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21Sep 20

Middle Grade Book Review – The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter

THE INCREDIBLY DEAD PETS OF REX DEXTER

Written by Aaron Reynolds

(Little Brown BYR, $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

Make room on your bookshelves for The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter, the middle grade novel debut by Aaron Reynolds. Sixth-grader Rex Dexter always wanted a dog. A chocolate Labrador to be exact. For his birthday, Rex’s parents give him a chocolate cake shaped like a Lab with chocolate ice cream and—finally!—his gift is in a box with air holes so it must be . . . a chicken?! When Rex complains that a chicken isn’t a pet, it’s a Happy Meal, he’s told this is his practice pet. So he does what any kid would: puts a leash on his chicken and heads out with his best friend, Darvish, to buy pet supplies. Then the strangeness begins.

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Interior art from The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter written by Aaron Reynolds, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

With a nod to the Tom Hanks movie, Big, Rex finds a vintage carnival game called the Grim Reaper. Thanks to some chicken pee, Rex loses the game and receives a cryptic curse. But, it may be worse news for the chicken who, in Rex’s care for about an hour, has a run-in with a steamroller; the steamroller wins. Rex failed to keep his practice pet safe but, no worries, Rex will have plenty of time to make amends when the squashed, “ghostly fritter” of a chicken returns to haunt him—though the chicken believes their besties and wants to just chill. The now-named Drumstick is merely the first dead animal to accompany Rex through this hilarious story.

Aaron Reynolds is a master at comedy and this middle-grade novel is no exception. He had me at the title. If you like a mysterious ghost story that’s not very spooky, then this is the book for you. Kids will enjoy trying to figure out “who done it” as endangered animals in the zoo start meeting their demise and showing up in Rex’s bedroom as ghostly nuisances. More than two dozen black-and-white images scattered throughout add to the humor.

I’m a big fan of Reynolds’s books and read his releases hot-off-the-press. My favorite book of his had been (picture book) A Creepy Pair of Underwear but The Dead Pets of Rex Dexter is now tied for that spot.

Click here to read an excerpt.

    • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to order a copy of The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/21/20

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18Sep 20

Kids Chapter Book Review – The Case of The Bad Apples

THE CASE OF THE BAD APPLES:
A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Deborah Zemke

(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 5-11)

 

badapples cover

 

Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”

Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.

 

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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?

As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as  Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.

 

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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Zemke’s illustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.

Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts.
I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).  

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for an educator’s guide.

Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049 

 

 

Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/14/20

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14Sep 20

Picture Book Review – Girl Versus Squirrel

GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL

Written by Hayley Barrett

Illustrated by Renée Andriani

(Margaret Ferguson Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Girl versus Squirrel cover

 

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Hayley Barrett’s picture book, Girl Versus Squirrel, shows us the fun rascals many of us have stealing from our bird feeders—the same dilemma Pearl faces in this story. The lyrical text, teeming with repetition and alliteration, works well as a read-aloud. As the tale unfolds in its singsong style, we are both lulled by the beauty of a girl feeding her backyard birds and prodded by her frustration with a seemingly unstoppable peanut-stealing squirrel.

 

Pages from Girl Versus Squirrel Page 1
Interior spread from Girl Versus Squirrel written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renée Andriani, Margaret Ferguson Books ©2020.

 

Facial expressions on the girl and the squirrel are priceless as they one-up each other from scene to scene. I enjoyed how Renée Andriani’s art captures the shifting emotions as the power pendulums between the two opponents. However, when the action peaks, a new discovery makes Pearl rethink her no-squirrels-allowed policy.

 

Pages from Girl Versus Squirrel Page 2
Interior art from Girl Versus Squirrel written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renée Andriani, Margaret Ferguson Books ©2020.

 

Adults will appreciate the kid-friendly “Squirrelly Facts” at the end. These mischievous mammals chirp and scamper across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Mark your calendars so you don’t forget to set out a treat on Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st).

 

  •  Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

    Click here to order a copy of Girl Versus Squirrel.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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Recommended Reads for Children Week of 9/14/20

Click here for a review of another picture book if you’re nuts about squirrels.

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11Sep 20

Grandparents Day Picture Book Review – Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day

NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY

Written by Ann Stott

Illustrated by Andrew Joyner

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

NanaSaysIWillBeFamousOneDay cvr

 

 

My homebody nana sewed, cooked, and baked, unlike the senior center tennis champion nana in Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day written by Ann Stott and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. She is incredibly involved in many aspects of her grandchild’s life so the obvious contrast between the two grandmas intrigued me. I was eager to learn about a real hands-on grandma. I know my nana loved me like this nana loves her grandson but the similarities end there. By the way, this nana is also a poodle-like character and her grandson is a precious pup.

From the first two spreads, readers realize that Nana and her grandson, the story’s narrator, are the two members of a mutual admiration society. “Nana was my very first word.” He then says, “My whole life, Nana has been my biggest fan. She comes to all my games and school events. I can usually find her in the front row.”

 

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NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY. Text copyright © 2020 by Ann Stott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Andrew Joyner. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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This set up works well with the puppy’s description of the various things that Nana does to always be there for him. That’s sweet of course. However, Nana has what I’d call a quasi pushy way to get front and center for the pup, and the examples of that behavior build beautifully throughout the book’s 32 pages. Whether she’s practically shoving her grandpup’s teammates off the bench at the pool or parking herself near the football field’s fifty-yard line to offer playing tips, her presence is ubiquitous.

At the pup’s basketball game, Nana suffers a setback “trying to get a front-row seat.” It’s actually good that Stott has shown a consequence for Nana’s in-your-face fawning. She is advised to stay off her injured foot. Never one to sit still, Nana is now forced to curb her active enthusiasm. Can she handle temporarily relinquishing her role as fan #1? Readers will be delighted to see there’s a very good chance that being on the receiving end of all the attention will make both Nana and her grandpup very happy.
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NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY. Text copyright © 2020 by Ann Stott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Andrew Joyner. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Stott’s taken a grandma’s adoration to an extreme and it’s fun, especially if parents or caregivers reading the story to a child know someone with similar qualities. Joyner’s canine characters are not just charming but full of expression and humor. Be sure to check out the art more closely for book title names in several of the illustrations. This is a terrific read for National Grandparents Day or any time spent with a fan. Rah-rah!

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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    Click here to order a copy of Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for Children Week 9/7

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    DID YOU KNOW?
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  • Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we also have a whole day dedicated to our grandparents. On the first Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate National Grandparents Day. This year the date falls on September 13.
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    In 1977, Senator Randolph, with the help of other senators, introduced a joint resolution to the senate requesting the president to “issue annually a proclamation designating the first Sunday of September after Labor Day of each year as ‘National GrandparentsDay’.”
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    Congress passed the legislation, proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent’s Day. On August 3, 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, and the day was finally celebrated the following year.
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    The holiday experts at National Today share five facts about the holiday:
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    1. It Has Its Own Song
    The official song for National Grandparents Day is “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa” by Johnny Prill.
    2. It Has Its Own Flower
    The official flower is the “forget-me-not” flower.
    3. It’s Not Actually a Public Holiday
    Even though it was signed in as a national holiday it is celebrated more as an observance than a public holiday.
    4. On Average 4 Million Cards Were Sent
    People are honoring their grandparents with cards, it’s the least we can do.
    5. Highest Day for Visits in Nursing Homes
    There are many days you’d want to spend with your grandparents but National Grandparents Day was on average the highest day for nursing home visits. Although you may not be able to see them in person this year, make sure to give them a call!
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09Sep 20

Picture Book Blog Tour – Short & Sweet by Josh Funk

 

SHORT & SWEET:

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast #4

Written by Josh Funk

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

 

GOODREADSWITHRONNA
is delighted to be a part of the
“Long & Savory”
monthlong virtual blog tour!

Scroll down for other bloggers to check out.

 

Short and Sweet book cover

 

★Starred Review – School Library Journal

REVIEW:

Come join me on Crust Boulevard for a visit inside the fridge where Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast live. If you haven’t read the previous three books in this hilarious series, that definitely won’t detract from your enjoyment of the popular food friends’ fun and frolic.

In Short & Sweet, the latest installment from author Josh Funk and illustrator Brendan Kearney, time may be running out for Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. The meal-worthy mates have discovered they’re going stale! Fortunately, their new friend, Baron von Waffle, suggests they “check out Professor Biscotti’s brochure,” for what could be a cure.

 

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Interior spread from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast decide the professor’s despoiling machine is what’s needed to save them so, accompanied by the Baron, they head to the laboratory.

 

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Interior art from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

In just minutes the decaying duo gets zapped back to health. However, one slight glitch in Professor Biscotti’s device has caused the food friends to shrink down to kid-size. They also do not seem to recognize their pal Baron von Waffle and dash off in fear. 

 

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Interior art from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

The chaos that’s occurred has caused the Baron’s feelings to be hurt. He’s worried Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are so scared of him that he’ll lose their friendship. While the professor works on fixing her despoiling machine, Baron von Waffle works on a way to lure his pals back to the lab. 

Meanwhile, the frightened food first finds safety at a nearby pasta playground and then a local library. I love how Funk, a huge fan of libraries, has successfully fit one into his story. In a way, it’s a love of reading that leads Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast back to Baron Waffle. He believes he’s come up with a clever way to entice the two breakfast food buddies back to the lab and hopefully, with Professor B’s help, maximize them back to friend-size! Will the teeny twosome be restored to grown-ups? Well, I certainly won’t be a spoiler!

