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New Chapter Book Series – Warren and Dragon by Ariel Bernstein

WARREN & DRAGON: 100 FRIENDS
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

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WARREN & DRAGON: WEEKEND WITH CHEWY
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

 

cover art from Warren & Dragon 100 Friends Book 1book cover art from Warren & Dragon Weekend With Chewy Book 2

 

WHO AND WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS NEW CHAPTER BOOK SERIES:

Warren Nesbitt, a seven-year-old boy.
The realistic relationship (and dialogue) between siblings.
Dragon, a 122-year-old dragon who is real and only visible to Warren.
Dragon, the stuffed animal everyone thinks is what Warren is always referring to!
Warren’s twin sister, Ellie and her quick wit and snide comments.
Friendly next-door neighbors, Nia and Paula Berry, are a gay African-American couple with three children.
Michael Berry, first-grader and soon-to-be Warren’s good friend.
Alison Cohen, Warren’s classmate in Mrs. Tierney’s class.
The descriptions of lunchtime in Book 1.
The Nesbitt family need to move because Mom, an engineer, has been offered a job in a new city.
All of Alison Cohen’s pets in Book 2 and a burgeoning friendship.
Warren’s fear of Dragon eating Chewy in Book 2.

 

REVIEW:

In Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends (Book 1), the Nesbitt family move to Eddington. While his sister Ellie is not happy about having to leave all her friends, narrator Warren has his pal Dragon and doesn’t care much. After some goading from his sister, Warren decides to set a goal of making 100 new friends despite feeling uncomfortable doing it. However, there’s no way he’ll let Ellie get the better of him when she proclaims, “There’s no way you’re going to make more friends than me!” Luckily Dragon says he knows how to make friends as long as it involves massive amounts of marshmallows. When Warren’s first day of school isn’t going as well as he’d like, things go further south when Dragon goes missing. Soon he is recovered safe and sound, even content, helping Warren to realize that the experience has taught him how to make a new friend. The book works on several levels, one being the friendship aspect and another being a “new school” story. The sibling, family, and neighbor dynamics also add to the pleasure of reading this first installment in what promises to be a popular series.

Witty dialogue from all the main characters makes for fast flowing, always funny ten chapters in this very entertaining read. Initially I read it quickly, eager to find out how Warren fared in his new school. Then I read it more slowly a second time to see how Bernstein pulled me into her well-crafted tale. Kids are going to want to read every book in the series which is great for two reasons: 1) It’s engaging and relatable and 2) Book 2 is available and Book 3 in the series, Warren & Dragon: Scary Sleepover, comes out in 2019.

 

Warren & Dragon: Weekend With Chewy (Book 2) had me grinning enormously through all fourteen chapters, vicariously living through the experience of taking a class pet home since I never had the opportunity. In fact I’m not even sure we had class pets when I went to school. Anyway, once again Bernstein’s created a clever premise for this story. Warren gets chosen to take class hamster, Chewy, home for the weekend. He not only has to care for him, but he also has to write a report about it. The catch is, Warren already has plans and they’re exciting. He and his friend Michael from next door are going to construct a chute between their bedroom windows “to trade snacks after bedtime.” Warren convinces Dragon to hamster-sit Chewy so he can focus his energies on ramp building. At the same time, Warren’s twin sister Ellie wants a pet of her own and thinks that, in order for her parents to agree, she must demonstrate responsible behavior. Classmate Alison Cohen gets pulled into the picture when Warren wonders how to write up the report. Before long, everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere and that’s when Chewy goes AWOL. Can the kids find the missing rodent to ensure a happy ending? Things may be looking up, literally, when Warren at last lays eyes on Chewy at his bedroom window ready to take a ride on the “chute-of-doom.”

Malbrough’s charming illustrations, dotted throughout both books, are a welcome addition for children just transitioning to chapter books. These two chapter books confirm that Bernstein knows what type of story will appeal to young readers. I’m looking forward to more of Warren and Dragon’s adventures because anything goes as long as there are marshmallows in the mix! 

