During the countdown to Christmas, all the trees on the Christmas tree farm are anxious to be selected and go home with a special family. After all, the trees will play an important part in the Christmas celebrations. They stand a little taller, brush the snow off their branches, and wait to become A Perfect Tree for Christmas. But two trees in Anne Gillespie Lewis’ gently suspenseful story aren’t quite perfect. Though green and pointy-needled, one has a crooked top and the other’s tip is split in two.
The farmer does his best to bolster the pair, giving them extra water and fertilizer. He even tries to straighten the crooked tree by binding it with a colorful scarf. But nothing works, and day after day passes while the trees are passed over by picky families. Still, the piney pair happily watch the children taking hayrides, making snowmen, and warming themselves at bonfires.
Readers will root for a happy ending to this tale, especially when the two tree buddies become separated. As the last tree’s teardrops become frozen crystals sparkling on its branches, a joyous Christmas seems nearly impossible. But do not despair, by the last page the perfect solution is found.
Illustrator Carina Stahlberg has done a superb job rendering these trees full of personality despite their static positions. Who knew trees could smile, grimace, and groan so effectively? She surrounds them with a plethora of adorable wildlife and quirkily cartoonish characters, filling the pages with amusing scenery. Squirrels on skis and dogs of all breeds are fun for young readers to spot in scene after scene.
A finalist in the 2014 Midwest Independent Publishers Association’s book awards, this sweet holiday picture book was inspired by author Anne Gillespie Lewis’ sympathy for a crooked tree she spotted in Brooklyn Center. She couldn’t shake its image from her mind, especially since she had been diagnosed with scoliosis as a girl. Thus A Perfect Tree for Christmas began to take shape, reminding us that no one has to be perfect to be loved.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Nodin Press books are distributed by Itasca Books. Click here if you’d like to *order a copy.
Where Obtained: I reviewed a promotional copy of A Perfect Tree for Christmas and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
*Disclosure: GRWR makes no commission from your purchases and only provides this info as a courtesy to readers since Nodin Press is a regional publisher.
A MUST FOR MOTHER’S DAY!
A Gift for Mama, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Alison Jay, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
This is the kind of picture book you will want to read slowly and relish as if you were eating a piece of the finest European chocolate after going off a diet. Simply delicious.
I have a soft spot for stories set in Europe, having lived there over 10 years. Cities with beautiful pedestrian-friendly town squares are abundant, and the Viennese ones where so much of A Gift for Mama (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 4-8) takes place is no exception. Being transported back to a bustling 19th century Vienna is just part of the pleasure children will experience when reading this gorgeous, uplifting new picture book.
Meet Oskar, an adorable lad eager to find something special to give his mother on her birthday, but alas, he has but one single coin. There, much to Oskar’s delight, “in the middle of the market, was a flower seller.” A bright yellow rose beckoned to him so he used his coin to buy a blossom that would be “the perfect present.”
It doesn’t take long to realize that Oskar has a heart of gold. There’s even a golden, sunshiny quality to all the illustrations, helping the reader feel good all over as Oskar’s kindness is demonstrated again and again. As the story unfolds, Oskar’s encounter with an artist – with whom he trades his rose for a “beautiful horsehair paintbrush” – sets off a series of exchanges with a conductor, a singer, a lyricist, an Empress and ultimately a sad little girl, linking one individual to the other, and always demonstrating Oskar’s generosity.
You can almost hear a waltz playing in the background as you turn the pages of this stunning-to-look-at picture book. Between Lodding’s obvious love of Vienna captured in her prose, and Jay’s crackly-style, vivid vignettes of vintage Viennese life, it’s tempting to book a flight to Austria to track down the places depicted in this must-read picture book. A Gift for Mama is at once a touching tribute to a child’s love for his mother while also an homage to glorious Vienna of a bygone era. I’m going back for seconds!
Lost for Words, written and illustrated by Natalie Russell (Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, Ages 4-8), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey. Tapir has a lovely new notebook, and yearns to fill it with something marvelous. If only he could think of something to write! Staring at the page, he tries to come up with of something, anything! But his head is as empty as his page.
Anyone who has suffered writer’s block will identify with this cuddly tapir’s dilemma. And how cute is this Winnie the Pooh-shaped tapir as a main character? He turns to his friends for inspiration, and finds Giraffe writing poetry, Flamingo composing a song, and Hippo writing a story. Poor Tapir! He tries imitating their methods, chewing leaves, wallowing in mud, and humming with his eyes closed. Alas – the harder he tries, the grumpier he gets.