The premise of this picture book is such fun and adds a new dimension to the zany, adventure-packed Lady P and Sir FT collection. Once again, the talented team of Funk and Kearney have brought us a read-aloud that starts its rollicking from the very first spread. Filled with wordplay that easily rolls off the tongue, Short & Sweet can also boast engaging, well-metered rhyme in a fast-paced story that kids will want to hear over and over. Kearney’s high-spirited art is bursting with visual treats. You’ll find cucumber footrests at Professor Biscotti’s lab, punny book titles in the library, and perhaps my fave, Juice Springsteen sporting his trademark headband above his brow while rockin’ out atop a pot pie in the final spread. There’s lots to love in book #4 so get a copy, get comfy, and get ready to be entertained. Just remember not to read on an empty stomach!

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Scroll down for more info about
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: SHORT & SWEET

BIO:

Josh Funk is the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the ​It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Click here to order a copy of Short & Sweet. If you’d like other books in the series, click here.

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above. Thanks!

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07Sep 20

Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of passionate kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate link above. Thanks!

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03Sep 20

Graphic Novel – The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off

THE WOLF IN UNDERPANTS
FREEZES HIS BUNS OFF (BOOK TWO)

Written by Wilfrid Lupano

Illustrated by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet

(Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group; $8.99, Ages 7-10)

 

WolfinUnderpantsFreezesHisBunsOff cvr

 

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

I loved Wilfrid Lupano’s funny, subversive graphic novel for young readers, The Wolf in Underpants, and eagerly awaited his follow-up, The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off. Book two again features a misunderstanding with a twist ending. Laugh-aloud scenes include dozens of forest animals going about their lives—you know, baking bread and eating cheese fondue. The wolf walks through the scenes complaining “they’re freezing” while the others try to figure out what he means. Kids will enjoy sleuthing along with the characters, but there aren’t many clues—or, are there?? The underlying message addresses what happens when we make presumptions about others because of how they look and without knowing the facts firsthand.

 

int art TheWolfInUnderpantsFreezesHisBunsOff
Interior art from The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off written by Wilfrid Lupano and illustrated by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet, Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group ©2020.

 

The silly, adorable art by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet intersperses traditional layouts with graphic panels. Filled-to-the-brim scenes encourage rereading. Take time to look at facial expressions and see what’s happening in the outlying areas. My favorite illustrations of the wolf seem menacing: a close-up of his snout, his shadow. Both, evoke an initial response that the wolf is—as wolves in picture books are known to be—big and bad. Cleverly paired images and text lead a reader’s thoughts in one direction. Once you reach the end, you’ll discover how words can be misinterpreted, and what happens when a community believes hearsay.

 

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01Sep 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – Mootilda’s Bad Mood

MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call

Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci

(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has.  And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture book Mootilda’s Bad Mood.

 

Int Spread Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

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The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her dolla cow, what else?fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.

The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.

 

int art Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

 

Ranucci’s illustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorfulthe exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.

The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartz and Call have taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.

• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz.
Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.

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28Aug 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – You Don’t Want a Dragon!

YOU DON’T WANT A DRAGON!

Written by Ame Dyckman

Illustrated by Liz Climo

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

YDWADragon_cover

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You Don’t Want a Dragon!, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, is a follow-up to You Don’t Want a Unicorn!, which I haven’t been able to get my hands on during the pandemic. However, as an Ame Dyckman fan, I feel confident recommending both. You Don’t Want a Dragon! is a conversation between the narrator and a child who has just successfully wished for a dragon. And even if you haven’t read the first book, it is quickly clear that this same kid previously wished for a unicorn, and it didn’t go so well. Apparently, the unicorn multiplied until there were many glittery, colorful copies (who make cameo appearances in this book). There also may have been some unicorn poop, which seems to be cupcakes! Now the kid has wished an adorable dragon into his life.

 

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Interior spread from You Don’t Want a Dragon! written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

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Dyckman’s books are always fun to read aloud. I called the book a “conversation,” but in fact, the youngster in the book doesn’t say anything. Using second person, the narrator addresses, and engages, the main character: “NOW you’ve done it! I TOLD YOU not to wish for a dragon!,” while the boy in the illustrations answers with action. He plays with his new pet through several happy spreads until the dragon starts behaving like a troublesome canine. The narrator warns that he’s also becoming “GINORMOUS … You just don’t have the space for a dragon. In your heart, yes. But in your house … no.”

Climo is a comic artist for The Simpsons and also wrote and illustrated several books before collaborating with Dyckman on You Don’t Want a Unicorn! and You Don’t Want a Dragon!. The kid’s world is drawn in thin outlines filled with gentle colors; the dragon is a soft green with a purple tummy and wings. And don’t forget to note the child’s t-shirt in the cover art. While the illustrations show their kinship with The Simpsons, they are more comfortable than wacky, reminiscent of the Clifford the Big Red Dog books but with more attention to detail and scale. 

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Interior art from You Don’t Want a Dragon! written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

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I expected to enjoy this book and was not disappointed. There’s lots of Dyckman’s trademark humor, and it fits so well with Climo’s art. For example, Dyckman writes that stories about dragons “never mention … WHERE charcoal comes from. DON’T mention this at your next barbeque.” Climo’s drawing? The dragon sports a toilet-paper-roll bracelet and a proud grin while the kid, wide-eyed, stands next to a grill with flaming briquettes piled high. 

Eventually, the narrator convinces the kid to wish the dragon away. Kids aren’t meant to have magical creatures for pets. “It’s for the best.” You might wonder what the kid will wish for next, except there’s a twist: he finds a completely ordinary pet.

Or does he?

   • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

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27Aug 20

Picture Book Review – Kat and Juju

KAT AND JUJU

Written and Illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani

(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Kat and Juju cover

 

Written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Kat and Juju is a gentle story of friendship, identity, and the courage to be your own self. 

Kat is a tender-hearted little girl who finds “wonder in places no one else” thinks to look.

 

Int1 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

Vahdani’s illustrations direct our eyes to a curious play of shadows that fascinates Kat and helps us understand her unique perspective. Her connection to such things others don’t understand causes her to stand out as different. And her shy personality gets in the way of talking to the other children. Consequently, she often feels lonely.

Her hope lies in her upcoming birthday gifta “very best friend” to call her own. On her special day, a big, red, fluffy bird named Juju arrives at her doorstep. Kat soon finds out that as loveable as he is, Juju is nothing like her. His loud and outgoing personality easily draws the attraction and affection of the other kids. As much as Kat wants to “let go” and join Juju’s “happy dance,” she can’t surrender the fear of what others will think of her.

 

Int2 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

Then a chance discovery of a vulnerable “birdie” (chick) in need of care helps Kat face her fear. With help and encouragement from best friend Juju, Kat nurtures the chick to health. Sometimes these caregiving activities feel safe and familiar to Kat, like feeding and giving medicine. However, at other times, they involve risk-taking and getting outside of her comfort zone, especially as Kat and Juju try to help the birdie learn to fly. Anxious and terrified, Kat nevertheless participates. Vahdani’s background in animation, and contrasting color palette provide a safe space for experimentation and exploration. Through this exciting and challenging process, Kat helps out her little friend and, just as important, discovers the freedom to be herself.

 

Int3 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

For little ones (including me) who may feel different for being on the quieter side, Kat and Juju shows that perseverance can lead to a “happy dance” of inner strength and self-affirmation.

Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju.
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   • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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25Aug 20

Young Adult Romance – What I Like About Me

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT ME

Written by Jenna Guillaume

(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 12-16)

 

WhatILikeAboutMe cover

 

 

In What I Like About Me, sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin’s teacher requires students to keep a journal jotting down three things they discover about themselves each day of winter break and provide evidence. Maisie’s first entry is easy: her teacher is evil, the evidence is the dreaded journal. After Mum catches Maisie writing “blah blah blah” to fill the daily allotment, Maisie settles down, nicknames her journal “DJ,” and more heartfelt confessions begin.

Maisie frets her parents are divorcing because, for the first time, Maisie’s dad hasn’t accompanied them on their annual vacation retreat. To make up for his absence, Mum lets Maisie bring her along BFF. Anna is everything you want in a girlfriend plus she’s gorgeous—a fact Maisie’s years-long crush, Sebastian, soon notices. He’s brought his annoying pal, Beamer, again. The four teens hang together at the beach, except Maisie’s too body-conscious to wear a bathing suit or get in the ocean. It comes as a surprise to everyone (even Maisie) when Maisie decides to face her fears and enter the local beauty pageant following in the footsteps of a beautifully slim mother and older sister. Figuring she won’t be selected because of her weight, she’s amazed when they not only accept her entry but also want to feature her in an interview. But all is not as it seems.

I like how this book goes beyond typical beach fun delving into complications such as when your BFF and love of your life seem destined to get together, how to deal with being stuck with an annoying sidekick, and the reality of people being unable to see past your size. Maisie vents in her journal: “Imagine having a body you’re always uncomfortable in. Always. That moves when you want it to be still, and makes you want to be still even when you long to move.”