  • Review by Ronna Mandel 

    Find a review of a picture book by Ariel Bernstein here.

An Interview With MG & YA Author Deborah Lytton

THE FANTASTIC LIBRARY RESCUE
AND OTHER MAJOR PLOT TWISTS
Written by Deborah Lytton
Illustrated by Jeanine Murch
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $7.99, Ages 8 and up)

Cover art of Ruby Starr from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists


Read Our Q & A With Author Deborah Lytton

On today’s post I’m excited to share a recent interview I had with author, Deborah Lytton, about book #2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, which came out earlier this month. Having thoroughly enjoyed this chapter book for middle grade readers* that includes illustrations of Ruby’s active imagination at work, I can see how much tweens and bibliophiles will gravitate to the series, and this new book in particular, especially since it tackles two important issues: libraries losing funding and friendship predicaments. I especially like that Ruby’s friend Will P is also in a bookclub, something I don’t usually see depicted in stories. Here’s how Sourcebooks Jabberwocky describes Lytton’s latest:

The second book in this fun series that’s perfect for younger fans of the Dork Diaries and Story Thieves series. Ruby Starr is an older Junie B. Jones with a big imagination and a love of reading.

Ruby Starr’s life is totally back on track. Her lunchtime book club, the Unicorns, is better than ever. And she and Charlotte, her once arch enemy, are now good friends. The only thing that’s really causing any drama is her upcoming poetry assignment. She’s a reader, not a poet!

But disaster strikes when Ruby learns that her most favorite place in the world, the school library, is in trouble. Ruby knows she and the Unicorns have to do something to help. But when Ruby’s plans end up hurting a friend, she’s not sure her story will have a happy ending after all.

 

Q & A:

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Ruby is a charming, book-loving outgoing yet introspective fifth grader. And while she is not perfect she certainly is someone any parent would be proud of. Do you happen to know any Rubys? And if not, how did you wind up with her as a main character for your series?

DEBORAH LYTTON: I do know a Ruby. My inspiration for this series came from my younger daughter who was in fifth grade when I began writing the first book. My YA SILENCE had just been released, and my older daughter was reading it. My younger daughter wanted me to write something for her to read. She asked for a story that would make her laugh. I based the character of Ruby on her initially, but then as I began to write, the character took on her own qualities. My favorite part of writing is when the characters begin to shape themselves. That definitely happened with Ruby Starr.

GRWR: What do you love most about her? 

DL: I love that Ruby makes a lot of mistakes, but always tries to fix them. My favorite thing about Ruby is her kindness. She thinks about other people and their feelings and tries to help them when she can. This is a quality I truly admire. I also enjoy writing Ruby because she is so imaginative.

GRWR: I realize this is book #2 in the series but yet I felt fully up-to-speed. Can you please tell readers briefly what happens in book #1? 

DL: I am so happy to hear that you felt up-to-speed! It was really important to me to write a second book that would let readers jump right in. Book #1 establishes Ruby’s character and her love for reading. The story centers on friendship troubles. When a new girl joins Ruby’s fifth grade class, she begins pulling Ruby’s friends away from her. Then she threatens to destroy Ruby’s book club. Ruby has a difficult time, and then she learns something about the new girl that changes everything. Ultimately, books bring the friends together.

GRWR: Is there a book #3 on the horizon? 

DL: Yes, I am really excited about Ruby’s third adventure. I have just finished the manuscript and I can tell you that Ruby and her friends get into a little bit of a mix-up and that it all begins with a very special book.

int art from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists

Interior illustration from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists by Deborah Lytton with art by Jeanine Murch, Sourcebook Jabberwocky ©2018.