Russell’s illustrations are fun and engaging, using soft lines and gentle blue, green and yellow earthy pastel tones. She draws distinct, beautiful suns over panoramic Central American landscapes and smudges realistic muddy textures onto Hippo and Tapir. The colorful pages are bright and filled with simply sketched details like dragonflies and curly, twisty plant life.
Tapir wanders off by himself to think atop a quiet hill, and finds a creative solution to his blank notebook problem. Although the ending may come as no surprise to experienced picture book readers, it is sure to delight young listeners. This sweet, warmhearted story will win artists of all sorts who observe, appreciate and develop their own creative inspiration.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I borrowed a copy from my public library. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Our Holiday Hiatus
The Message of the Birds Review
We have a Christmas treat for you today – A very special book, The Message of the Birds, a timeless and timely tale not to be missed. But before that, all of us at Good Reads With Ronna would like to wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. Whether you’ve already celebrated Hanukkah, are awaiting Santa’s arrival for Christmas, or perhaps partaking in any number of other festivities observed around the world, may your holidays be filled with awe and adventure found in the pages of great books and in the company of family and friends.
While you spend precious time with loved ones or newfound friends, we’re taking time to read all the latest winter picture books and novels we’ve received. We hope you’ll come back to see what we’re reviewing in 2014 and thank you for your continued support!!
The Message of the Birds, written by Kate Westerlund and illustrated by Feridun Oral (Minedition, 2013; $16.99, Ages 4 and up), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
The Message of the Birds tugged at my heart. It is a simple, still book, but it is full of the warmth and innocence that parents so often desire for their young children’s lives. The book encompasses a single theme: let there be peace on earth. As the birds in the rafters of the stable watched over the Baby Jesus, they “heard in his voice…the words of a song that they would carry throughout the world…It was a special song of blessing, of joy and good will.” Unfortunately, as old owl explains years later, that message has been forgotten or ignored. But Robin believes that children will listen and understand, and that the hope for a better world lies with them. So, the birds plan to carry the special message by singing to children. It’s a lot of work, full of long journeys, but the birds try their hardest. And something wonderful happens:
“They saw hands linked together—white hands, brown hands, black hands. Children everywhere were joining together. The children had heard the message of the birds, and what had started as a whisper now resounded from shining faces all over the world.”
What a wonderful thought to teach children, especially this time of year.
The illustrations are spot on. The snowy, wintery scenes juxtaposed to the birds’ colorful plumage and children’s cheeriness bring the story alive. And in a way that only a masterful artist can manage, the pictures seem both lively and still.
During what is one of the busiest times of the year for many people, taking a break to enjoy and understand The Message of the Birds is well worth the time.
A Handful of Lies
Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It, by Michael B. Kaplan with illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch, is the third in a series of picture books from Dial Books ($16.99, ages 3-5).
I think a lot of parents know a child like Betty Bunny, funny, genuine, a real character at times but also still a little kid learning her way in the world, even if sometimes it’s the wrong way.
This story finds Betty trying to get out of trouble for breaking a lamp. While her three siblings know she was responsible, Betty claims, “I didn’t do it.” Then it hits her when her brother Bill asks who did. “The Tooth Fairy,” replies Betty, quite pleased she came up with such a good excuse.
It’s not long before Betty’s mom confronts her daughter about breaking the lamp. And Betty still denies having done it.
“Is that the honest truth?” asked her mother.
“No,” said Betty Bunny proudly, “it’s an honest lie.”
The lesson Betty learns about telling the truth is one her whole family jumps in on which is what I especially liked about this picture book. The brothers and sister share their two cents which is how it works in most families. Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It provides a terrific starting point for parents to discuss honesty and the ramifications of crying wolf – if you always lie, when will people believe you? The watercolor, pen and ink illustrations are full of expression and depict the family dynamic in a clear and colorful style certain to delight.