Such heartbreaking moments are offset with heaps of humor. Jenna Guillaume kept me laughing from the book’s first lines. When a bunch of boys go skinny-dipping, Maisie muses, “soon the pool was a veritable sausage soup.” The chapters open with Maisie’s “discoveries” running a gamut of emotions, many of them hilarious. Eventually, journaling leads to self-reflection and Maisie catalogues things she likes about herself.

Books are about characters and Maisie is awesome. I’d gladly follow her on to another book or two. Guillaume has a gift for capturing our fears and seeing a way past them. Family, romance, and friendship all play out in their levels of complexity. Learning how to accept and love yourself are the book’s most powerful messages. Get this YA debut for the teen in your life or for yourself. It’ll make you laugh, but I hope it also makes you pause a moment to consider at least one thing you like about yourself.

Find Jenna Guillaume on Facebook here.
Get a discussion guide here.
Click here for an excerpt.
Read a Q+A with Jenna Guillaume here.

 

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20Aug 20

Middle Grade Nonfiction – Who Got Game?

 

WHO GOT GAME?:
Baseball – Amazing But True Stories

Written by Derrick Barnes

Illustrated by John John Bajet

(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8 and up)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Of all the sports games I’ve ever attended, baseball ranks number one. In fact, before the pandemic, my family had plans to see the Quakes, our favorite minor league team, this summer. A few years ago we even visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which I loved. Despite MLB’s shortened season, baseball remains America’s pastime and I’ve got the ideal book to read as a companion to catching the sport on TV: Who Got Game?: Baseball – Amazing But True Stories! written by Newbery Honor Winner Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet.

Dig into a box of Cracker Jack or open a bag of peanuts to munch on as you read the book in either one sitting, or slowly (with many seventh inning stretches) to savor all the “unrecognized and unheralded figures and the untold stories that hold important spaces in baseball history.” If you’re a die-hard fan, you will easily devour every page. If you’re simply looking for some inspirational stories to feed your soul, you too will get your fill.

Who Got Game? is divided into four chapters with headings that immediately clue you in to the subject matter: “Pivotal Players,” “Sensational Stories,” “Radical Records,” and “Colossal Comebacks.” Read them in order or jump around depending on what strikes your fancy. After that, Barnes recommends you take note of what you learn, remember the people who stood out and their stories, “then tell everyone you meet!”

WGG Rube Foster
Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

Find out about Andrew “Rube” Foster, the father of the Negro Leagues in Chapter #1. All-Black baseball teams emerged in the 1860s, but they were unofficial and remained that for several decades. Foster noted that when the White players came to Texas and he would practice with them, they were organized and professional. He wanted the same thing for the Negro Leagues and so, in 1920, Foster, along with “seven owners of other all-Black teams, created the Negro National League (NNL).” In fact, in 1947 Jackie Robinson was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, first part of the NNL, and then the NAL (Negro American League) before leaving to join the Major Leagues as the first Black player.

WGG Jackie Mittchell int
Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

In Chapter #2 (all the chapter numbers are cleverly located in a baseball graphic), you’ll be blown away by the story of 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell began learning baseball from the moment she could walk. Her dad taught her and then her neighbor, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, (an eventual Hall of Fame pitcher), took over. Not bad for a local coach! Her talent earned her a place on an all-girl team in Tennessee where she was spotted by a “big-time publicity guy” named Joe Engel. Engel “invited her to join his all-male team in a game that was the stuff of legend.” Imagine sitting in the stadium and seeing Babe Ruth come up to bat and, opposite him, at the pitcher’s mound, stands a teen-aged girl. Four pitches later he was out! She followed that by striking out another pro, Lou Gehrig, in just three pitches! No small feat when you’re up against two of baseball’s greats. Was this arranged? All three of the players involved never admitted to it, so we’ll never know. Regardless, it had to be a sight to see.

Bajet’s cartoon-style art has a nostalgic feel about it and helps ground every story shared. I especially liked the illustration of “Royals Legend George Brett and The Pine Tar Incident” and as a former New Yorker and Mets fan, I also loved the pictures of Roberto Clemente. Seven pages of useful back matter such as additional tips and resources, websites to explore and a glossary, complete the book.

There are lots more stories of unsung heroes, winners, losers, and all kinds of records broken and career comebacks to read about in this fabulous compendium that will make you appreciate the beloved game of baseball. Pick up a copy of Who Got Game? today while the season’s still on to enjoy each game, even more, knowing about all the amazing but true stories. “Holy cow!”

Click here for an Educator’s Guide.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another book by Derrick Barnes here.

 

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18Aug 20

Picture Book Review – Mop Rides The Waves of Life

MOP RIDES THE WAVES OF LIFE:

Written by Jaimal Yogis

Illustrated by Matthew Allen

(Plum Blossom; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Mop Rides The Waves cvr

 

Mop loves to surf the ocean waves but when life doesn’t go the way he wants it to go, Mom tells him “he’s a great surfer but needs to learn to surf life” in Mop Rides The Waves of Life, written by Jaimal Yogis, author of numerous books and an avid surfer, with illustrations by surfer and artist, Matthew Allen.

This book of mindfulness takes the reader through a week in the life of Mop, a boy with an adorable head of hair that resembles a mop. Allen’s illustrations of not only Mop’s full head of hair, but the hair of all the characters (Mom’s long hair is pulled back and his friend Sammy’s hair is shaved on the sides with short natural hair on the top of his head) provide a great feel for the personalities of each character.

 

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Interior spread from Mop Rides The Waves of Life written by Jaimal Yogis with illustrations by Matthew Allen, Plum Blossom Books ©2020.

 

Mop is having a great weekend. He “loves to wait for just the right wave … TO RIDE!” But on Monday, Mop returns to school and his frustration at teasing and other issues gets the best of him. He reacts rather than ignores. The rest of the week remains status quo. The colorful watercolor art, so right for a book about surfing and life, perfectly captures the anger on Mop’s face when things don’t go as expected. And Allen’s drawing of the boy sitting alone in the classroom with an open book pretty much explains it all to readers who may have also experienced missing recess at one time.

Things aren’t much better at home when Mom makes him clean the van on Wednesday “And on Thursday we ran out of my favorite cereal. It was officially a BAD week.” That’s when Mom decides to take Mop surfing after school. Sitting on the sand in easy sitting pose wearing yoga attire, Mom teaches Mop how to surf life. “You start by feeling your breath go in and out like the tides. Breathing mindfully helps you notice the emotional waves inside.”

Readers see the words Fear, Anger, and Sadness written inside the waves as Mop sits on his yellow surfboard. Life’s ups and downs are as natural as the ocean’s waves explains his mother. Mop then recalls his Mom’s words of wisdom as he glides under the waves and flips his board. He deals with it. He’s learned from his mother’s powerful surfing metaphors that “falling is the best way to learn.”

 

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Interior spread from Mop Rides The Waves of Life written by Jaimal Yogis with illustrations by Matthew Allen, Plum Blossom Books ©2020.

 

Happily, the end of Mop’s school week improves as he takes these tools into his life away from the ocean. He even apologizes to those friends that he became angry with. And when those angry feelings pop up again in math class, Mop focuses on his breathing, “in and out like the tides. I remembered angry waves are natural.”

Young readers see how Mop reacts to frustrating situations and how they, too, can learn to surf life with calmness and soothing breaths. This charming picture book, with its economy of words and original take on teaching mindfulness to kids, is a helpful and enjoyable read for all the Mops out there. Don’t we all occasionally have trouble getting along with others, or just going with the flow? Kids learn that even if they aren’t familiar with surfing, they can still study the lessons of the waves by bringing mindfulness and the joys of surfing to life. I am passing my copy over to my surfing brother-in-law who teaches elementary school.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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12Aug 20

Picture Book Review – Best Day Ever

BEST DAY EVER

Written by Michael J. Armstrong

Illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans

(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

 

Best Day Ever book cover

 

In Best Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrong with art by Églantine Ceulemans, William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.

 

Best Day Ever int1
Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?

 

Best Day Ever int2
Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!

Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.

 

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10Aug 20

Picture Book Cover Reveal – The Star Festival

Are you ready?

You sure?

Then here it is …

 

StarFestival CVR

 

Presenting …

THE STAR FESTIVAL

Written by Moni Ritchie Hadley

Illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Publication Date: April 1, 2021

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW – DETAILS BELOW

 

MY REACTION:

When I first set eyes on this gorgeous cover, which was only this past Friday, I was delighted. It perfectly conveys the spirit and vibrancy of author Moni Ritchie Hadley’s debut picture book, The Star Festival. Full disclosure: Moni and I are in a critique group together, so I was especially honored when she said she’d like me to share her book cover reveal.

I have loved so many of the Japanese festivals since I was a child and always gravitated towards those books in the library. I also have a thing for red bridges and this one in particular, with the koi fish swimming below, reminds me of the one at my happy placethe historic Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardensalthough that moon bridge is no longer a stunning lacquer red.

The main character, Keiko, is on the bridge, and her hand indicates she is looking for someone. A nice feature is how the illustrator, Mizuho Fujisawa, has wrapped the book cover in the festival scene. When you get the book, you’ll discover Keiko’s grandmother on the back cover, sitting alone, waiting. I like how the other people on the bridge are in shadow, so our eyes are immediately drawn to Keiko. The entire cover seems to glow, setting just the right tone for the book’s subject.

