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Quilts and Nature, A Perfect Combination

I welcomed a chance to review Nature’s Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats ($8.95, Dawn Publications, Ages 4-10) because the earth needs to be saved and the best way to do that is to encourage kids to one day become scientists. In addition to that, I just love books about animals and the environment. My own daughter is studying Geology in college, and I can testify that it was books like these that, from an early age, piqued her interest in the subject of studying the earth form. Written by Mary Miche, Nature’s Patchwork Quilt is a simple and clever way to present the many major habitats one finds on our planet.

Each beautiful 2-page spread of the book is visually presented as a quilt, with different plants and animals featured in each patch. The illustrations by Consie Powell are colorful and inviting.

Readers will learn about rainforests, prairies, the Arctic, lakes and ponds, ranches and farms, cities and more. I love the way the author, an environmental educator, weaves important vocabulary words into the text, such as biodiversity, food chain, extinct and more. In the back of the book are Tips from the Author with activities and information about environmentalists and other interesting facts. Nature’s Patchwork is a great way to introduce your young reader to the world of animals and their habitats.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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No Nodding Out for The Insomniacs


The Insomniacs (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, ages 3-5) by Karina Wolf and illustrated by The Brothers Hilts is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

Ever found yourself still wide awake at 3 a.m. having counted thousands of sheep? Imagine how hard it would be to adjust your routine if you had to move some place a dozen time zones away? Well that’s exactly what happens when Mrs. Insomniac is offered a new job and the family relocates halfway across the planet! 

My first round of applause is for author Wolf sharing a 21st century perspective by having the family move because of the mother’s work.  My second is for the captivating artwork that struck me as the perfect hybrid of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. Between the original idea and unique artwork, children will delight at the turn of every page.

Mika Insomniac along with her mom and dad are desperate for some serious shut-eye. Mika’s nodding out in class, Father’s falling asleep at his camera and Mother’s dozing at her desk. How can the family find forty fabulous winks if they’re up all night? One evening Mika suggests everyone head out of town. “We’ll find the bears and ask them for their slumber secrets.” What ensues after dark is both eye-opening for the Insomniacs and certain to spark the imaginations of your little ones day or night.



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We Can Tell You How To Get The Sesame Street Brand New Readers Series

Today’s review is by Karen B. Estrada

I loved Sesame Street as a child, and as an adult I continue to love the show for its educational value and lovable characters. What I did not know was that Sesame Street also has a new series of books: the Brand New Readers series, published by Candlewick Press recommended for ages 4 and up, $5.99 each. These books are no less educational than the TV series and offer parents a little bit of help in teaching their children how to read. I recently reviewed two of these books, Bert and Ernie Go Camping and Cookie Monster’s Busy Day.

Each book in the Brand New Readers series starts with helpful tips for making “first-time reading easy and fun.” These practical suggestions mirror reading strategies that as an English teacher I have used to help struggling readers, even into adulthood. One such strategy involves previewing. The Brand New Reader series suggests parents read the brief introduction to each story aloud to their children and flip through the pictures to help the child visualize what is going to happen in the story. This is an excellent strategy that most of us use when we read—we check out the book cover, read the synopsis on the back, maybe flip through some chapters and skim a few lines here and there. Teaching children how to preview what they are about to read will help them with comprehension later down the line and build their confidence as they are grappling with new words and ideas. Offering parents this list of helpful tips to guide them in their children’s early reading education is something I applaud as an English educator.

The Sesame Street Brand New Readers books each offer four short stories, with classic illustrations of your favorite Sesame Street characters by Ernie Kwiat. The stories are written in simple language and build vocabulary page by page. For instance, in “Cookie Monster Cleans Up,” the story begins with “Cookie Monster washes his hands” and each page shows a different body part—face, arms, belly, and so on—allowing  young readers to retain knowledge of the first part of the sentence and learn one new word each page. The stories in each book both build vocabulary and teach children; Cookie Monster’s Busy Day includes stories that teach about bathing, eating fruits, getting around, and making the bed (my favorite!). In Bert and Ernie Go Camping, children will learn about animal tracks, nature, weather, and loving the great outdoors. Investing in several of the books in the Sesame Street Brand New Readers series will not only help you successfully teach your child valuable reading strategies to help them grow as a reader, but also expand your child’s vocabulary and knowledge.

