this year and narrator Jessica wonders how that will change things, especially now that she’s going to ask the Four Questions in Hebrew. And since she’s finding it hard to imagine a seder without Grandpa, Jessica soon realizes it doesn’t have to be that way. Grandpa may be nearby tucked in bed, and wearing pajamas, but how convenient that “… Grandpa’s door opens to the dining room?” notes an enthused Jessica. When Grandpa questions his participation in such attire, Grandma remarks, “Does God care if you’re in your pajamas?” The plan is hatched and the seder will take place  with most things remaining the same as always and just a few things different like Grandpa reclining in bed and cousin Mark “getting to sip sweet wine instead of grape juice, since he has just had his bar mitzvah.”

The joy of family and tradition in this story is wonderfully conveyed through Tugeau’s muted illustrations. I love the varied perspectives he shares, especially the ones where we know it’s Grandpa looking out on his family seated around the dining room table. Nothing says everyone must be in the same room for a seder so when Jessica comes up with the great idea to include Grandpa by leaving his bedroom door open, it’s symbolic in so many meaningful ways. Leopold-Strauss has created a sweet and thoughtfully written seder story that will resonate with young readers for years to come.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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

Finding Forever by Ken Baker, A Blog Tour

FINDING FOREVER: A Deadline Diaries Exclusive
Written by Ken Baker
(Running Press Teens; Trade paperback, $9.95, Ages 13 and up)

FindingForevercvr

 

In Finding Forever, E! News Correspondent and SoCal resident, Ken Baker, has used his entertainment news background to enthrall readers with a riveting fictional tale of life inside the celebrity scene and its fascination with Hollywood’s Holy Grail, the elusive fountain of youth. His main character, a teen blogger named Brooklyn Brant, covers celebrity news in her blog Deadline Diaries, but in her latest quest she uncovers more than she bargained for.

When sixteen-year-old celebrity sweetheart Taylor Prince goes missing from her birthday party in L.A., tabloid blog STARSTALK splashes headlines that Taylor is in rehab for drug addiction. Taylor’s assistant, Simone, enlists the help of Brooklyn Brant to help find the missing starlet, as she insists Taylor is not on drugs and this is more of a conspiracy. However, with Simone’s shady past, it’s hard to know whom to trust. Brooklyn must use her sleuthing skills to uncover the truth before time runs out on Taylor.

While the mystery behind Taylor’s disappearance had my attention, what really drew me in was Brooklyn’s backstory, including her late father’s mysterious death and his legacy she is trying to uphold. As a police officer, Brooklyn’s father believed in getting at the truth. Ever since his death, Brooklyn has tried to follow in her father’s footsteps, finding the truth and revealing it with integrity, but as a journalist not a cop, trading the gun for a pen. Her blog Deadline Diaries began as an outlet for her to cope with his passing, but it grew into a passion and potential future. And the story of Taylor Prince’s disappearance, in all its web of secrets and lies, is perhaps the big break in her budding career that she’s been looking for.

Using a dual narrative, bouncing back and forth between Taylor’s and Brooklyn’s points of view, Baker kept me wondering what was going on and what would be revealed next. The more I read, the more I began to see that the rehab place was suspect and almost cult-like, and its head, Dr. Kensington, creepily Peter Pan obsessed. I found myself rooting simultaneously for Taylor to escape and for Brooklyn to save her. While the ending seemed a little rushed, it still provided the satisfying closure I would expect as a reader, and reinforced the fact that eternal youth is as much a façade as a Hollywood set.

Read more about Ken Baker here.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

 

 

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

I’M NEW HERE
Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
(Charlesbridge; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I'm New Here CVR 300

 

Across America the back-to-school season is in full swing. Some kids are returning to school, others are first timers. Many are not just entering a new school, but starting again in a new city. I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, introduces three students, Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia, beginning their educational life in an entirely different country, our country, and facing perhaps the biggest challenge when many have come here under a variety of circumstances.

We easily get into the head of each character and learn their hopes and fears. There are new words to learn, sounds strange to their ears and memories of life back home that at first makes adjusting difficult at many levels. Who hasn’t been new at something, full of apprehension and self-doubt? Will I ever learn the new ways in this new land?