 

Star Festival CVRABOUT THE COVER:

The cover shows the main character, Keiko, searching for her lost grandmother, Oba, at the Tanabata Festival, also known as the Star Festival. Dressed in a yukata (summer kimono), she is surrounded by colorful vendors, bamboo trees decorated with tanzaku (paper wishes), and the starry night that hosts the myth and origins of this celebration. Mizuho Fujisawa digitally brings this story to life with her bold color choices and precise details.

 

STORY INSPIRATION:

The Star Festival was inspired by three generations of females living together in Moni’s home. When Moni’s elderly mother came to live with her, a concept story developed depicting the similarities of the life of a baby and the life of a grandmother. Moni lived much of her childhood in Japan and attended many festivals such as this one, not knowing what she was celebrating. After some research, the Japanese Tanabata Festival was chosen as a backdrop to the story because of the beautiful imagery and the mythological origins of two star-crossed lovers prohibited from seeing each other.

 

Author Moni Ritchie HadleyABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Moni lived much of her childhood in Japan and attended many festivals such as this one. The Star Festival marks her picture book debut. She writes picture books, chapter books, and graphic novels for early readers. She is also creating a line of writing worksheets using mixed media art for elementary school educators. Moni lives in Los Angeles with her family, three dogs, and an occasional stray cat. 

Visit her website (see below) for more information.

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Preorder your discounted copy today at Bookshop.org
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05Aug 20

Picture Book Review – Hound Won’t Go

HOUND WON’T GO

Written by Lisa Rogers

Illustrated by Meg Ishihara

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

Hound Won't Go cover

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Hound Won’t Go, written by Lisa Rogers and illustrated by Meg Ishihara, tells the story of a stubborn basset hound who calls all the shots during a walk with his human. When he lies down in the crosswalk, she can’t get him out of the intersection, not even with a treat or a tug on the leash. As horns blare, she is worried, while Hound is adorably if smuglysatisfied. Finally, a storm breaks with terrifying claps of thunder. Hound changes his mind and drags his human all the way home, double-time. 

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Hound Won't Go int5
Interior spread from Hound Won’t Go written by Lisa Rogers and illustrated by Meg Ishihara, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2020.

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I love this book, and not just because I love basset hounds. The writing is crisp, with one or two rhyming sentences per page. The diction can be understood by the youngest listeners but is still interesting and specific. “Light flashes/Hound dashes,” the text begins, as Hound and his human enter the crosswalk. Soon, though, “Traffic delay/Hound’s in the way.” Rogers conveys a lot of personality in few words: 

Time to go.

Hound says no.

Drivers frown.

Hound lies down. 

Anyone who has cared for a strong-willed but amiable dog recognizes the frustration and even embarrassment that the human feels. But all readers will feel calm, safe, warm, and happy by the time the contretemps resolves with, “Rain puddles./Hound cuddles.” 

While the text makes a good case for how adorable this obstinate fellow is, Meg Ishihara’s art makes it impossible not to love him. She uses Hound’s eyes, mouth, and posture to show all his moods, ranging from playfully defiant to rub-my-belly relaxed. Working in Photoshop and Procreate, Ishihara paints Hound using digital brushes with lots of texture to emulate real paint strokes. He has long velvety ears, short legs, and a rich tri-color coat. Black outlines lend him a cartoony feel, although in some illustrations the definition comes from contrast between bold colors rather than actual outlines. In the first half of the story, there are vibrantly colorful cars, bicycles, and clothing, but the backdrop is gray and white. When the thunderclap sets Hound in motion, however, the background comes to life, too. Hound bolts through a park full of greenery and flowers to reach his home furnished in warm welcoming colors. 

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Interior art from Hound Won’t Go written by Lisa Rogers and illustrated by Meg Ishihara, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2020.

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I recommend this book for all ages, and especially, but not exclusively, to dog lovers. I shared Hound Won’t Go with my favorite three-year-old, and she loved completing the rhymes, for some odd reason putting the most gusto into anticipating the word “No.” She has requested the book several times since, even over video chat. Just what the doctor … or vet? … ordered: a picture book that both the reader and the listener can enjoy, over and over.

Click here for an activity kit. On Rogers’ website there’s also a fun hound craft for kids.

•Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

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03Aug 20

Picture Book Review – Unicorn Yoga

UNICORN YOGA

Written by Gina Cascone & Bryony Williams Sheppard

Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

 

Unicorn Yoga cover

 

 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Every “body” could use a bit of yoga in their lives and what better way to introduce this mind-and-body practice to children than through the eyes of unicorns. Unicorn Yoga, written by mother-daughter writing team Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler, presents a Unicorn Yogi guiding two eager students through a ten-pose class.

The white colored, pink-tressed Unicorn Yogi, with the big purple eyes, sits in Easy Pose. She guides the focused blue unicorn, and mischievous pink unicorn who seems to have her own ideas on how the pose should look. “We begin by sitting on our mats, crisscross applesauce. In Easy Pose, we are mindful and centered. Om,” Unicorn Yogi explains. The term crisscross applesauce has been used for years to get children to sit still, but that isn’t always easy for the pink unicorn.

 

Unicorn Yoga int1
Interior artwork from Unicorn Yoga written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard with illustrations by Jennifer Sattler, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

 

Sattler uses her vivid imagination to bring huge grins and giggles to the young reader in her art. Check out the blue unicorn contemplating how delicious the mouse running by looks, while the others are focused on Cat Pose; or how the pink unicorn lets out a bit of ummm … gas when “her tail is high in the air as energy rushed through her body in Downward-Facing Dog.” This made me laugh because it’s a well known effect of this pose in yoga classes. She sweetly says “excuse me so all is quickly forgiven.

The authors take the reader to Forward-Fold Pose and explain, “any way you do it, you are strengthening your legs in a Forward-Fold pose.And any way you do it is right, as the teacher demonstrates with a rounded spine and forehead reaching towards her toes, as blue unicorn does her best to bend forward and our favorite pink unicorn does a pose that looks more like the pose Happy Baby laying on her back. Sattler paints a bite out of the mat in this drawing, so I think our pink unicorn friend was a bit hungry in class as well. Other poses demonstrated include Plank Pose, and Relaxation Pose “where it’s finally time to take our rest (otherwise known as nap time for our pink unicorn who curls herself up in fetal position).

 

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Interior artwork from Unicorn Yoga written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard with illustrations by Jennifer Sattler, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

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Sattler writes Breathe in Breathe out on the bottom of each page to remind the reader about the importance of breath before movement in every yoga practice. The backmatter explains how yoga is good for everybody and every body—even unicorns. Cascone and Sheppard introduce two types of breathing exercises that both adults and children can practice to help calm the body and mind. They also explain the importance of “practice, practice, practice and that the most beautiful pose always comes with a smile.”

This new picture book is a great introduction to the practice of yoga and a fun read for the whole family. With yoga and mindfulness being taught more and more in schools across the country, Unicorn Yoga is a wonderful and helpful book to demonstrate some basic poses, while not taking it so seriously as our pink unicorn shows us. As a yoga instructor myself, I found this book to be an easy explanation to this centuries old tradition, and hope it will encourage students to begin their own daily practice. Namaste (the light in me recognizes and honors the light in you).

•Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

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30Jul 20

Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

The Arabic Quilt interior1
Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

The Arabic Quit int2
Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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27Jul 20

Picture Book Review – Lulu the One and Only

LULU THE ONE AND ONLY

Written by Lynnette Mawhinney

Illustrated by Jennie Poh

(Magination Press; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Lulu the One and Only cvr

 

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Written by Lynnette Mawhinney and illustrated by Jennie Poh, Lulu the One and Only opens up a child friendly and honest discussion on the issue of biracial identity.

Little sister Lulu loves her family: Mama, Daddy, and big brother Zane who “makes [her] laugh a lot.” Lulu’s given name is Luliwa which means “‘pearl’ in Arabic.” From Mama’s affectionate affirmations, Lulu knows she is as “unique and gorgeous” as the beautiful Kenyan pearl earrings her mother wears “all the time.” 

 

LULUTHEONEANDONLY int art1
Interior artwork from Lulu the One and Only written by Lynnette Mawhinney and illustrated by Jennie Poh, Magination Press ©2020.

 

As proud as she is about her identity, Lulu is equally frustrated at the confusion others feel about her biracial family and the hurtful, ensuing comments they make. This is a critical and eye-opening point in the book for both children and adult readers. The everyday, seemingly harmless comments and questions people ask are in fact questions that expose our deepest held biases and assumptions.

For Lulu, one particularly disturbing question is:  “So, what are you?” In talking to her brother (who also confronts this question on a regular basis), Lulu learns how to respond to the fear and suspicion embedded in “THAT question”:  self-love. Like Zane, Lulu coins her own “power phrase,” a bold and beautiful statement that emphasizes “not what” she is, “but who” she is. When her classmate, Billy, asks the distressing question, she proudly asserts her phrase. Lulu’s confidence in her own self-worth establishes a clear boundary, letting others around her know how she would like to be treated. Poh’s gentle and colorful illustrations echo Lulu’s quiet strength. 

 

LulutheOneandOnly int art2
Interior artwork from Lulu the One and Only written by Lynnette Mawhinney and illustrated by Jennie Poh, Magination Press ©2020.