 The Sesame Street Brand New Reader series is a great way to help your child learn to read with fun stories about the characters he already knows and loves from the TV show. Buy several of these, because if your child is anything like my niece was when learning to read, he or she may quickly memorize the story after reading it a few times and use the pictures to make you think he is reading the words—a brilliant but sneaky strategy showing just how intelligent your child really is! Use the Brand New Reader series as a foundation for developing your child’s early reading skills and gradually introduce your child to more advanced stories once they have mastered the strategies and vocabulary taught in these books.

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Making New Friends From a Hanukkah Mishap

Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap written by Deborah Bodin Cohen and illustrated by Shahar Kober ($17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback; Kar-Ben, ages 5-9) was reviewed by Ronna Mandel in the December issue of L.A. Parent.

Engineer Ari is trying to get from Jerusalem to Jaffa, Israel, to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with friends Jessie and Nathaniel. He’s bringing dreidels, a hanukkiah, a bottle of oil, a bag of Turkish coins and some sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts; a glossary in the front of the book offers more handy definitions), and children he meets on the way to the station chat about the story behind the holiday.

On board the train Ari can almost taste Nathaniel’s potato latkes and hear Jessie singing the Hanukkah blessings, but he will have to wait. Coming around a bend, Ari spots a camel relaxing on the tracks and must make an emergency stop, causing his caboose to derail.

Kalil, a Bedouin with long robes and a shepherd’s staff, comes to help Ari remove the stubborn camel. As the sun sets and the two men wait in a desert tent for help to arrive, Ari misses the chance to celebrate Hanukkah’s first night with his old friends, but is blessed to share the Festival of Lights with a new one.

While there may be a mishap, it turns out that everything about Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap is just right!

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Exotic Felines In All Their Furry Glory

Back in March Debbie Glade reviewed ZooBorns! and now Ronna Mandel, who has just adopted two rescue kittens, checks out the latest in the series ZooBorns CATS!: The Newest, Cutest Kittens & Cubs From The World’s Zoos ($11.99, Simon & Schuster, ages 4 and up) by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland. And, if you still cannot get enough of these adorable creatures, be sure to visit the ZooBorns website by clicking here.

Published earlier this month, the newest ZooBorns book will make you melt on even the coldest day in winter.  You might find yourself kissing the pages, but fear not! You are not alone in your ooohing and ahhhing.  I, too, have succumbed to the wide-eyed innocence of these kittens and cubs. Many of the animals pictured are endangered, near threatened or vulnerable, and are in need of worldwide conservation efforts. The authors’ commitment to this cause is evident not only by the loving portraits and backgrounds of the cats included, but a portion of all proceeds from ZooBorns book sales goes directly to the AZA’s (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Conservation Endowment Fund. In other words, when you give this book as a gift, you are also helping these different species’ survival!

Whether you are interested in learning more about the Lynx, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, Sumatran Tiger or the reclusive Rusty-spotted Cat, info about their name, birthday, habitat, population, and conservation efforts are all provided. I had no idea, for example, that Jaguars are “the only big cats native to the Americas and the third-largest cat species in the world.” Fascinating facts like that will keep you turning the pages, but the cuteness and vulnerability of the kittens will make you care.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Upon Us!

There’s no better time than the present to review holiday books! So today Debbie Glade weighs in on a new book about an uncommon tree – just in time for Christmas.

Henry Cole, author and illustrator of The Littlest Evergreen ($16.99, Katherine Tegan Books by Harper Collins, Ages 4 and up) really knows how to captivate the hearts of his readers. This is an enchanting story, with an environmental message, about a how a tiny evergreen grows into a Christmas tree and about what happens to him after the holiday is over. Mr. Cole’s illustrations are beyond exceptional – so much so that I found myself looking at them over and over again. He uses vivid acrylic paints in such a way that they have crisp edges to make featured objects contrast beautifully with the backgrounds. This artist has illustrated more than 50 children’s books, including several he has written himself. Every child, who celebrates Christmas and loves to choose a fresh tree every year, will also adore this book. It is withou-a-doubt one to keep and read every year before Christmas. It sure got me in the Christmas spirit!

Author Henry Cole

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A Counting Book To Grow On

I have always loved the bold graphics of Ammo books and that includes this board book designed with your toddler in mind.  Counting in the Garden ($14.95, Ammo Books, ages 18 mos. and up) written by Emily Hruby who teamed up with her brother Patrick Hruby for the illustrations, succeeds on all counts.

