Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.
I’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.
In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.
“I was only trying help.” – Alicia “Help?” – Pablo “What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo “I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia
It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.
Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”
Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.
I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout! Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure.
Junior Library Guild selection for Spring 2014 ✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Salina Yoon has created a wonderful story with Found(Walker Books for Young Readers /Bloomsbury 2014; $14.99, Ages 2-6. Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and wants to find its owner, so he posts “found” flyers in the forest. Time passes and no one claims the bunny, and Bear becomes attached to it. It is, after all, “the most special thing he had ever seen.” But eventually Moose, the owner, spots Floppy, and Bear must prepare to part with his new, treasured toy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it has just the right touch.
The magic of this picture book is its simplicity. The storyline is straightforward and the words are chosen perfectly for the young audience. My kindergartener greatly enjoys Found, and is transported into Bear’s world. When Moose arrives to claim Floppy, my little one’s thumb goes right in her mouth (nervous trait), and when Bear sheds a tear at the thought of parting with Floppy, my little one’s eyes well up, too. Children understand simple, pure emotion and Foundpresents that to them through the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and love.
The artwork is colorful and appealing. The characters are just adorable. Parents will appreciate the clever play on words and the cultural and historical references on the “lost” flyers. My favorites are “Lost Seasons 1-6,” Peter Pan’s “Lost shadow,” and “Lost my marbles! HELP!”
Your child will get lost in the world of Found, and that’s a good thing.
To read a review of Yoon’s Penguin in Love, click here and watch this space for a review of Penguin and Pumpkin.
Today, reviewer MaryAnne Locher weighs in on Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe.
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!
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.
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. Parenthere) 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.”
As parents, we all hope our children will love vegetables, right? Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated in watercolor, Chinese ink, and ink by Anne Wilsdorf, gives a whole new meaning to loving your vegetables. I’m not saying that this book will help you get your children to eat their vegetables, but it might save you some money on toys. After all, who needs expensive toys, when a trip to the farmer’s market will get you a squash?
This book reminded me of how truly creative children are when we allow them to be. Sophie and her parents bring a squash home from the farmer’s market. Her parents intend to cook it for dinner, but Sophie has already drawn a face on it, wrapped it in a baby blanket, and named it Bernice. Like any good mother would do, Sophie’s mom orders pizza.
Bernice and Sophie are inseparable, doing summersaults in the garden, taking trips to the library, and visiting friends at the farmer’s market together. Though “love springs eternal,” nothing lives forever. Especially not a squash that has been bounced and tumbled and hugged. So, who do you go to for advice when your squash looks ill? Why, the farmer who sold it to you, of course. Sophie follows his expert advice, and with a little patience, gets a nice surprise from Bernice!
This is a great book of love, letting go, and renewal. I recommend it for youngsters with an appetite for imagination, and for parents to start a conversation about friendships in all its glorious forms.
HOLY BAGUMBA! It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)
About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES
Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamilloand illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena. It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures(Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller. Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.
GRWR:You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?
KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline. I never know what’s going to happen. The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two. Or a voice. Sometimes I hear a voice. And then I just follow the voice or the image.
GRWR:In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?
KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story. I set out to honor the world. All of it. All of us. That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.
GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?
KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s. It is surely possible. But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.
GRWR:You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?
KD: What a lovely thing to say. You are kind. And would that the words flowed effortlessly. Alas, they don’t. I work and work and work. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?
KD: The two pages usually take me an hour. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes less. And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.
GRWR:Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?
KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.
And I miss Ulysses. And Flora.
And William Spiver.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
GRWR:Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?
KD: They weren’t! I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that. It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.
GRWR:Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?
KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories. So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.
I’m also working on another novel.
GRWR:It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated. Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?
KD:Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect. Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.
GRWR:Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?
KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.
I thought that this was very funny. Other people were not quite as amused. So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.
GRWR:I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?
KD: I LOVE William Spiver.
Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.
GRWR:On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?
KD: I make time to read. It is so important to me. I can’t survive without a book. Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?
KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat. I really do. But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat. Or a dog.