 

A must have for both the home and school library, Lulu the One and Only opens the door to nurturing conversations about diversity. Author Lynnette Mawhinney, who is biracial, includes a note in the back matter to further help families, caregivers and educators validate and support the experiences of biracial children. 

 

Download a curriculum guide and visit the author website:
https://www.lynnettemawhinney.com/for-children.

   •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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24Jul 20

Middle Grade Fiction Review – Race to the Sun

RACE TO THE SUN

Written by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Race to the Sun cvr

 

In Race to the Sun seventh grader Nizhoni Begay can see monsters—such as Mr. Charles, the tall, skinny, blond man who may become her dad’s new boss. This, obviously, is a problem, especially when Mr. Charles tries to kill her the first time they’re alone together! As if that day wasn’t crazy enough, one of Nizhoni’s favorite stuff animals, Mr. Yazzie, a horned toad, comes alive and explains that her coming-of-age ceremony awakened her monster-slaying powers.

When her father disappears, Nizhoni, her younger brother Mac, and her best friend Davery set out on an adventure that calls on their Navajo heritage. On their perilous quest, the kids encounter many obstacles. As Nizhoni embraces the power within, she also begins to understand the mysteries of her family.

I enjoyed learning about some traditional Navajo stories in this fast-paced, suspenseful book that couples humor with deeper subjects such as the importance of heritage and respect for each other and our land. Mythology with exciting action scenes are an appealing combination for middle-graders who enjoy quest novels. If you like Percy Jackson and Aru Shah books, read Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun.

Click here for an event/activity kit.

Don’t forget to visit ReadRiordan.com to find out more about the Rick Riordan Presents series.

  •Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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21Jul 20

Creating a Successful Virtual Picture Book Launch by Molly Ruttan

-AN INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN-

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF THE STRAY,

ON LAUNCHING A PICTURE BOOK DURING A PANDEMIC

 

06 Molly holding THE STRAY
Molly Ruttan and her book, THE STRAY (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse).

 

The traditional children’s book launch is typically at a bookstore, someone’s home, or occasionally at a venue related to the subject matter. Prior to the pandemic I attended several book birthday parties and launches every month, but since being stuck at home, I’ve begun watching them on Facebook and Instagram or via Zoom. I was so impressed with Molly Ruttan’s Instagram launch in May that I asked her if we could discuss the ins and outs of creating a virtual book launch.  As a special bonus, Molly’s kindly offered to share her Instagram Live launch today so please scroll down to watch. Please note that due to copyright protections Molly’s book reading of The Stray has been edited out. You can also read my review of the picture book here.

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GoodReadsWithRonna: What made you choose to do your virtual launch on Instagram rather than on another platform like Facebook?

Molly Ruttan: First I want to say thank you, Ronna, for having me on your excellent blog. It is truly an honor to be featured here.

As I watched the world closing down because of the pandemic, I realized I needed to start planning a virtual book launch for my debut author/illustrator book THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse). The idea was extremely intimidating—I struggle with keeping up with social media, and I had no experience with live social media events, at all. On top of that I am terrified of public speaking and don’t feel terribly photogenic! But a good friend from my book critique group, April Zufelt, met with me several times (virtually) and provided such an ongoing and positive pep talk that she convinced me into thinking I might be able to pull it off! We chose Instagram Live because she was most familiar with it and so could teach me how it would work

GRWR: Did you make an outline for the presentation? Tell us about how you came up with the program.

01 Off camera bulletin boards
This was the view from where I sat at my desk, during the filming. Even with all this help I still left things out!!

MR: I tend to get like a deer in headlights when I’m put in front of a camera—winging it would not be a good idea—so I knew I would need an outline of the itinerary posted where I could see it, to help me keep on track. I put it on a bulletin board, and then while I rehearsed I kept adding notes and reminders to the point where I needed a second bulletin board! Then with my nerves rattling I decided to keep the whole display up during the live show. I didn’t end up using it that much, but it was nice to know it was there.

Outlines and lists were also crucial for my preparation. I made lists every step of the way. I had a vision that I wanted the launch to be like a birthday party, and I wanted it to be interesting for kids. I had previously made a hat of my main character Grub, for Halloween, so I knew right away I would wear it, and it also gave me the idea for the craft.

02 IG post
I created a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest and to have a fun way of ending my party by announcing all the winners. This IG post was the last day before the event. I gave away sticker sheets, tote bags, pins, art prints and books.

I proceeded by brainstorming other things I might do at a birthday party/live presentation with kids present. Once I got a good idea of what I wanted to include, I wrote out a schedule for myself to keep track of what I needed to make time for each day. In the months before, I had started making swag, but I had stopped when things started to shut down. With April’s encouragement I decided to proceed with ordering it and using it for a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest.

I also created several short animations as invitations and reminders. (I had previously animated my own book trailer). It was additionally tricky because at the time, we were in lockdown. But fortunately a few days before the event the lockdown lifted, so my (grown) daughter Sydney offered to come over and help me. That was a godsend. (We were still very careful not to get too close to each other, though!) Sydney helped me adjust the flow of the presentation and organize the props so that everything would be at hand at the right time. She arranged the background and framed the scene. I rehearsed virtually in front of her and April, and we refined. My book launch day happened to fall on my Dad’s birthday, so the day before the event I baked cupcakes and decorated one of them to match the book, so I could light a candle and blow it out, to celebrate both of them.

 

03 Stills from Molly Book Launch.
Two frames from the recording where I am doing a draw-along demo of my main character, Grub, and showing how to make a Grub hat.

 

GRWR: Which type of online launch do you think best highlights an author or author/illustrator’s picture book: Q+A, talking head, combination of both, or something else?

MR: I think this is something that really depends on the type of book you’ve written, and who your audience is. It also depends if you are the writer, the illustrator, or both. I had trouble finding any launches to view in preparation— this was still pretty early on. I viewed one that was done in a Q+A format, and although I found that format interesting, it didn’t have quite the energy I wanted. Since my launch I’ve seen some interesting power-point type presentations, and/or pre-recorded video demos within a Q+A, which I thought worked well. I think it also depends on the tech you have available. I work on a desktop MacPro that doesn’t have a camera on the monitor, so doing a Zoom-type presentation where I could share my screen wasn’t an option. In the end I think any format can work as long as you keep your audience in mind and speak to them. I got through it by imagining that I was talking to kids.

My sister Linda Moldawsky created three beautiful activity sheets to go along with the book. They are available and free to download from my website, www.mollyruttan.com, along with directions for the craft and a coloring sheet.

GRWR: How much time should someone expect to prep for their launch?

MR: Again, I imagine it depends on the type of book you’ve written, and what you plan to do. I gave myself a month, which wasn’t a lot of time, especially since in addition to preparing for the launch activities, I was also ordering the swag & creating the animated announcements. Plus I was busy with work. I would advise giving yourself more than a month! Write out what you want to do way ahead of time and create a schedule. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!

GRWR: How long a program should it be?

MR: Regarding the length of the event, as I mentioned before, I rehearsed and then revised places that went too long or could be expanded. My launch took about 45 minutes because that was how long it took to get through everything. It was longer at first because the craft took forever! I realized I needed to make some of the craft pieces before-hand and have them ready, like in a cooking show, and that worked much better. I’ve seen some launches that are simply an introduction and then a reading; their launches are much shorter than mine was. I think short & sweet is great; longer is great too if you have a presentation that is engaging. (The launch video I’ve posted on You Tube is much shorter because I took out the book reading.) 

GRWR: Do you recommend including a giveaway to viewers during the launch?

MR: I would recommend it! I believe people truly enjoy winning things, and I get a lot of joy giving presents to people. Announcing the winners was a fun way to end the “party” and having a winner to announce the next day (from the giveaway during the event) was a great way to follow up on social media. I also ended the “party” by showing the beautiful activity sheets that my sister had made. It felt a little like handing out party favors– something for everyone!

GRWR: What was the hardest thing you encountered when creating your presentation? For example, looking at camera, not having a live audience to gauge interest, keeping on schedule, figuring out the tech, etc.?

MR: Aside from getting over my stage fright, and trying to remember everything without squinting at my notes that were pinned up everywhere, the hardest thing for me was the social media tech. I had decided early on that I wanted to “film” the event at my table in my studio, so that I could have all my art supplies and craft materials in view. I thought it would be as simple as attaching my phone to an old lamp stand, but it wasn’t. Among other things, like lighting and sound, Sydney figured out how to connect her phone feed to her laptop so I could see what I was doing—something that would have caused me to have a meltdown! She also helped me with Instagram afterwards. Good tech people are invaluable!

GRWR: In terms of feedback from viewers, was there a particular part of your talk that was most popular?

For the giveaway during the event I requested people send in the drawings they did during my draw-along Demo. This is the IG post I created to announce the winner.

MR: Because of the way that I was filming, I was unable to see comments as they came in during the event. When I watched the recording afterwards I was truly awed and touched by the enthusiasm of my audience. It’s hard to pinpoint if any one thing stood out—there was a lot of response all the way through it. One of the things I had done was a draw-along demo, with a giveaway attached to it. I was delighted to see so many pictures flooding in after the event! All in all it was well attended, topping out at about 70 people logging on, with between 30-40 at any one time.

GRWR: Was there a call to action, so to speak, when you do an IG live event so that people watching will buy the book and get it signed like they do at an in person event? How do you and other people launching handle that aspect?