Little ones will be captivated by the colorful images of all the wonderful things growing in a young boy’s garden: from 1 onion, with many, many peels to 5 fresh watermelons, shiny and green to 10 tender tomatoes, juicy and delicious! And surprise there are even snails, butterflies, sunflowers and tulips, too, adding a vitality to the world outside just waiting to be explored … and in the end, eaten.  Parents will love reading this book to youngsters or letting them study each page to discover nature’s treasures on their own.

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When a Pet Dies

Today Debbie Glade reviews a very important book about grieving when losing a pet.

Young or old, no matter what your age, nothing can really prepare you for the death of a pet. Good-Bye Jeepers: What to Expect When Your Pet Dies ($18.99, Capstone, Reading Level 2-3) by Nancy Loewen is ideal in helping parents explain the death of a pet to their children. Good-Bye Jeepers is a story about a boy (panda bear) who one day discovers his pet guinea pig, Jeepers, is rolled up into a ball in his cage, unresponsive. His parents explain to him what he already knows – that Jeepers has died. The story goes into the activities and feelings the boy experiences the day his pet passes away. Small boxes at the bottom of some of the pages gently explain to the reader the many different emotions that are a perfectly normal part of the grieving process. The simple, colorful illustrations by Christopher Lyles are a nice addition to the story. Losing a pet is such an important and sensitive subject, and I’m so glad there is a book like this to help a child get through it.

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A Great Book to Celebrate the End of Geography Awareness Week

In light of Geography Awareness Week, Debbie Glade reviews a fact-and-photo-filled book about Cambodia.

Did you know that Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the entire world? It was built in 1100 C.E. during the Khmer Empire. The architects of this grand structure designed it around the sun’s movement, planning out where each and every shadow would fall. These and many other fascinating facts can be found in The Mysteries of Angkor Wat: Exploring Cambodia’s Ancient Temple ($17.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6 and up) by author Richard Sobol.

Back in January I reviewed Richard Sobol’s wonderful book, The Life of Rice. This author and award-winning photographer must be commended for his continuing efforts to increase geography awareness through his children’s books. In Angkor Wat, Sobol takes readers through the history of the ancient structure and also writes about his most interesting personal travel experiences while in Cambodia. The building of this Buddhist temple remains a mystery, as it is unclear how the sheer number of massive stones used to build it were moved into place thousands of years ago.

What I love about this book is that there is a perfect blend of Cambodian history, modern life and culture, and the photographs are spectacular. The author describes his experience touring the structure with local children, who lead him to a very special place to share a secret about Angkor Wat. He writes in a way that really makes readers feel like they are right there with him touring Cambodia.

I highly recommend this book as a way to teach children about the world. Please note that the story is a bit long and sophisticated for most six-year-olds to read on their own. However the book is ideal for reading together with your young child.

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So Many Shoes, So Little Time

Ronna Mandel reviews Shoes for Me! by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Mike Laughead (($12.99, Marshall Cavendish, ages 4-8).

My fixation with shoes dates back to my youth. I fondly recall my faux lizard skin purple penny-loafers and would not part with them until my big toe was beginning to push through the worn leather and my mother tempted me with latest look in lace-ups – Fred Braun’s – and I succumbed.

As a woman who still enjoys shoes I could definitely related to young hippo’s sense of awe at the marvelous multitude of footwear that exists. Please note, however, that having recently lost 15 pounds, I cannot relate to the hippo part! Upon realizing she has outgrown her shoes –

Feet got bigger,
heel to toe.
Time for new shoes. Off we go!

the character’s exuberance is contagious. When her mother takes her to the shoe store to search for the perfect pair, as a reader, I got excited, too!  So many children’s picture books told in rhyme don’t deliver, but Fliess has got it right. No sentence sounds forced nor does she ever miss a poetic beat. The lighthearted artwork by Laughead complements the playful text and never overwhelms us.

Shoes that clatter,
shoes that clop.
Shoes that light up when I hop.

See the video trailer here:

I recommend this picture book to share at story time and if you like this, consider Fleiss’ other two books, A Dress for Me and Tons of Trucks.

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Starry Night: Sophisticated Art Books are for Kids, Too

Today Debbie Glade reviews an extraordinary art book for children.

Van Gogh is my favorite artist of all time, as one could easily tell by the six Van Gogh prints I have hanging on my walls at home. Ah, if only I could afford to buy the original paintings!

Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids: Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities for Kids ($17.99, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) by Carol Sabbeth is treasure chest of fascinating information as well as a visual masterpiece of colorful paintings by Van Gogh and other artists of the Post-Impressionist era.