I haven’t read a book so quickly in ages. Was it the fun script format or was it the main character? Both! In 10-year-old protagonist Lulu Harrison, author Elisabeth Wolf has created an immensely likable and relatable character despite her being the daughter of two Hollywood celebrities. Lulu narrates the story using a screenplay she has written rather than a traditional journal, but before that readers get a good feel for what Lulu’s all about in a prologue Wolf’s provided.
In that prologue Lulu explains that she’s not your typical L.A. tween. In fact she calls herself a “Not Fitter Inner.” Despite living in posh Bel Air, California, Lulu says her life’s not all “pampering and parties.” This alone drew me into the story, but then what kept me reading was how genuine Lulu felt. Unlike her trend-crazed older sister, Alexis, Lulu really just craved her busy parents’ attention, the one thing she found most difficult to get. Certain to get even the most reluctant readers engaged, Lulu in LA LA Land is the kind of novel I imagine one friend passing along to another so they can share and discuss it like they do with an episode of their favorite TV program.
This delightful romp around L.A. includes lots of well-known boulevards and boutiques, perfect for locals and L.A. wannabes. The descriptions of shopping jaunts seem spot on although frankly, I’ve only ever been inside one of the “in” stores Wolf mentioned. I’m still traumatized by the memory of the three figure price for a t-shirt! What works with Lulu in LA LA Land is that Lulu is also not into all the glam of the Hollywood scene despite it being her parents’ profession. Instead, Lulu enjoys her garden, the simple pleasures in life like baking, devouring a delicious taco, and spending time with her best friend, Sophia.
The premise of Lulu in LA LA Land is that Lulu decides, on her sister’s urging, to throw a SPA-tacular birthday party for herself to get her parents interested in showing up. What Lulu didn’t plan on was her party’s date conflicting with the movie industry’s biggest event, the Oscars. Add in the fact that Alexis wanted Lulu to invite only a certain type of girl and that type did not include BFF Sophia and you have two major dilemmas Lulu must handle so her party doesn’t become a SPA-disaster!
Today’s interview is with L.A. local author, Elisabeth Wolf, who has also signed a copy of Lulu in LA LA Land for our giveaway. The giveaway begins today, Friday, October 11, 2013 and runs through Sunday, October 20th ’til midnight. One winner of (1) one copy of Lulu in LA LA Land– will be selected via Random.org and notified on Monday, October 21st. Send your name and address to Good Reads With Ronna by clicking here. Be sure to write Lulu Giveaway in the subject. For an extra entry, please LIKE our Facebook page by clicking here.
Q & A With Elisabeth Wolf
GRWR:When did the story idea first hit you?
EW: The idea of writing Lulu hit me twice. First, during the countless hours reading to my children, I realized that New York had Eloise. Paris had Madeline. Los Angeles, however, didn’t really have anyone! I checked in bookstores and only found a book about a dog in LA. Second time happened thanks to my daughter visiting the set of TV show Sonny With A Chance and watching an episode tape. Before she left, the producer gave her a copy of the script signed by the actors. For the next week, she sat in bed reading and re-reading the script. Late one night, prying it from her hands, I had my Eureka moment! What better way for a girl to write about her life in LA than to write it as a screenplay?!
GRWR:At your book launch you mentioned that you and Lulu Harrison, the book’s protaganist, shared some common traits. What are they and why did you choose those in particular?
EW: I made Lulu a little like me and, of course, a little better! Here’s what Lulu got from me: love of gardening, especially growing native plants, fruits and vegetables without using too much water or any chemicals; love of nature, bird watching, protecting trees, and keeping beaches clean; love of spicy, cheesy foods, especially Mexican food; and a love of baking and experimenting in the kitchen. She also has a healthy disinterest in keeping her hair looking picture perfect (to put it mildly). I chose those traits because gardening, nature, and creative cooking are all, actually, very LA; however, when girls hear or read about LA, it’s mostly focused on shopping, celebrities, Hollywood Boulevard, and grooming and glamming (which is, of course, why I had to add the part about never bothering to brush her hair).
GRWR:Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you do something else before you decided to write Lulu in LA LA Land?
EW: I just talked to the librarian at Warner Avenue Elementary School to arrange a visit. She and I chuckled because I attended that school, but spent most of my time there daydreaming about being a writer. The problem for me, however, is that I really never knew how to be one. So, I worked for many years in politics and government as a communications director and press secretary. Finally, one day I decided, “Hey, if I could write for politicians, I’ve got to also have the ability to write for children.” Both types of writing require clear, straightforward ideas, simple sentences, and a point of view.