Book Plate photo
This Book Belongs To: Book Plate for The Stray by Molly Ruttan.

MR: In terms of making the book available to buy, I put a message in my Instagram bio, with the link to my page on the Penguiun/Random House site, which has many different choices of venues. At the end of the party I instructed people to the link. Unfortunately there was no way of signing the books, using that method. I did make book plates, some of which I had signed and sent to a local bookstore, but I didn’t mention that; I had only sent a handful. Of course I signed the books that were in my giveaway, but I have been thinking about how to honor the people who bought my book at the launch … maybe I will do another IG “call to action”, so I can send out the rest of my name plates! I am honestly not sure what other people do. Launching a book during a pandemic is definitely a work in progress!

GRWR: What was the one most useful pieces of advice you were given about doing a virtual book launch during the pandemic?

MR: I was pretty stressed out getting all of this together—I almost lost sight of the fun and joy in it. April kept telling me not to worry so much about it, and to enjoy the time and the process. It was really good advice, and it made a huge difference. It kept me in touch with how much I live in eternal gratitude for having a book that I have created, in my hands. I have tried to keep her advice in mind ever since, for my life!

In the end, I really don’t know how my launch compares or if it was even successful!  But I did it. I pushed through fear and stress, I had a great time, and I learned to laugh at myself, to boot. Thank you so much for your time and interest in my book birthday party, Ronna!

And thanks Molly for your honest and helpful insights into putting a virtual launch together. This info is going to come in handy for a lot of authors and illustrators over the next few months.

 

FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE:

Check out her website! www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

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20Jul 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – The Stray by Molly Ruttan

THE STRAY

Written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, in The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.

In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on. In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.

 

 

Ruttan TheStray p04-05 We-found-a-stray fin
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.

 

Ruttan TheStray p09 We-named-him-Grub fin
Interior art from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others. Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.

 

Stray Neighborhood AFTER
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.

NOTEWORTHY FACT: Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space. 

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about The Stray in my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Molly here.

Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Stray here.

 

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17Jul 20

Five Board Books With a Jungle Theme – A Roundup

LET’S VISIT THE JUNGLE

-A BOARD BOOKS ROUNDUP-

Safari Jungle Clip Art

 

 

BB Pop-Up Jungle CoverPOP-UP JUNGLE
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Studio; $12.00, Ages 0-3)

Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.

I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.

Hello Elephant coverHELLO, ELEPHANT!
Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton

(Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.

This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.

PEEK-A-WHO TOO?
Written and illustrated by Elsa Mroziewicz

(Minedition; $11.99, Ages 3-5)

Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.

While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.

BB Jungle coverJUNGLE
Illustrated by Jane Ormes
(Nosy Crow; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.

Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.

Baby Sloth Finger Puppet coverBABY SLOTH:
Finger Puppet Book

Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)

Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.

The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Read another board book review here.

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15Jul 20

Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

THE BOY WHO THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX:
The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Written by Marcie Wessels

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5 and up)

 

TBWTOTB cover

 

I like the play on words in the title, The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, which you’ll understand after you read the review of this interesting and recommended nonfiction picture book.

The book’s main character, Ralph Baer, was born in Cologne Germany and enjoyed doing things other kids his age did, like riding his scooter or playing stick hockey. Wessels doesn’t mention specific dates, but adults and older readers will know the action was unfolding in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power, which is mentioned. Around that time, readers are told, Hitler began making life difficult for the country’s Jewish people. And, since Ralph was Jewish, “Even former friends became enemies.” He was bullied, and attacks by the Nazis were not uncommon.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page 002
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

“With no one to play with, Ralph spent more time indoors, tinkering with his construction set.” Not only was Ralph able to complete all the models in the manual, he also came up with many clever ideas of his own.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page-003
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Restrictions on Jews didn’t stop Ralph from learning even despite being kicked out of school at age 14 for being Jewish. In 1938 Ralph and his family fled Germany. Once in America, his inventiveness proved invaluable. When he saw a way to speed up handiwork that he, his sister and his mother were doing to help make ends meet, Ralph created a prototype machine. Soon they doubled the amount of projects being completed, increasing their earnings. Always industrious, Ralph took a radio repair course which led to “… fixing radios for the entire neighborhood.”

In the army, since necessity is the mother of invention, Ralph constructed a radio for his barracks from whatever bits and pieces he could find. Then, after WWII he learned how to build a TV set (the box in the title I referred to earlier). The advent of television heralded in a new era in family entertainment and Ralph saw immense “possibilities.” I was impressed with how Ralph’s career anticipated or paralleled the rise of home technology.

While Ralph saw the TV as a vehicle for playing games, his ideas were initially disregarded. He eventually held jobs building equipment for the U.S. military and for NASA. In fact “he embedded a radio transmitter in the handle of the video camera that astronaut Neil Armstrong took to the moon.” As time passed Ralph still envisioned the potential of TV and imagined “using an external box to control the TV to play games.” With the blessings and funding from one of his bosses, Ralph secretly created a home gaming system and “… the Brown Box, was born!” After numerous rejections, Magnavox took on Ralph’s invention and in 1972, the first iteration of the Odyssey went on sale. As we all know, the video game industry would grow in leaps and bounds over the decades and Baer can be credited with being one of its pioneers.

Wessels has made the story of Ralph Baer’s innovations an accessible and fascinating one. She’s managed to take a lifetime of Baer’s ingenuity and whittle it down to just 48 pages. While the book may read quickly, it definitely invites revisiting to let the scope of Baer’s achievements sink in. When children read the book or have it read to them, they’ll learn about more of Baer’s inventions and can find further sources for information in the back matter. Castro’s comic-like art wonderfully complements Wessel’s words. There is just enough realism to the illustrations when detailing the technology. She also conveys the right mood with the red palate during the dark days of Hitler. I’d love to see her do a graphic novel and could easily see Wessel’s story succeed in that format, too. The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box is a motivating STEM bio that will definitely resonate with unconventional thinkers and could very well inspire kids to pursue exciting new paths in learning.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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13Jul 20

Young Adult Nonfiction – Alphamaniacs

 

ALPHAMANIACS:

BUILDERS OF 26 WONDERS OF THE WORD

Written by Paul Fleischman

Art by Melissa Sweet

(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Alphamaniacs book cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus

Paul Fleischman’s Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word is a witty YA book about people who have done crazy things with words. Organized like an ABC book, each chapter features something unique. Words can be art such as the poet Mary Ellen Solt who worked closely with typesetters to produce visual poems shaped like flowers.

 

Alphamaniacs int1
ALPHAMANIACS. Text copyright © 2020 by the Brown-Fleischman Family Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Melissa Sweet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At opposing ends of the “size-matters” spectrum were David Bryce and Robert Shields. Bryce, a micromaniac, produced the smallest full miniature Bible, 876 pages but only 1 13/16 by 1 ¼ inches, bound in gilt-edged leather. Whereas the diarist Shields typed the longest known diary in human history, describing his day in five-minute increments and waking every two hours at night to continue recording.

 

Alphamaniacs int3
ALPHAMANIACS. Text copyright © 2020 by the Brown-Fleischman Family Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Melissa Sweet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

My favorite funnyman in this group of twenty-six amazing stories is Dan Nussbaum who used the letters and numbers on California’s vanity license plates to retell stories from Genesis to Shakespeare. Nussbaum’s shorthand of Romeo and Juliet: “GESSWAT! BE4 HEE SPLIT, ROMEO KISTME! HESSOQT! BYGTME! ISWEAR!

In the 1960s, David Wallace launched a new field called stylometry wherein computers applied statistical analysis to literary style to prove (or disprove) authorship. Ludwik Zamenhof created Esperanto, a universal language, in hopes of uniting the world linguistically. While Jessie Little Doe Baird brought back Wôpanâôt8âôk, the dead language of her people the Wampanoag. After a gap of seven generations, her daughter became its first native speaker!

Throughout, Melissa Sweet’s bold full-color illustrations add another level of enjoyment to the text. An ideal book to read a chapter at a time, marveling at our wonderful words and the people who’ve made magic with them.

Click here to find out more about Paul Fleischman.
Click here to find out more about Melissa Sweet.

 

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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10Jul 20

Picture Book Review – Federico and the Wolf

FEDERICO AND THE WOLF

Written by Rebecca J. Gomez

Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolf is for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.

The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.

 

FedericoandtheWolf int1
Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.

 

FedericoandtheWolf int2
Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.

Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.

Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.

Find out more about Rebecca here.

Find out more about Elisa here.

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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08Jul 20

Picture Book Review – A Last Goodbye

A LAST GOODBYE

Written by Elin Kelsey

Illustrated by Soyeon Kim

(Owlkids Books; $ 18.95, Ages 4+)

 

A Last Goodbye cover

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Today I’m reviewing A Last Goodbye. This moving picture book is recommended for PreK-3, but could be appreciated by all ages.

Humans have long believed that they are the only species to care for the ill and dying and grieve the loss of a loved one. But are we?  

Nearly two years ago, Tahlequah, a female Orca, was spotted pushing the body of her newborn calf off the waters off Puget Sound. Although the calf only survived for a few hours, the mother had bonded with her daughter. For 17 days, people  around the world watched and grieved with Tahlequah as she kept her daughter’s body close to her. After traveling for nearly 1000 miles, she finally released it into the ocean. Responding to questions about the mother Orca’s actions, researchers noted  “ … it’s common for marine mammals to show signs of grief.”