After Betty embraces honesty and tells her dad who has just returned from the gym that he smells, Betty’s dad also teaches her that while telling the truth is good, it’s important not to hurt someone’s feelings. For youngsters learning how to successfully navigate the world of social conventions and manners, lots of baby steps (or in Betty’s case – hops) are required and many mistakes will be made. This book helps by showing children great examples in a very humorous, relatable way.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Monkeyfarts!: Wacky Jokes Every Kid Should Know ($8.99, Quirk Books, Ages 6 and up) is chock full of silly jokes like the one above and is sure to give you and your kids a good laugh. Inside the 94 pages of this compact book you’ll find everything from classic jokes, knock knock jokes, originals, one-liners one or two paragraph joke stories and some really cute cartoon-like illustrations.
Author David Borgenicht is the creator and coauthor of all the books in the Worst-Case Scenario series, and he obviously has a great sense of humor.
“What do you call two people who embarrass you in front of your friends?”
“Mom and Dad.”
What I like about this book is that it represents the innocence of childhood. Let’s face it. Our children unavoidably hear inappropriate words, jokes and more out there. But a book like Monkeyfarts! gives your children the opportunity to enjoy some wholesome humor and well, just be a kid. Along the way, they may learn a thing or two. And most importantly, they will be able to entertain their friends and generate a great deal of laughter. I’m sure you agree, there’s no better sound on earth than a child laughing.
“Where was the Declaration of Independence Signed?”
“At the bottom.”
– Reviewed by Debbie Glade
NOTE: Incidentally, if you’re unable to read the poster on the cover that supplies the question to the answer “Monkey farts.” It asks the extremely profound, “What’s invisible and smells like bananas?”
Debbie Glade dreams of snow from her home in Miami as she reviews this wonderful, wintery picture book.
A Flower in the Snow ($16.99, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Ages 4 and up) by Tracey Corderoy is a story about two unlikely friends, an Inuit girl named Luna and a polar bear named Bear who discover an unlikely occurrence – a flower growing in the snow. Bear picks the golden flower to give to Luna, but when the flower dies and Luna gets sad, Bear sets out to find her a replacement. His journey, taking him near and far and also far too long, makes Luna miss him terribly. When he finally returns, together they learn the true meaning of friendship.
A Flower in the Snow teaches kids the valuable message that material gifts are not what friendship is all about, rather it is companionship and time spent together. The lovely watercolor illustrations by Sophie Allsopp are charming and beautifully capture the emotions of the story. This book would make a perfect holiday gift for a young child. After all, what child wouldn’t want to be best friends with a big, white, fluffy polar bear?
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue ($17.95, hardcover; $7.95, paperback,Kar-Ben, ages 5-9), a new story about the age old Jewish Festival of Lights written by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Jamel Akib, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
I have read dozens of Hanukkah books and always love getting a hold of one that presents the holiday from an interesting new perspective and this one certainly succeeds. The tale takes place in 18th century New Bedford, Massachusetts, a whaling community where many Jewish families who have emigrated from the religious intolerance of Portugal now live secretly as Jews in America.
Nine-year-old Emanuel Aguilar is one such Jewish boy, son of a merchant whose shop sells whalers all the necessary supplies and food provisions for days and weeks at sea. The thriving whaling industry employs countless fisherman and many hundreds of ships set sail from the New Bedford port seeking their prey whose oil was used in candle making and in lamps.
Emanuel dreams of adventure at sea rather than the mundane life behind a shop counter but his father cautions him, saying a whaler’s life is “lonely and dangerous.” This timid nature of his father was also reflected in his reluctance to express his religious views afters years of persecution overseas. “This isn’t Portugal, Papa. This is America! No one will put us in jail for being who we are,” said Emanuel. Yet despite Emanuel’s repeated pleas for his father to light and display the Hanukkiah or Shabbat candle, Mr. Aguilar continues to live in fear and practices his faith behind drawn curtains.
It is only when Emanuel stows away on a whaling ship on the last night of Hanukkah that things change in New Bedford. The ship encounters a fierce storm and the ship’s main mast is damaged forcing the captain to return to port. Heavy waves and wind have caused the whaling ship to lose its bearings but with not stars to guide the crew and the lighthouse perhaps struck by lighting, darkness appears endless and finding New Bedford impossible.
But like the miracle oil that burned for eight nights when the Jews returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, out at sea a miracle occurred, too! The shoreline of New Bedford shone brightly against the night sky. “In the window of every Jewish home, including Emanuel’s, flames were glowing, proclaiming the last night of Hanukkah.”