GRWR:Is it hard to pick out all the different names of the characters and their hobbies or jobs?
EW: Actually, it wasn’t hard. I read lots and spend time listening to children and grown-ups from all backgrounds and places. I store up information from conversations. Things like names and activities or hobbies that make people happy or sad, swirl around my head all the time.
GRWR:When you were growing up, did you know any kids who felt ignored by their parents and who tried outrageous ways to get their parents’ attention like Lulu has to do to make her parents stop and take notice?
EW: Sadly, I knew lots of kids whose parents were too busy doing things to notice when their son or daughter needed more than superficial parenting. Once I was at my friend’s house, and she suggested that I cut her hair. I told her I didn’t really know how (I’d only given my dolls haircuts), but she said it didn’t matter. I thought she better check with her mother, who was home though we had not seen her all afternoon. My friend came back after a few minutes and said that her mother said, “fine.” I snipped per my friend’s instructions and the result was a botched bob. Needless to say, her mother had never approved the plan and the mother’s first look at her daughter’s new hair got her full attention.
GRWR: What part of the book did you enjoy writing the most? Which was the hardest part?
EW: Actually, the part I liked writing the most was when Lulu repairs her relationship with her best friend. Apologizing is difficult at any age so learning how to say you’ve done something wrong when you’re young is important. I had fun figuring out how Lulu should apologize, but not make it so heavy that fixing a mistake was something kids wouldn’t ever try.
The hardest part to write was making a mean girl turn nice. Writing about children acting unkindly to each other is difficult but necessary because it happens daily. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Turning a bully into a buddy took some reorganizing of plots and scenes. It also required me to think very hard about why children act in mean ways to each other.
GRWR:Did your daughter help you get a lot of the tween vernacular correct?
EW: One afternoon I was driving my daughter, Emmie, and my friend’s daughter, Amelia. I asked them for words and expressions they used at school. They hurled so many at me, I had them stop and start texting them to me asap!
There is NO way I would know the expression, “Totes Adorbes” without their help.
GRWR:Who were your favorite authors when you were a kid?
EW: My favorite writers then are still among my favorites now. I would still read any of their books. Enid Blyton. She wrote the Famous Five series. The fact that the stories took place in the wild English countryside made them even more fantastic. E.B. White. His imagination and his language made me want to be a writer.
GRWR:Which of your contemporaries is your go-to author today?
EW: Jeanne Birdsall. The Penderwicks Series. Sheryl & Carrie Berk. The Cupcake Club.
GRWR:How long did your entire writing and publishing process take from concept to finished book?
EW: At first, everything took a LONG time. I did not treat writing like my job. Once I decided to focus on this project and really work, everything went quickly. It was about a year from the time Sourcebooks wanted Lulu to the when they released it.
GRWR:What is Lulu’s next adventure?
EW: Lulu in Honolulu. Her parents are making a movie on location and Lulu just may have to save the entire production.
GRWR:What tips can you share with kids interested in writing, but with no story idea in mind? How do they choose what to write about? Where should they look for inspiration?
EW: Deciding what to write can be so hard it keeps you from starting to write. Either you have too many ideas or none at all. If you have NO ideas for a story, come up with a feeling. Mad. Scared. Fun. Sad. Think about that feeling. Think about what causes that feeling in you or others. Doing that, can help you come up with a story idea.
I have always had the opposite problem. I have too many ideas floating around. Always was and always will be a daydreamer.
For a long time I wanted to write a story about a girl who sells make-up in New York. Her brother is a spy and is kidnapped in India. She goes to rescue him. I could never start. I realized the problem was: I’d never been to India. I’d never lived in New York. My brothers are the most honest, open people and couldn’t spy a sleeping puppy without giggling. Oh, and when it comes to make up, I don’t know the difference between blush and eye shadow. One day, rather than linger over a story based on things I knew nothing about, I decided to write what I knew: being a girl in LA can be tough for the Not-Fitter-Inner.