“Back home I knew the language.
My friends and I talked all day long.
Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”

I'm New Here Spread 1 300

Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

“Here I am alone.
Here I am confused.
Here I am sad.”

But when Maria uses some newly acquired English words in an attempt to join a soccer game, “someone understands.” The same for Jin when he discovers a fellow classmate also shares his love of super heroes and creating comics. Fatimah’s artistic talent attracts positive attention, too. Ultimately the story reinforces a positive message of acceptance, encouraging our kids to see life through someone else’s eyes and maybe make an interesting new friend at the same time.

O’Brien’s lyrical language gently moves the story forward and helps us walk in the main characters’ shoes. We understand they are not whining or complaining, just expressing real concerns that children in their situations are apt to feel. Often though, assisted by O’Brien’s evocative, muted watercolor illustrations, few to no words are required.

 

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Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

In the end page’s A Note from the Author, O’Brien explains that children like Maria or Fatimah, “may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.” Others, like Jin “may have left behind close family members.” Keeping this in mind when you read the story with your children, you’ll help build awareness and empathy that may encourage youngsters to reach out to children just like Maria, Fatimah or Jin in their schools and make them feel welcome and a part of the community.

To learn about I’m Your Neighbor — a project cofounded by O’Brien promoting the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups — please head to www.imyourneighborbooks.org.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

ALLY-SAURUS & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-6 )

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Even dinosaurs get starting school jitters, in fact, maybe even those who are actually little girls pretending to be dinosaurs.

“Do you think there will be other dinosaurs in my class?” asked Ally-saurus.
“I think you’re going to make a lot of new friends,” said Mother.

Introducing Ally-saurus, an enthusiastic, pig-tailed little girl with an active imagination. At first it seems that making friends will not be easy. None of Ally-saurus’ classmates chomp their snack with fierce teeth or “ROAR!” like she does. Instead they eat quietly much to Ally-saurus’ surprise. She was expecting everyone to be wild about dinos just like her.

Torrey cleverly uses black and white plus a lot of shading in his illustrations so the snippets of color that he adds stand out and really a make a statement. For example, a pink tail and ridges crayoned onto Ally-saurus throughout the book indicate that Ally is imagining herself as a Stegosaurus. Later, Robert is the first classmate to get his hint of blue color as he imagines himself to be an astronaut when he and Ally-saurus cut out nameplate designs for their cubbies. During a lesson on the weather followed by one about letters, three princesses begin voicing their opinions as gold crowns and dresses are outlined on them.

Then, at lunchtime Ally-saurus is told by these princesses that:

“These seats are saved for princesses, not dinosaurs,” said Tina.
“You’re not a real princess!” roared Ally-saurus.
“You’re not a real dinosaur,” said Tina.
“Then why am I eating dinosaur food?” asked Ally-saurus.
“That’s baloney!” said Tina, and the other princesses giggled.

Ally-saurus is left to sit alone elsewhere until she is joined by several other students, all eager to share what they enjoy pretending to be. “Soon the whole table was roaring and chomping.” It isn’t long before Ally-saurus and the kids from her lunch table are running around during recess playing make-believe and having a blast. Ally-saurus realizes too that dinos and princesses can find common ground over pretend cups of tea.

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Reprinted with permission from Ally-saurus & the First Day of School © 2015 by Richard Torrey, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Richard Torrey.

Best of all, in the school library, (my favorite place), Ally-saurus along with her classmates discover there are books about all kinds of things … including bunnies. And guess who’s got a pink bunny tail and bunny ears drawn on when she hops out of bed the next morning? Note: There’s an unassuming little bunny lamp on a night table in the last illustration. Plus, Torrey has cleverly covered the endpapers in front with dinos and at the back with bunnies, something I only noticed on the second read! That’s sure to make children want to go back again and again to look for more details.

Add Ally-saurus & the First Day of School to your back-to-school list for an ideal picture book to share with youngsters. It’ll help them realize they’re not the only ones who get nervous starting school. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about the give and take necessary to form and keep friendships.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

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First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg/Book Giveaway

WIN A SIGNED COPY OF HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY
Written by Madelyn Rosenberg & Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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REVIEW:

I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.

Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,

Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.

and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”

 

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Interior artwork from How To Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrated by Heather Ross, Katherine Tegen Books, ©2014.

 

The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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