When son and father are reunited both are thankful for the lessons learned as are we the readers. This moving Hanukkah tale is marvelously illustrated with chalk pastels that seem to effortlessly flow with story’s mood and setting. This is a picture book you will definitely want to share with the family and discuss because the topic of religious freedom is as relevant today as it was three centuries ago.
Wishing everyone a joy-filled Hanukkah!
Today Karen B. Estrada weighs in on the incredibly cool BabyLit board book series from Gibbs Smith ($9.99, ages 1 and up).
As an English teacher, I was excited when I saw the BabyLit series and happened upon the Little Master Stoker and Little Master Dickens books. I was not sure quite what to expect from these durable cardboard baby books which purport to introduce young children to classic literature; to be honest, I was skeptical. But when the books arrived, I was instantly delighted.
In Little Master Stoker’s Dracula: A BabyLit Counting Primer and Little Master Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer, author Jennifer Adams and artist Alison Oliver creatively summarize key elements of two classic works of literature. The “art” in these books is just that—scenes that go beyond simple illustration. In Dracula, edgy double-page spreads
utilizing a red, purple, black, gray, and white color palate make the 19th century classic seem contemporary and fresh. The story begins with “1 castle” and moves through counting up to 10 using relevant and important aspects of the actual novel. While the book does not really tell the story of Dracula—not that it is a story you’d want to read to your infant or toddler anyway—it offers enough details to familiarize them somewhat with elements of the story. When your child comes across Dracula again as a teen or an adult, perhaps he will recall the 1 castle and 2 friends who read 7 letters and diaries in the Little Master Stoker book he read as a child.
In A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer, equally punchy illustrations depict an image in which the color of an object tells the story. While I felt Dracula more closely related to the actual novel, the images and colors in A Christmas Carol will nonetheless provide your child with the same familiarity of this classic work of literature. Share the story now with your youngster to foster an appreciation for Dickens’ complete version in the future. In other words, if you are looking for some wonderful, timeless holiday reading that is appropriate for your child who is just learning numbers and colors, check out the Baby Lit Little Masters series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. Like the original novels, these books should be on your shelves!
Take a midnight stroll through Amen Creature Corners and glimpse what’s carved on the animals’ headstones.
Ronna Mandel wants to get your youngsters hyped up for Halloween with her review of Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs ($16.95, Charlesbridge, ages 7-10) by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen with ilustrations by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins.
I know what you’re thinking. Bizarre, morbid. Maybe. But I love this kind of offbeat picture book that is often ever so subtly humorous and other times outright in your face. Either way, the variety of the verses are clever and catchy and the gray-toned artwork is moody and evocative with the occasional smidgen of scarlet. Look closely, too, or you might miss some very funny touches Timmins has tossed in to keep you on your toes as you walk amongst the tombstones. Whether the creatures have been crushed, fallen ill or been struck while crossing the street (see page 6 Chicken Crosses Over), the myriad methods of demise are as hysterical as the epitaphs!
I have a feeling this kind of original and whacky poetry book might just tickle a few funny bones and get more than a few kids eager to try their hand at a few epitaphs this fall. With a chill in the autumn air, it’s really the right time of year to nurture all those budding Edgar Allan Poes.
Here’s a brief sample of a few of my faves:
Good-bye to a Rowdy Rooster
Too cocky by far,
he head-butted a car.
Here lies a moth
without a name,
who lived by the fire
and died by the flame.
The secret is out. Reviewer Debbie Glade loves this book about keeping (or not keeping) secrets.
As a child, as soon as someone told me a secret and made me promise not to tell anyone, I would burst with the urge to tell someone. Well, in Olive and the Big Secret ($15.99, Templar Books, Ages 4 and up), readers learn one of the best life lessons. If you have a secret, keep it to yourself!
The characters in the book are all very cute animals of sorts. A rabbit named, Molly tells her cat friend, Olive, a very big secret. The problem is that Olive is just like I was as a kid and saw no harm in telling just one friend that same very big secret. Well you can imagine what happens after that. The way Tor Freeman tells the story and illustrates it is very clever and engaging. She was inspired to write this story by her own memory of the very first time she told a secret.
I love the colorful, playful pictures that pop against the crisp white background. I also love the fact that readers learn how betraying trust can hurt someone, all the while keeping the story light and witty and charming. You’ll love the way this story ends and so will your child.
And just for the record, I am much better at keeping secrets these days than when I was a child!