I’m a huge Jim Henson fan so when I received these new Pajanimals bedtime board books (some even include my fave – reusable stickers!) and paperbacks from Running Press Kids, I knew I had to share them all with you. The best part about this new collection is that they provide parents with ideal reading material for toddlers dealing with concerns and fears quite common for their developmental stage.
The writing in all the Pajanimals bedtime books is upbeat, easy flowing and each colorful book focuses on a way to tackle the title’s issue in a comforting way whether it be about jealousy, nightmares or waking up on the wrong side of the bed. For instance in Sweet Pea Sue Misses Mom and Dad, Sweet Pea would rather sleep with Mom and Dad than spend the night in her own room. However after a quick visit to the Moon with her pals Squacky, Cowbella and Apollo, and a thoughtful question from the Moon, Sweet Pea Sue solves the dilemma herself. I sure wish books like these had been available 18 years ago when my oldest daughter faced many of the same challenges. Children will be able to relate to their favorite TV characters and parents will be thankful for an easy, affordable way to discuss otherwise tricky topics. The books’ size makes them easy to take along on vacations or outings. Why not also consider giving them as a gift because, when paired with another Pajanimals product, they’d certainly please most any toddler you know!
Apollo Has a Bad Day – $4.95
Lots of things are going wrong for Apollo today. When he is feeling too angry and sad to sleep, he and the Pajanimals travel to The Night Sky. The Moon reminds Apollo that though there are bad days, tomorrow is always a brand new day.
Squacky Is Afraid of the Dark– $4.95
Squacky is afraid to go to sleep in the dark. Luckily the rest of the Pajanimals know just what to do! They travel to The Night Sky where the Moon reminds Squacky that he is always shining bright in the sky and watching over the Pajanimals.
SMALL FORMAT BOARD BOOKS
Sweet Pea Sue Misses Mom and Dad – $6.95
Sweet Pea Sue can’t sleep because she wants to be in Mom and Dad’s bed. When the Pajanimals travel to the Moon, she remembers that Mom and Dad are always close by if she needs them, and that Moon is always there watching over them.
Cowbella and the Bad Dream– $6.95
Cowbella is afraid she’s going to have a bad dream and doesn’t want to go to sleep. The Pajanimals travel to the Friendly Forest where Jerry the bear assures Cowbella that if her imagination can think up scary thoughts, it can also make happy thoughts! So she learns to only think of happy things before she goes to sleep.
BOARD BOOKS/12 pages (Includes reusable stickers – warning: small parts. Not for children under 3 years)
It’s Apollo’s Special Day – $7.95
Tomorrow is Apollo’s Birthday and the Pajanimals are excited to celebrate—all except for Cowbella. She wishes that it was her Birthday so she can get all the cake and presents. But when they visit Mr. Happy Birthday at Birthday Land, Cowbella discovers that the fun part about a Birthday party is spending time with the ones you love.
Sweet Pea Sue can’t sleep because she’s scared of a picture of an octopus she saw in a book. When the Pajanimals go to the Big, Blue Sea, they meet Ellie, a real octopus. To Sweet Pea Sue’s surprise, Ellie is scared of the Pajanimals. The two realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of because they just want to be friends.
Squacky and The Gift of Christmas – $7.95
The Pajanimals are excited that Christmas is coming! Squacky really hopes he gets the new Fantastic Splash Super Sub, but then becomes worried that Santa won’t bring it. The Pajanimals travel to The Night Sky where the Moon reminds Squacky that Christmas isn’t about the presents you get, it’s about spending time with the ones you love and sharing Christmas traditions together.
To find out more about the Pajanimals, see their TV schedule, see videos, get activities and craft ideas plus enter contests, visit Sprout here.
In this riotous romp around Denmark, New Hampshire (yes, something is rotten in this city), readers meet 11-year-old Andy Whiffler. With his exceptionally large nose, Whiffler will experience the trials and tribulations common to many just-moved-to-town tweens, only more so because his nose knows no boundaries.
Andy’s intelligence, wit and uncanny ability to sniff out trouble (in addition to a variety of vile stinky things such as a rotting pastrami sandwich, feet fungus and armpit odor) soon turns around the kids who so often tease him about his oversized honker. Now, as a member of a group who have dubbed themselves the Not-Right Brothers along with one female friend named Vivian, Andy embarks on unearthing what’s causing the horrendously horrible noxious fumes at James F. Durante Elementary.