GRWR: As a kidlit reviewer I love that Ruby is in a book club (The Unicorns), and as a writer I love Ruby’s vivid imagination. Did your own childhood inform these traits or did you feel she’d need these qualities to be a role model for tweens or someone many young readers could relate to?

DL: Growing up, my sister and I were like Ruby. We loved reading. Both of us cherish books and have saved many of our favorites from when we were young readers. My own daughters also love to read. In spending time helping out in their school classrooms and libraries, I have seen how many students enjoy books. I loved the idea that a fifth grade student would be independent enough to start her own book club at school to celebrate reading. Then I thought it would be fun to see where her imagination would take her, especially since she would be inspired by all the books she had read and loved. I hope young readers who have stayed up late just to read the next chapter of a book will connect with a character who is like them.

GRWR: The hero’s journey that Ruby embarks on is to save the school library where the hours have been reduced and new book purchases have been shelved due to funding cutbacks. Was this plot line inspired by stories you’ve seen in the news or even closer to home here in L.A.? 

DL: I have volunteered in the libraries at my daughters’ schools so I have seen first-hand the way that budget cuts have impacted the libraries. I have also helped students search for the perfect book to read and then watched their faces light up when they discover something really special. Libraries are so valuable to our youth. I wanted to highlight that message in this story.

Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Three

BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART THREE

 

Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

Nativity by Cynthia Rylant Cover ImageNativity
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.  

The story begins on the cover flap:  “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result,  the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.

In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Ninja Claus book cover imageNinja Claus!
Written and illustrated by Arree Chung
(Henry Holt and Company, $17.99, ages 4-7)

Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.

Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

The Nutcracker in Harlem book cover imageThe Nutcracker in Harlem
Written by T.E. McMorrow
Illustrated by James Ransome
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares book cover imageRed and Lulu
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Lulu to Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided.  “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout.   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Weird but True Christmas from NatGeoKids cover imageWeird but True! Christmas: 300 Festive Facts 
to Light Up The Holiday
(National Geographic Kids; $8.99, Ages 8-12 )

Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True! series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a  holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad!    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:

This Little Reindeer
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Christmas Eve
Annie Auerbach
(Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )

 

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Holiday Gift Books Guide

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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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Frederick’s Journey and an Interview with London Ladd

FREDERICK’S JOURNEY:
THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
An Interview With Illustrator London Ladd

Fredericks_Journey-cvr

Written by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Disney/Jump at the Sun; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

What’s the first thing I noticed when picking up my review copy of Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass? The piercing eyes of Douglass in illustrator London Ladd’s cover portrait and the absence of a title on the front. Then, gripped by the story, I devoured the book, not once, but twice in my initial read throughs of this expertly crafted picture book. Part  of the Big Words series, Frederick’s Journey effortlessly pairs Rappaport’s thoughtful biography of this former slave turned author, abolitionist and ultimately free man with Douglass’ actual words. “Douglass had traveled far – from slave to free man, from illiterate to educated, from powerless to powerful. It had been a difficult journey.” The book ends with this quote from Douglass, “What is possible for me is possible for you.” As a picture book, Frederick’s Journey is brought to life by Ladd’s inspiring artwork. I’ve interviewed this talented illustrator once before, but felt compelled to reach out again, this time for his insight on creating the illustrations and what working on the book meant to him.

An Interview with London Ladd

GRWR: Please tell us how you came to be connected with this project?

London Ladd: The publisher contacted my agent at Painted Words, Lori Nowicki, to see if I would be interested. I read the title of the manuscript [and] the answer was a definite yes. Once I read the through the manuscript I was so moved by it, so eager to get started.

GRWR: How do you decide what medium you’ll use for each book you illustrate and what did you choose for Frederick’s Journey and why?

LADD: For my illustration career I’ve primarily use acrylic with minor touched of pastels and colored pencils on illustration board if necessary. People says acrylics are challenging to use, but I love its flexibility because you can make it look like watercolor with layered thin washes or heavy opaque application like oils. It’s something I’ve always been comfortable using and quick drying is excellent for fast approaching deadlines.