As I write this review the number of deaths in the United States from the covid-19 has exceeded 125,000 and will climb higher still. Tragically, there are many children who have faced or will face the loss of someone they love due to this deadly virus. How can we help children cope with their fears and their grief over illness, death, and loss? The calm and soothing narrative of A Last Goodbye will give children a safe space and the opportunity to discuss their anxieties by exploring how animals tend to the dying and say goodbye to those who have passed away.

Using an intimate, first person narrator, the author guides children through the difficult process of death and grief, by looking at how animals comfort the dying, care for the remains, and grieve for their loss. The evenly paced and lyrical narrative allows for many moments to pause, reflect, and encourage questions and discussion in this recommended read for families.

As children move through the book, they see the care different animals give to comfort the dying.
An elephant reassures a dying member of its herd:

“I will wrap my trunk around you 

and support you with my tusks.” 

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A Last Goodbye int art 2
Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

 

As a family of chimpanzees minister to their failing member, they:

“… will tuck soft bedding behind your back

and carefully tend to your hair.”

Kim’s stunning and delicate dioramas convey the concern and the grief of the family for the dying, whose fragility is shown in a slumped or sleeping body, outlined in a soft,  glowing line. 

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A Last Goodbye int art 3
Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

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And what happens when a loved one dies? How do we respond? Kelsey shows that animals, like their human counterparts, have many ways of expressing their grief: 

“And when you die

I will gently stroke your body …”

“I will cry out in sorrow … or watch in quiet sadness.”

After death, Kelsey shows children those tender actions we take to honor the dead by observing what animals do: some will gather around the body, others might cover it with leaves. Some return later to 

“… visit the place where your body rests.”

Kim’s diorama is dotted with stars ascending from the bodies of the deceased to the night sky (the book’s end pages also depict a constellation-like map of a variety of animals with their scientific and common names).

Kelsey helps children understand what happens to the body as it sinks into the earth or sea. While death is final, the body nourishes the earth and provides for future generations. She asks the children to wonder: 

“Will tiny roots take hold

and tall trees grow 

in the rich soil you nourish?

Kim’s dioramas depicting how the bodies disintegrate into new life are particularly  breathtaking and turn something painful and frightening into a beautiful and life affirming event. Throughout the book, Kim’s illustrations enhance the narrative’s comforting and soothing tone,

Finally, the author addresses the grief and sense of loss that will always be there:  

“I will miss you forever.”

Yet, she reminds children that the pain of grief is not forever, and that there will be happiness and pride in remembering: 

“ … one day soon,

 I will think of you and feel joy.”

“You, me, all of us.

Every species on Earth.

Our lives plant a long line of love …”

Kelsey and Kim have partnered before with OwlKids Books on You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, and You are Never Alone. All have received starred reviews from Kirkus. A Last Goodbye is their fourth book together. 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

An eight page teacher guide can be found here. Also watch the interview with the publisher and author here. Check out this video to learn about how the illustrations were created and photographed. 

Bekoff, Marc. A Last Goodbye: a Kid’s book about Animals, Dying, and Death.” Psychology Today, March 31, 2020. 

Pierce, Jessica. “Do Animals Experience Grief?” Smithsonian Magazine, Aug 24, 2018.

Are Animals Aware of Death?

You can find many lists of children’s books about death on the internet. Here’s a few:

Children’s Books about Death, Loss and Grieving (New York Public Library),

7 Beautiful Picture Books to Help Children Understand Death

I would also add City Dog and Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth, a simple yet moving story of friendship, loss, and new beginnings.

•Review by Dornel Cerro

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06Jul 20

Picture Book Review – A Doll for Grandma

A DOLL FOR GRANDMA:
A Story about Alzheimer’s Disease

Written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

Illustrated by Samantha Woo

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

A Doll for Grandma cover

 

Written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey and illustrated by Samantha Woo, A Doll for Grandma captures that unshakeable bond between a little girl and her grandmother, a bond that tenderly adapts to the changes brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

ADollforGrandma int1
Interior art from A Doll for Grandma: A Story About Alzheimer’s Disease written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey and illustrated by Samantha Woo, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Kiera and Grandma enjoy each other’s company and have a lot of fun together. From painting nails to knitting to baking “special occasion” molasses cookies based on an old, family recipe, Kiera learns a lot from Grandma. So it is strange when, seemingly all of a sudden, Grandma starts behaving in ways outside of her usual character.

 

ADollforGrandma int2
Interior art from A Doll for Grandma: A Story About Alzheimer’s Disease written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey and illustrated by Samantha Woo, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Through a child-centered, gentle tone, Sharkey’s direct language addresses these changes. “Grandma’s brain is forgetting how to remember,” Kiera’s mother explains. For Kiera, the differences in who Grandma was and who she is now are painfully evident. Most touching are the small, subtle changes. Grandma’s long and “shiny” painted fingernails that once made a “rat-a-tat-tat sound on the table” are merely “bare and … short.” “No more rat-a-tat-tat.” I admire the book’s honest portrayal of the challenges in letting go and accepting the new reality of Alzheimer’s.

 

A Doll for Grandma int4
Interior art from A Doll for Grandma: A Story About Alzheimer’s Disease written by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey and illustrated by Samantha Woo, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Yet, despite these challenges, Kiera discovers a way to be present with her grandmother by gifting a doll to Grandma. Kiera brings her own doll during her visits, and the two connect, nurturing their dolls in pretend play. Woo’s colorful illustrations contribute to this connection by focusing on the facial expressions of the characters, driving home the point that what matters most is the emotional bond the characters share as they engage in positive sensory experiences together. A helpful discussion in the back matter by author and advocate Judy Cornish provides a wonderful tool for parents, caregivers, and teachers.

A powerful story and important resource, A Doll for Grandma brings clarity and healing to families struggling to find connection with that special person living with Alzheimer’s disease.

•Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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01Jul 20

Five New Children’s Books for Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2020
RECOMMENDED READS FOR KIDS
-A ROUNDUP-

 

Clip Art Independence Day

 

The selection of books here, while not necessarily being about July 4th or the Revolutionary War, all have to do with our country, and what it means to have gained our independence and become a democracy. I hope the books inspire children to read more on the topics covered, and to think about how they can make a difference, no matter how small, in their own communities.

 

Free for You and Me cvrFREE FOR YOU AND ME:
What Our First Amendment Means
Written by Christy Mihaly
Illustrated by Manu Montoya
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

When at last America declared itself free from British rule, the Constitution was written “with rules for every institution.” However, something more was needed to guarantee five “of the most fundamental American freedoms,” and so the First Amendment, along with nine others (and making up the Bill of Rights) was drafted.

Using verse, occasional speech bubbles, and bright, diverse, kid-centric illustrations, Free for You and Me explains in easily understandable language just what these powerful 45 words represent. Kids will enjoy seeing other kids on the pages debating the meaning of the expression, “It’s a free country” making this picture book ideal for classroom discussion or for any budding historians and legal scholars.

Mihaly explains how our First Amendment means “we the people of the United States have five important freedoms,” many of which we see at work on a daily basis. Americans are guaranteed “freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather in a peaceful rally or protest, and the freedom to tell our leaders what we want them to do.” If your child has recently marched with you in a protest, that’s due to our First Amendment rights.

In this book, kids learn the importance of the First Amendment through the example of a mayor who wants to shut down their playground. They organize a rally and get signatures on a petition in an effort to save it. Other good examples are presented as in the case of Freedom of Speech. Readers find out about Congressman Matthew Lyon who was arrested and spent four months in jail in 1798 for criticizing President John Adams. This would never have happened were it not for a law Adams and his Federalist government passed called the Sedition Act. Once Jefferson was elected, the Sedition Act expired. I had never heard about this before, but my 19-year-old son had so a lively conversation ensued.

The timeliness of this educational picture book will not be lost on those who support a free press, the right to free speech and to assemble peacefully, as well as the freedom of religion and freedom to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Mihaly, a former lawyer, understands the principles upon which our democracy was established. With her knowledge of the First Amendment, she succeeds in conveying the freedoms it entails in an engaging and accessible way for young readers. We can never take these hard-fought for liberties for granted. Four pages of back matter go into more detail.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE!
Written by Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

The students of Stanton Elementary School aren’t old enough to vote when their school closes every two years on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. That’s when it turns into a polling station. They are, however, are old enough to spread the word in Vote for Our Future!

The diverse cast of characters, energetically represented in bold and vivid illustrations, introduce a topic that is timely for all ages. McNamara’s sweet and intuitive children first ask “what’s a polling station?” The children’s eyes widen as they learn that “the reason people vote is to choose who makes the laws of the country.” LaToya with her big pink glasses raises her hand and says, “we should all vote to make the future better.” But Lizzy reminds her that they just aren’t old enough.

So what are they old enough to do? Player illustrates boys and girls from all backgrounds looking through books and “searching online to find all kinds of information. They even took a trip to their local election office and picked up forms.” The research shows that “kids have to live with adult choices. The kids of Stanton Elementary School were ready to spread the word.”