Soon something seriously fishy is discovered. In fact it’s downright criminal and it may cause the school to close down leaving kids to lose their summer vacation. However, if all goes according to plan, The Not-Right Brothers, aided by a Mardi Gras masked, flying crime fighter known as Super Schnoz, will rid school of its evil element, foiling a dastardly plan to pollute cities across the planet. Can Super Schnoz close the Gates of Smell and help reopen James F. Durante Elementary? Don’t let only the nose know! Pick up a copy today at your local independent bookseller and find out what part some snot and cayenne pepper play in this mad dash to deliver Denmark from certain disaster.
GRWR: Please tell us how you decided that a boy with a humongous nose should be a super hero? Why not ears or big feet?
Gary Urey: Big noses are just funny! They can smell good things and bad things, expel mucous, wiggle, and you can pick it. If you ever got stranded on a desert island, your nose could provide hours of idle entertainment. Also, people are generally obsessed with their nose. Is it too big or too small? Why is it red? Should I get a nose job?
GRWR:I love being entertained and your book is pure entertainment. What does it take nowadays to entertain children with their oh so many distractions?
Gary Urey: Children are very easy to entertain if you have a laptop, a TV, and Netflix. Seriously, I think that children innately love books. We as adults just need to put the right book into a kid’s hands and they will gobble it up. A Newbery Medal winning book may very well be a beautifully told tale, but a kid who likes comic books, laughs at fart jokes, and makes goofy videos with his friends and then uploads them to YouTube probably won’t be interested in a story about a kid who lives in a small Kansas town during the depression. But that same fart joke-loving kid will eagerly read books like Captain Underpants, Super Schnoz, and The Day My Butt Went Psycho.
GRWR: You’ve said that you were nasally challenged as a child like Andy Whiffler. What kind of teasing did you endure and is that when your keen sense of humor was born?
Gary Urey: Yes, I was born into a family of large noses! Our family reunion looks like a nose convention. My maternal grandfather’s nose was so HUGE you could use it as a storm shelter. His honker actually affected the tides.
Somewhere in my childhood, I got an unfortunate nickname that left me wide open for teasing. Everybody referred to me by that name, even teachers and my own family. To this day, if I went back to my hometown they would call me by that name. So, to answer your question, when you go through childhood and adolescence with a humiliating nickname you develop a healthy sense of humor.
GRWR: Was this book originally conceived as an animated TV show because between Long’s artwork and the madcap adventures embarked upon, it seems to shout series?
Gary Urey: No, I didn’t consciously start writing Super Schnoz with an eye for an animated TV show—although that would be great! I grew up in a home without books so Saturday morning and after-school cartoons were my main source of entertainment. Shows like Hong Kong Phooey, Johnny Quest, Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, Land of the Lost, Super Friends, and dozens of others were a major influence on me as a writer for children.
GRWR:There are snot and sickening smell type jokes up the kazoo in this book. How do you know when you’ve reached capacity with this type of humor in a kids’ book? For example – do you show it to some kids for their input?
Gary Urey: I let my eleven-year-old daughter and her friends read the manuscript. Half said it was gross, the other half didn’t, so I figured the avalanche of booger and snot jokes were okay. Also, my editor at Albert Whitman will let me know if I have gone too far.
GRWR:Did you decide to add all the name references to nose related things such as Principal Cyrano and James F. Durante Elementary School for the grown-ups who might read this to their children? I looked up the Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk you included in the story thinking it was going to be a translation of nose, but it wasn’t. Did you do that on purpose?
Gary Urey: Yes, I did add all the big nose references for the grown-ups. The Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk just popped into my head the day I was writing that chapter. I think I heard of the city from some documentary. Although, your idea of naming the city after the Russian word for nose is much funnier. (According to Google Translate, nose in Russian is hoc.)
GRWR:The whole idea of Andy being able to fly is so totally imaginative. Did you have to do some research to make his ability to lift off the ground thanks to inflated nostrils believable?
Gary Urey: I did a bit of research on how hot-air balloons work, just to make it bit more believable.
GRWR: Where did you draw your inspiration for the four other members of Andy’s Not-Right Brothers and girl partner-in-crime fighting?