GRWR: You mention in the back matter Illustrator’s Note how deep you dove into the research to really understand your subject including actually posing yourself in front of a mirror and reciting lines. Was there any particular text from Rappaport or quote from Douglass that you found most inspiring for this story’s artwork?

LADD: Rappaport’s text was so excellent with the way she gracefully combined her text with Douglass’ own quotes. But his autobiography was so powerful because you’re getting a first hand account in all its detail of his experience as a slave during the 19th century. Each page was filled with so much raw, honest, brutal, heart breaking material. So many vivid images would pop into my head from sadness, anger.

GRWR: Was there one particular image in the book that most resonated for you?

LADD: I think the first three images [see below] as a whole really resonate for me deeply due to the range of emotions and sounds I hear from the heart wrenching scream of Frederick’s mother as he’s being taken from her, the peacefulness of the river when he’s fishing with his grandmother, and his low weeping as he suddenly realizes his grandmother is gone and now his new life begins in the institution of slavery.

FJ_Int_art_London_Ladd

Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

 

GRWR: You travelled to a lot of places in Douglass’s history, which place made the biggest impression on you?

LADD: Wow it’s so hard to pick one. Visiting his home in Anacostia was powerful. But I’ll have to go with a trip to Rochester in 2006. During my last semester in college I enrolled in an African American religious history course and the final was this amazing project where you had to travel to historical locations involved in the Underground Railroad in and around the Central New York area like Harriet Tubman’s grave and church in Auburn, NY. Well it happens that Douglass’ grave at Mount Hope Cemetery (Susan B. Anthony is buried there, too) in Rochester NY was on the list. The cemetery is huge and his grave is by the front street nearby so vehicles drive by constantly so it can be a little noisy. When walking to his grave it was so quiet with only a slight wind blowing. Being at his gravesite was moving. I just stood there silently for 20 minutes with many emotions going through my mind. After visiting his grave there was this incredible interactive Douglass exhibit at a local nearby museum and I’ll never forget it. So much on display like his North Star press, part of a house with hidden area for slaves, a double-sided mirror that when you dim the lights Douglass’ face appeared on the other side, an exhibit where you lay in a really small area like slave did during the middle passage (that had a strong impact on me) and so much more. Ten years later and it’s still one of my favorite museum exhibits.

FJ_Int_art_London_Ladd

Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

GRWR: Not many illustrators get a front cover portrait with no title as an assignment. That’s a huge honor and your cover is outstanding. Can you tell us more about how that decision was made?

LADD: Thank you so much. That’s what makes the Big Words series so unique from other book series because each biography has this beautiful portrait of a well known person with the title on the back. That’s why I worked so hard on trying to not only capture Douglass’ likeness, but his essence. 

FJ_Int_art_London_Ladd

Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

GRWR: In a previous interview here you said “The human spirit interests me. I love stories of a person or people achieving through difficult circumstances by enduring, surviving and overcoming.” Douglass clearly exemplified that spirit. Who else, either living or deceased would you like to portray next in your artwork or in a story of your own creation?

LADD: Ernest Shackleton! I would love to illustrate Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance. An absolutely amazing story of when, in the early 20th century, he and his crew were stranded near Antarctica for nearly two years and everyone survived. It’s a testament to his tremendous leadership during the whole ordeal.

This Shackleton quote sums up my attitude towards any challenges I face. “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”

FJ_Int_art_London_Ladd

Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

 

GRWR: It’s said art is a universal language. What is it about making art and teaching it as well that speaks to you?

LADD: I think to be able to share with other people is something very important to me. I wouldn’t be here without the help of other people so it’s always been my goal to pay it forward when possible.

FJ_Int_art_London_Ladd

Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

London_LaddGRWR: Can you share with us anything else about your experience working on Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass?