The idea for this book came to the author after a 10-year-old boy asked her, “Were Monet and Van Gogh ever friends?” The result of that question is what can best be described as a young reader’s version of a collectible coffee table art book. Readers will learn about Van Gogh’s life, how he came to be an artist, other artists he interacted with during his life and how his many personal challenges affected his work. It is informative and engaging – written so children can thoroughly understand it, yet adults can thoroughly enjoy it.

As with all other Chicago Review Press Kids biographies, there are 21 unique activities in this book for readers to dive into, such as making a value scale of light, medium and dark shades, drawing a mirror image, creating a self-portrait in swirling words and making a pointillist sailboat. These activities are so awesome that I may just try one or two myself. In the back of the book you’ll find a map of the paths of post-impressionists, a useful glossary and bibliography.

Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids should be a fixture in all classrooms from 4th grade through middle school. It would also be a perfect holiday gift for creative children who love to draw and paint. This is a book that will be cherished for years to come. I envy the author and editor for having had the chance to do this fascinating research and sort through all these amazing images of some of the greatest pieces of art ever created.

Image of Stary Night is in the public domain.
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Oh Sister or is That Oh Brother?

Today’s guest reviewer is 4th grader Naomi. She’s 9 years-old, likes all animals, mermaids, wants peace in the world, and has eight pets. Read her review of the latest book in the Just Grace series, one of her faves!

JUST GRACE AND THE DOUBLE SURPRISE  ($14.99, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ages 6-10) by Charise Mericle Harper.

This great new book is about two girls, ‘Just Grace’ and Mimi, who each get one surprise. Just Grace’s surprise is from her dad and Mimi’s surprise is from an adoption center. The main characters, Just Grace and Mimi. seem to be about 10 years-old. Just Grace is blonde, wears pigtails and has pink cheeks. She is eager, happy, and has willpower and empathy, qualities I like in a main character. Mimi has wavy hair. She is also eager but gets sad easily. I liked Grace best. I think other girls would enjoy reading this book, especially if they like dogs and baby brothers!

Nothing really similar to this book is going on in my own life. However, the plot is believable and I would read more books by this author. Essentially the story is about Grace getting a dog, and the adoption of Mimi’s 4 year-old brother. Plus there are the comics that Grace writes concerning things going on in her life. I’m really glad I read Just Grace and the Double Surprise. Just a note: some art in the book was childish because Grace draws it (in her comic) but the art the author drew was good. Add this book to your holiday wish list.

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It’s Hard Work Being Perfect

This review by Ronna Mandel of The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $14.99, ages 4-8) by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, illustrated by Mark Pett, can be found in the November issue of L.A. Parent.

It’s hard work being perfect – not that I know of course, but I can just imagine. And when you never botch up like the main character of this book, Beatrice Bottomwell, people come to expect you will never make a mistake, never forget to do your homework, mismatch your socks or, horror-of-all-horrors, be unprepared for the school talent show juggling act! Pett and Rubinstein’s story and Pett’s totally in sync artwork come together to share an important message: it’s OK to try your best, but when it becomes all consuming and nothing less is satisfying, more is lost than gained!

All that striving for perfection can certainly create a lot of stress. It gets to the point for 9-year-old Beatrice that, after one near miss with an egg while baking, she starts avoiding activities for fear of failure. While Beatrice’s friends and even her younger brother could care less about falling down while ice skating or playing piano the wrong way, Beatrice’s worrying about making a mistake makes her feel ill until … she actually does make a major mistake in front of a packed school auditorium during her juggling performance in the talent show. What results is anything but a disaster! In fact, Beatrice, and the audience, end up finding the whole thing so hilarious, that from that moment forward Beatrice is surprised to find out how absolutely wonderful and rewarding it is to stop trying so hard and just be herself.

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A Great Place to Get Stuck – Vroman’s Nov. 14th

Coming to Vroman’s this Monday.

695 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 449-5320

Monday, November 14, 6pm
Oliver Jeffers presents and signs Stuck
From award-winning storyteller and artist Oliver Jeffers (How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found) comes this beautifully illustrated picture book about a boy who comes across a bit of trouble when he gets his kite stuck in a tree. In STUCK, the trouble really begins when Floyd threw a shoe up to knock the kite loose, and that got stuck too, followed by…a ladder, a bucket of paint, the kitchen sink, an orangutan and a whale who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But everything Floyd tosses up just becomes stuck! If only he could think of an idea to sort this out once and for all…

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