Gary Urey: The Not-Right Brothers are composites of friends I had during elementary school. As for Vivian, all the great super hero teams like the Fantastic Four have a kick-butt girl in the gang. Vivian fit the bill perfectly!
GRWR:Is there a second book in the works?
Gary Urey: Yes. I just finished Super Schnoz II. He will battle snotty aliens who are intent on taking over the world!
GRWR:What writers inspired you as a child and who are those you still enjoy reading as an adult today?
Gary Urey: The book I remember most from childhood is How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. I still love that book! The book that made me want to become a children’s writer was Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. It’s my favorite book ever, and it won the Newbery back in 1991. I also love every book by Gary Paulson, Avi, Cynthia Rylant, and Dav Pilkey. They’ve had a tremendous influence on me.
We’re excited to give away 2 autographed by the author (Gary Urey) copies of SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL. Each of the winners will have their signed copy mailed to them by Albert Whitman & Company who are graciously providing the books.
The giveaway begins today, Sunday, September 22, 2013 and runs through Sunday, October 6th ’til midnight. Each of the winners of (1) one copy of SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL by Gary Urey with illustrations by Ethan Long will be selected via Random.org and notified on Monday, October 7th. Send your name and address to Good Reads With Ronna by clicking here. Be sure to write SCHNOZ/Albert Whitman Giveaway in the subject. For an extra entry, please LIKE our Facebook page by clicking here. Also remember to send us your name and contact info in an emailtoRonna.L.Mandel@gmail.comby midnight Sunday, October 6, 2013 and you’ll be entered to win.
Please click here for a link to our contests page if you need more info. Good luck!
I’m so glad I recently broadened my book review horizons to include titles by Spanish publisher, Cuento de Luz, as I have enjoyed each and every title I’ve read so far. This publisher’s books deliver powerful messages in delightfully subtle ways.
Dorothy: A Different Kind of Friend ($16.95, Cuento de Luz, Ages 5-7) by Roberto Aliaga presents readers with a story about an unidentifiable furry animal girl who befriends a not-so-popular girl in town, named Dorothy. Dorothy is big, clumsy and very different than the others. The bully girls in town all hang out together and tease the protagonist when she hangs out with Dorothy, saying very cruel and hurtful things about her. Will those harsh words be enough to make the protagonist drop Dorothy as a friend? Read the book and you will find out for yourself.
There are so many children’s books about being bullied that it is impossible to keep up with all of them. But what sets this book apart is that the characters are unique and the message is delivered in muted tones, leaving the reader with a lot to think about. The illustrations by Mar Blanco are both colorful and adorable, highlighting the uniqueness of the characters. In the end, we must all follow our hearts, no matter what others tell us to do, and Dorothy: A Different Kind of Friend shows us the way.
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Newbery medalist Cynthia Voigt (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12) is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.
Mister Max (Book 1 in a trilogy) is middle grade fiction at its most entertaining. There are 25 chapters with curious titles such as Chapter 4 “In which Max doesn’t want to get out of bed, Grammie is bossy, and Madame Olenka enters the scene” to lure readers into the story. There are at least seven illustrations by Iacopo Bruno scattered throughout the novel, but since I read an ARC (advanced readers’ copy), the final artwork was still to come. However the rough sketches I saw looked exactly how I’d pictured certain scenes and I liked what Bruno chose to detail for every illustration. They certainly help ground the reader in the time period.
This first Mister Max installment takes readers to a country never named, but that sounds a lot like England. Kids will also note that the time period is never mentioned nor is the type of currency which leaves lots open for interpretation and imagination. The port city where all the action (and there’s plenty of that) takes place comprises Old Town and New Town (there’s a map included in the beginning). It’s in Old Town where we meet twelve-year-old Max (a lad with unusually colored eyes) and his parents Mary and William Starling in their cozy dining room circa early 1900s, perhaps in the Edwardian era. The Starlings, founders of the Starling Theatrical Company, earn a comfortable living, but excitement is more or less vicarious. So, when they receive a mysterious invitation from an Indian Maharajah to journey by sea and then help him establish a theatrical company of his own, the promise of such an exotic adventure is hard to resist.