LADD: I truly loved working on this book and I’m so thankful to have been part of such a special project. Hopefully young people will learn, enjoy and appreciate the life of Frederick Douglass.

A huge thank you to London Ladd for this candid and informative interview. 

Click here to download a teacher’s guide.

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel

Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day & Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem by Betty G. Birney

Everyone’s Favorite Classroom Pet, Humphrey, is Back in New Tiny Tales

 

Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day & Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem
Written by Betty G. Birney and Illustrated by Priscilla Burris
(Putnam Juvenile, Paperback $4.99, Ages 5-8)

How do you introduce a younger age group to the adventures and antics of America’s popular classroom pet? With Humphrey’s Tiny Tales, a new chapter book series created for the K-3 crowd by Betty G. Birney.  A step up from easy readers, the first two books in the series are sure to attract a legion of devoted fans.

Humphrey-reallywheely-cvr.jpgBirney’s award-winning middle grade novels are a mainstay on reading lists across the country so it’s no surprise that both author and publisher would want to share beloved teacher Mrs. Brisbane’s insightful and friendly hamster with chapter book readers. Featuring shorter page counts, delightful illustrations, fewer characters and easier reading level, Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day (Book No. 1) and Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem (Book No. 2) are perfect for holiday break time when reading is not high on many kids’ lists.

In Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day, (Book No. 1), our “positive role model,” rodent is rolling all right! After trying his hamster friend, Winky’s, auto, Humphrey wants a really wheely car, too. A hamster wheel and a ball are okay, but an automobile’s extra exciting, especially when Mrs. Brisbane gets one for Humphrey. Everyone’s even more surprised to learn that Humphrey will be racing against Don’t Complain-Mandy Payne’s pet hamster, Winky, for all the school to see!

Humphrey-playfupuppy-cvr.jpgIn Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem (Book No. 2), Richie Rinaldi (school custodian Aldo’s nephew) has Humphrey for the weekend and plans to use him in his science experiment. While Humphrey fears being turned into “Humphrey-stein,” it’s GREAT-GREAT-GREAT when he realizes he’s just going to be timed on his wheel. What he doesn’t like is the WOOF-WOOF-WOOF of Richie’s puppy Poppy with her wet nose and sharp teeth getting too close for comfort. Will she figure out how to open his cage’s lock-that-doesn’t-lock? Will Humphrey save Richie’s experiment so it’s a DING-DING-DING success? Read how a helpful, happy hamster makes everything right.

Coming this spring, Humphrey’s Creepy-Crawly Camping Adventure

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

The Bunny Rabbit Show! by Sandra Boynton

The-Bunny-Rabbit-Show-cvr.jpgMy kids grew up with Margaret Wise Brown for quiet, go-to-sleep, soothing bedtime stories. But when they wanted belly laughs, tales to memorize and repeat (and not necessarily go to sleep), they chose Sandra Boynton hands down. Her books are a constant in every baby book collection I give to new mom friends and relatives. In fact, I cannot imagine any starter book set without Moo, Baa, La La La!, The Going To Bed Book, Barnyard Dance!, Tickle Time! and Hippos Go Berserk! Now I’m delighted I can add a new fave, one of the Boynton on Board book series, to my gift list. The Bunny Rabbit Show! board book (Workman, $6.95, Ages 0-4), featuring an oval die cut cover revealing dancing rabbits, is as cute as can be.

Boynton’s in top form here with a catchy rhyming refrain and a feel-good, entertaining performance by the happy hoppers. What Boynton does best is create her books at two levels; the first appealing to the youngest child being read to, and the the second appealing to the parents and care-givers who will surely be sharing the story over and over again. And why not? What’s not to love about a bunny board book featuring a bunch of bunnies (ten terrific rabbits to be precise) in a Rockettes-like line on stage singing, dancing and strutting their stuff.