Today Catherine Linka shares her picks of …
STORIES ABOUT BULLIES
Bullying takes all forms from power plays to violence, and most children today will run into it. They may be the victims or merely onlookers or they may turn out to be the bullies. Writers are tackling this phenomenon with books for all different age groups. The styles and tone of these books are all different so you can pick the book that seems right for your child. We aren’t going to stamp out bullying, but the right book can give a child the tools or reassurance he or she needs to cope.
Perfect for 5th-7th grade readers. An average kid gets bullied and tracks down an instructional manual for bullies. Excerpts from the actual manual interspersed with text are especially interesting. A book that kids will really feel is true to their own experiences. Shows how bullying doesn’t have to be personal or something the target brought on. (Ages 8-12 years old)
This book reminds me of A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. The main character is a fifth grade boy who was born disfigured and is attending school for the first time. Told in several voices including those of his classmates and sibling. He has great impact on those around him. Palacio shows the emotions and reactions of everyone he has to deal with. Kids can see there are two sides to every story. Great discussion book. (Ages 8+) Adult readers LOVE this book. NOTE: Click here to read Good Reads With Ronna’s Amanda Hogg review of this terrific book
Colin is a genius with Asperger’s syndrome and a penchant for mystery-solving. He is bullied, but ends up proving his bully’s innocence in a crime. Funny and sarcastic –supportive parents, but annoying younger brother. Alternative for younger teens to THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. Vague reference to oral sex. The first in a series. (Ages 12+) November publication date
PLAYGROUND by 50 Cent (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson)
I got interested in Curtis after seeing Oprah interview him. He was thoughtful, not bombastic. PLAYGROUND is a semi-autobiographical novel. Eighth grader Butterball clocks another student in the mouth with a sockful of batteries and is court-ordered into therapy. This is bullying from the bully’s perspective. Butterball has reasons for his actions, but he’s also pressured into fighting by peers. Great discussion book for teens. Urban setting. Language. Sexuality. (fall paperback)
DEAR BULLY: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories ($9.99, HarperTeen) by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
So many teen authors have dealt with bullying personally, they joined together and wrote an anthology of their own stories. Check out www.dearbully.com to see if one of your teen’s favorite writers is included and to read a story or two. Book is available in paperback in stores now. (Ages 14+)
Today Catherine Linka, shares her picks of …
STORIES FOR KIDS WHO LIKE TO COOK
When I help children choose novels to read, I always try to find out what they are interested in. They may not be able to tell me that they like mysteries or fantasies or historical fiction, but they can usually tell me if there is a topic that fascinates them. Then I can choose a book that may get even a non-reader engaged.
So this week, here are some fiction suggestions for kids ages 8+ who love to cook.
PIE ($16.99, Scholastic Press, ages 8 and up) by Sarah Weeks
After Alice’s Aunt Polly dies, everyone in town wants the secret recipe for her award-winning pie crust. Aunt Polly left the recipe to her nasty cat, Lardo, and left Lardo to Alice. When Lardo is catnapped, Alice must find Lardo and the missing recipe. A sweet, engaging story–complete with pie recipes at the end of every chapter.
Reminiscent of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, but for a slightly older audience. Four children apprentice in the Life is Sweet factory, to create new candies for a competition. But unlike Charlie and his cohorts, this group of kids has to get along to succeed. Appealing to both boys and girls, this book is for kids who can read a longer novel comfortably. Mass has published several wonderful novels including A MANGO SHAPED SPACE and 11 BIRTHDAYS.
Teenager Neil Flambe is the star of this new series. He’s a top chef and the secret weapon of Inspector Nakamura in solving crimes with a culinary twist. Young foodies will enjoy that the cooking isn’t limited to baking or candy and may be inspired to cook one of Flambe’s meals. Good choice for 5th-8th graders.
CLOSE TO FAMOUS ($16.99, Viking Juvenile, ages 10 and up) by Joan Bauer
Newbery winner Joan Bauer is a favorite pick of mine for 5th and 6th grade girls who want to read about teenagers, but who aren’t sophisticated. Bauer always delivers teenage girls that younger girls can look to for examples of how to handle challenges.
In this story, Foster, who dreams of having her own cooking show, gets a job baking for a local coffee shop. But she’s got challenges in front of her, including learning how to read. If your daughter loves CLOSE TO FAMOUS, then try Bauer’s HOPE WAS HERE. Ages 5th grade-teen.
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events.