I was immediately transported to this masterfully created land where Max’s parents are then kidnapped at embarkation and he is left to fend for himself. Tweens will be easily hooked on the mystery of what’s happened to the adults and a bunch of other mysteries which ensue. Voigt’s colorful cast of characters, by the way, are as equally engaging as the storyline.
Readers will likely relate to Max’s desire for independence, a big theme often repeated throughout the book. But how can he manage on his own? Thankfully there’s his Grammie, the librarian, living just across the way to make sure he continues to eat and be educated. Having grown up in the theatre, Max is adept at creating new personas like his actor parents. This skill will serve him well as he seeks out employment opportunities to keep the money coming in while also attending to his studies.
It isn’t long before the mystery of Max’s parents’ disappearance starts unfolding as the appearance of certain suspicious indivuals helps shed light on what may have happened. All the while Max is finding other mysteries cross his path. Hired first by a father and daughter looking for a lost dog, Max begins to earn money solving these problems (or crimes?) wearing theater costumes and using lines from various plays his father’s performed in. And though many people in the novel refer to Max as a detective, he is adamant he is not a detective, but rather a “solutioneer.”
The intertwining of some sub-plots is fun as readers watch most things fall into place as the book progresses. For example, Max’s involvement in finding a lost treasure may also be the link to resurrecting a failed romance. And his sense of consciousness grows as the caseload does.
When the book ends with Chapter 25 entitled “In which what is lost is – in a way – found,” readers will be happy to find this is really not the end and will be eagerly awaiting Book 2.
MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY (Puffin Books, $5.99, ages 8 and up) by Betty G. Birney contains everything a young reader would want: humor, conflict, animals, action, assorted students and teachers, good advice, and great plotting all packed into an enjoyable paperback.
After reading this early chapter book I can easily understand why the Humphrey series is featured on 24 state lists. Humphrey, the classroom pet (along with Og the Frog) stars in nine different books, each with straightforward themes such as SURPRISES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and FRIENDSHIP ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY. They also contain the same tight writing, wit and wisdom readers will expect from Birney after reading the first in the series, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY.
I love a good mystery and with this story I got more than one upon visiting Room 26 at Longfellow School. First there’s the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” teacher Mrs. Brisbane is reading the class. Then there’s the classwork where the students are tasked with discovering the mysterious word’s meaning; piewhacked is the first one they must figure out. Piewhacked? But when principal Mr. Morales announces to Room 26 that a substitute is going to take care of the class, the biggest mystery begins to unfold.
Mr. Edonopulous (AKA Mr. E), the substitute, is a puzzle to the kids in Room 26. He’s nice and friendly, but he’s always turning every lesson into some kind of game, he doesn’t assign homework (which has both its up and down sides), and he keeps getting chastised by the co-chairperson of the School Safety Committee (AKA whistle-clutching Mrs. Wright, the PE instructor) for not following the rules. What gives here? Then there’s Thomas and Joey, classmates who should be friends except Thomas’s constant exaggerating and lying has put a wedge between the boys. Humphrey wonders how he can solve this social dilemma. Woven throughout Humphrey’s detective work runs the longest thread and that’s the one causing him the most anxiety – the longer Mr. E remains means the longer Mrs. Brisbane stays away. Did something happen to her? Did she take a new job? Are clues adding up to a ballet career for Mrs. B? Will they ever find out the ending of the Sherlock Holmes story?
There are so many different and interesting story elements at work to hold readers’ attention and make them eager to read on. Plus kids will care about Humphrey because he’s such a compassionate rodent. Humphrey’s Detectionary at the end of each chapter often serves as his observations and commentary on humans, i.e. “It’s a mystery to me why humans enjoy a very frightening holiday like Halloween!”
Solve your kids’ summer reading quandry with MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and find fun Humphrey activities and teachers’ guides at www.penguin.com/humphrey. What more clues do you need?
There are hundreds of books about being different and embracing one’s uniqueness. Ironically, A FUNNY LITTLE BIRD(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99, ages 4-8) by graphic artist Jennifer Yerkes about a lonely, invisible bird, truly stands out!
“When he was seen, other birds made fun of him.” So the little bird set out on his own, all the while accumulating various beautiful items found during his journey, items like magnificent feathers and flowers that would certainly get him noticed. Bringing attention to himself, however, proved to be a double-edged sword when this funny little bird was pursued by a fox. Yet in his haste to escape, his so-called treasures were lost.