Add more to their listening and looking pleasure by asking, as you read, if your little ones can spot the cow, pig, duck and sheep in the audience for some guaranteed giggles.  Maybe even pull out a pair of bunny ears so your child can join in the show! That’s a big part of what makes a Boynton book so very, very fun to read. It’s hard to keep them on the bookshelves. Enjoy!

 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe

Today, reviewer MaryAnne Locher weighs in on Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe.

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Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Believing in magic and fairies from the bottom of your heart can make extraordinary things happen. So, get out your fairy wings and fairy wands and get ready for an enchanting adventure!

The Never Girls are Gabby, Mia, Kate, and Lainey – four ordinary girls who have found their way into the magical realm of Never Land. In Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy (Random House Books for Young Readers; paperback, 5.99; Ages 6-9) the fifth book in Disney’s Tinker Bell and Fairies series, Gabby has been asked to be the flower girl in her babysitter Julia’s wedding.

Gabby’s bubbling over with excitement so she puts on her dress-up fairy wings, breaks the pact she has with the other girls to never go alone into Never Land, and visits her fairy friends Tink, Prilla, Rosetta, Dulcie, and Bess to tell them her big news. The fairies are curious about what a flower girl does and what a wedding looks like. Gabby demonstrates how she’ll be throwing flower petals, but the fairies are less than impressed. Tink gives Gabby a thimble-full of fairy dust to take to the wedding so the petals will flutter and float to the ground. Gabby wants the fairies to come to the wedding so they can see her walk down the aisle, but the fairies haven’t been formally invited, so they decline. Bess can’t think of anything else she would rather do than go to the wedding. She sneaks out of Never Land and into Gabby’s room on the day of the big event. Gabby is delighted to see her, but knows she must hide her in her flower basket so no one else sees her.

What havoc can one little girl and one even tinier fairy create? Well…A LOT! Will they ruin Julia’s wedding day? Or will it be even more magical?

Although this chapter book is intended for early readers, even littler ones would enjoy the magic of having this read to them, too!

NOTE: Never Girls #6: The Woods Beyond (Disney: The Never Girls) and Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic (Disney: The Never Girls) will be released this April and July respectively.

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

Looking for Love in All The Ice Places

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Walker Books for Young Readers, $14.99; eBook $6.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

The adventures of penguins and puffins will warm your heart in this cozy, kooky story about a perfect pair of thoughtful friends. Fans of Yoon’s Penguin series (Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation) will cheer with delight to read her newest yarn, spinning Penguin’s tale across oceans, ice floes and mountain tops.

When Penguin isn’t knitting, he is usually discovering curious objects and exploring faraway lands.  In this adventure, he finds a lost mitten on the ice, but cannot find its owner. He stitches up a new mate, but offers it to a chilled puffin. Then Penguin and his friend Bootsy begin giving away warm knitwear to various cold creatures until they run out of yarn. The puffins hatch a clever plan, leaving Penguin and Bootsy to follow a wooly trail of adventure.

Yoon’s simple text is perfect for the youngest listeners to follow. She blends short dialogue and humorous asides into the bright images. Parents could read these aloud as desired, thus breaking up the story narrative with a lighthearted tone.  

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon interior image

Interior image from Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon,
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.

The cuddly penguins and huggable arctic critters are thickly outlined in black with bold colored accents. The genius of Yoon’s illustration is the tiny clues and themes woven seamlessly throughout.  The penguins’ yarn swirls across the page in sweet heart-shaped loops: Bootsy in purple and green, Penguin in orange and yellow. They float out to sea, singing a silly shanty, atop a heart-shaped ice floe. Finally, a cover image reappears on the last page in a simple, satisfying argyle pattern that symbolically ties up every loose end.

If you have yet to discover the cozy charms of these friendship tales, I recommend that you scoop up the entire trio of Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation (read Ronna’s review in the April 2013 issue of L.A. Parent here) and definitely this newest heart-warming delight, Penguin in Love.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.  Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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