Then, like the Rainbow Fish before him, the funny little bird realized that all the accoutrements would not lead to happiness. In fact, it was his invisibility that made him special. This wonderful gift he could share with his pals could also keep them safe. So, it turns out, that this funny little bird learned a most valuable lesson that takes many others years to grasp – excessive pride can push potential friends away and to have a friend you must first be a friend.
In 48 pages, Yerkes’s crsip yet sparse artwork manages to be fluid, fresh and fun, a beautiful blend of Jon Klassen meets Lois Ehlert. A Funny Little Bird is truly this year’s must have for self-esteem building! Get a copy at your favorite independent bookstore today.
Cecil Castellucci, an L.A. author, has written everything from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest projects are Odd Duck and Letters for Kids, a bi-monthly subscription program through The Rumpus. In Odd Duck we meet Theodora and Chad, neighbor ducks who both waddle to the beat of a different drum yet actually have tons in common. Although the two become BFFs each one thinks the other is the strange one. Upon overhearing someone call one of them, odd, Theodora and Chad clash over which duck was being referred to. This winning picture book is a salute to individuality and uniqueness, a recurring theme for Castellucci.
How much of you is in Theodora?
I think all of me is in Theodora and Chad. It took a long time for me to figure out that my oddness was also what made me interesting.
Why do you think opposites Theodora and Chad attract?
I have always been a big fan of opposites. Some of my favorite friendships are the ones where we see the world in a similar way but we like radically different things. In Odd Duck, Chad and Theodora might move through the world very differently, but I think fundamentally they feel the same way about things.
Why do people shy away from what they don’t consider “normal”?
It’s hard to be odd. I’m no psychologist, but I think that we tend to gravitate toward groups to feel safer and that is what “normal” means. But I think that being odd is normal to other odd people. So I say, find your odd tribe and you will be “normal”! Because I think really there is no such thing as normal. And I think that everyone on the entire planet is a little odd about something.
Learn more about Cecil Castellucci and her other books at misscecil.com. For info about Letters for Kids and more about Odd Duck, read the extended interview at LAParent.com.
Find the extended interview at LAParent.com and remember to pick up their new May issue.
Click here for the link to my review of Castellucci’s First Day on Earth, a fantastic YA novel from 2011.
I’d heard the buzz about Bluebirdby Bob Staake, but deliberately steered clear of reading anything before I laid eyes on my own copy. I didn’t want a single word to influence my opinion of a book that was 10 years in the making. Then my review copy arrived and I dove in. Certain to be an award-winner, Bluebird (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 4-8) is everything I hoped it would be and more.
This emotion-packed picture book touched me the same way the 1956 film The Red Balloon did. I felt my eyes well with tears just like when I first watched the French classic as an elementary school girl in the late 60s. I’ve carried that movie with me over four decades and am confident Bluebird will have that kind of effect on children. Its moving message will stay with readers. Plus, reading this book feels so much more intimate and individual than watching a film and the artwork simply soars. Yes, it’s a book that has wings because as you read it and watch colors and tones change with the illustrations, your spirit lifts along with Bluebird and the boy he befriends. And though I said “read it,” it’s actually a wordless picture book with a most wonderful voice, one that shouts love and understanding. Great art can do that. Here are some of Staake’s Bluebird character studies:
Friends come in all shapes and sizes and so do bullies. There are several bullies who torment a young boy at the beginning of the school year. He feels alone and ostracized until Bluebird appears and makes it hard not to notice his friendly gestures. Set in Manhattan, the different frames of the story depict the nameless boy and his new pal spending a great afternoon together playing and then sailing a boat in Central Park as new friendships are forged.
The huge smiles on the kids’ faces and the light airy feeling of grays and blues on the pages convey a newfound happiness and joy. Then the grays darken as the boy runs into the bullies.
(A Staake sketch of the bullies in Central Park)
What happens next as Bluebird tries to help his friend may temporarily derail little ones, but that’s really the point. Bluebird is a conversation starter about friendship, loyalty and bullying. It’s also about loss and the healing power of community. I’m glad we waited 10 years for this powerful tale to take flight.
For more information and a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the book, visit FlyBluebird.com.