McNamara takes the reader through the small town where Cady and her mom make flyers. They pass them out to a busy dad, who didn’t even know there was an election, to Nadiya and her auntie, wearing hijabs on their heads, who go door to door telling neighbors that “voting is a right.” Player’s vibrant and colorful art of people from various ethnic groups shows the reader that all people have the right to vote.

With each excuse from adults that the children are given, an even better comeback is heard in return. “I don’t like standing in lines,” one lady tells Nadiya. Nadiya’s auntie doesn’t like standing in lines either, but Nadiya says if you can stand in line for coffee you can stand in line to vote. I love how fearless the kids are when the adults come up with excuses for why they aren’t voting and how the kids don’t take no for an answer.

Player shows “people voting for the first time, and the fiftieth time, with their sons and daughters, their nieces and nephews, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and friends.” When voting was complete and the ballots were counted, Stanton Elementary went back to being a school and “the future began to change.”

McNamara writes in the back matter titled Get Out The Vote! that when adults vote for people and causes they believe in, they speak for us and make laws that are good for everyone in the country. She lists various Acts that have been signed to prompt further discussions between adults and kids. Player’s drawings of stickers such as Yes, I Voted help to get the message across that voting does matter and that every vote really can make a difference. Have the primaries happened in your state? If not, get out and vote! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

For Spacious Skies coverFOR SPACIOUS SKIES:
Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration
for “America the Beautiful”
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Olga Baumert
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I loved getting to know the origin story for the beloved song so many people think is our national anthem, but isn’t. I also learned that not only was the poem that was later turned into a song, written by a woman, but a very independent one at that.

Katharine Lee Bates was raised by her widowed mother who “grew and sold vegetables to help Katharine go to school.” Katharine’s smarts led to higher education and her passion for the written word led to her career as an author and professor at a time when young women were encouraged to pursue marriage and homemaking. She was also a reformer. In addition to teaching, Katharine worked hard to improve the lives of those most vulnerable in society, while also using her talents to help the suffrage movement.

A summer teaching job took her across the country by train from Boston to Colorado where she first glimpsed America’s boundless beauty. On July 4, 1893 Katharine’s mind was flooded with “memories of the ocean” as she set eyes on amber stalks of wheat swaying in the Kansas fields. A trip up to Pike’s Peak and its majestic views clearly inspired her to compose the poem we know and love. It was first published on July 4, 1895 and, with each additional publication, underwent several revisions. In 1910 it was paired with the famous melody by composer Samuel A. Ward we still sing today. This terrific and inspiring biography with its glorious Grandma Moses-esque illustrations perfectly blends the story of Katharine Lee Bates’s life and career, and country with the poem that celebrates its expansive splendor. Back matter and a timeline round out this recommended read.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

We the People coverWE THE PEOPLE:
The United States Constitution
Explored and Explained
Written by Aura Lewis and Evan Sargent
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $24.99, Ages 10-14)

Even adults can take advantage of this comprehensive look at our Constitution because of the colorful and inviting picture book format designed with middle grade readers in mind. Plus it’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on hand to refer to, especially when kids ask questions you may be unable to answer.

This quote from the authors on the intro page speaks volumes about what you can expect when you pick up a copy of We the People: “… we believe that having a deeper understanding of our Constitution can inspire change. Anyone can understand how the government works, and every single person has the power to get involved and make a difference.”

The 128 pages of the book are divided up into brief, digestible chapters, with plenty of white space so that your eye can travel to the most important parts quickly. The authors have included excerpts from the Constitution which have been paraphrased in kid-friendly English so they’re easily understood especially when presented as they relate to our daily lives.

One of my favorite sections was about the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, intended to guarantee that “no one can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.” The chapter features a bottom border illustration of both the suffragettes on the left holding signs and modern day protestors on the right also carrying signs. The spread (like those throughout the book) has interesting factoids such as the one about young conservative Tennessee politician, Harry Burns, whose mother influenced his decision “that tipped the scales in favor of the 19th Amendment.” On the four pages devoted to this amendment there are also thought provoking questions that a teacher or librarian can pose to their students.

There is so much wonderful information to absorb that I recommend readers take in a few chapters at a time to let the facts sink in. One particular chapter that, leading up to this year’s presidential election, might prompt discussion is about the 12th Amendment and the electoral college. Everyone who reads We the People will likely find something covered that will resonate with them whether it’s about the rights of the accused, term limits, or D.C.’s residents (now looking for statehood) being given the right to vote for president. Get this book today and you’ll get the picture!
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

STAR-SPANGLED:
The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and
the American Anthem
Written by Tim Grove
(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Okay, I’m going to embarrass myself here and admit I did not know the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem, was about a battle against the British over a fort in Baltimore. I mean I knew it was about a battle based on the lyrics and I knew the battle fought was with the British, and that’s it. I’m not even sure I was taught the anthem’s history in school. Now, thanks to Tim Grove’s well-researched historical nonfiction novel, I’ve been educated and kids can be, too. Oh and by the way, this occurred during the War of 1812 (which incidentally lasted until 1815).

Told from various perspectives, because what better way to convey the complexity of history than from more than one angle, Grove’s book introduces readers to a host of British and American characters. We meet Mary Pickersgill, (a sewing business owner specializing in flags or colors), Thomas Kemp (a Baltimore shipyard owner), Francis Scott Key, (a thirty-five-year-old lawyer with six children), Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (a top British military officer in the Chesapeake Bay region), and 10 others whose stories are woven together to bring the full picture of the intense battle to light. Star-Spangled also addresses the background of the war and events leading up to battle to help put its significance in context. If America lost Baltimore, our young country’s independence could be at stake. Grove notes that Pickersgill, Kemp, and Key were all slave owners and that Key, was a “tireless opponent of the slave trade” yet in his role as a U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., opposed abolitionists. He was also “a leading proponent” of the colonization movement, something I definitely did not know about.

As we meet each person, we learn the role they played in the the book’s subheading, The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. In fact, Star-Spangled reads like an Erik Larson novel where all the events are building up to the major one so anticipation is high despite knowing the outcome. And don’t be surprised if you become so engrossed that you finish the book in one go!

I had an advance review copy so I was unable to see the full-color photographs from the final edition, but my copy did contain the fascinating archival material interspersed throughout the book. There’s actually a photo of the “flag that Key saw. Over the years, before the flag came to the Smithsonian Institution, people cut various pieces off for souvenirs.” There’s also a photo of Francis Key’s “original draft of his poem.” This contains four verses and is preserved at the Maryland Historical Society.

Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy of this enlightening book. I hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in classrooms and libraries around the country so our rich history can be better understood and discussed. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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29Jun 20

Early Chapter Book Review – Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem

STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM:

TALES FROM DECKAWOO DRIVE

Written by Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 6-9)

 

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Starred Review – Kirkus

“I like the idea that anything is possible, don’t you?” (Stella to her teacher, p. 7)

In Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem, Stella Suzanne Endicott, is one of those glorious young children who finds the whole world and all of life absolutely amazing. A wonderfully engaged, curious and imaginative child, she lives in the same neighborhood as that awesome pig, Mercy Watson, and other characters on Deckawoo Drive. On the first day of school, she meets her new teacher, Tamar Calliope Liliana, and thinks the teacher’s name “… sounded like the name of a good fairy in a deeply satisfying story … “ Her “arch nemesis” is Horace Broom, a big know-it-all, whom she finds most annoying.

 

Stella Endicott int1
STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Chris Van Dusen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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When Miss Liliana asks the students to write a poem using a metaphor, “Stella had a feeling that she was going to be very, very good at coming up with metaphors.” Unable to work at home, due to her brother’s hovering (he sometimes reminds her of Horace), she goes to visit Mercy Watson and curls up beside her on the couch.  As everyone knows it is

 “… a very comforting thing to lean up against a warm pig.”
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Stella Endicott int2
STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Chris Van Dusen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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The next day she and Horace have a disagreement over Mercy Watson. Horace, a literal type, refuses to believe a pig could live in a house and sleep on the couch! Stella angrily assures him that Mercy Watson does! Miss Liliana sends the arguing pair to Principal Tinwiddie’s office (“the toughest sheriff in town”). Horace, greatly frightened of the principal and of a blemish on his academic record, flees from the office and hides in the janitor’s storage closet. Stella races after him and, as she steps inside the closet, the door closes and the two are locked in. Did I mention that poor Horace is also claustrophobic? While they wait to be rescued, Stella comforts him. A glow in the dark map of the solar system gives Horace the opportunity to help Stella learn the names of the planets, and keeps his mind off of his fears. They share the things they love best: Horace, who wants to be an astronaut, loves telescopes, Stella loves metaphors. By the time they are rescued, both are fast friends.

With an almost lyrical narrative, a gently humorous, but thoughtful story, and delightfully quirky characters, this early chapter book is pure DiCamillo. Van Dusen’s gouache illustrations humorously enhance the narrative. DiCamillo helps children see the value of imagination and creativity and that trying to understand that annoying person could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As Stella always says: “anything can happen …”

Kate DiCamillo
Chris Van Dusen

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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24Jun 20

Picture Book Review – Just Like Me

JUST LIKE ME

Written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

(Knopf BFYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Just Like Me cover

 

 

Beautifully written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Just like Me is a book of poems honoring, encouraging, and shining a light on little girls everywhere.

The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.

Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”

 

Just Like Me interior
Interior spread from Just Like Me written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and  “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself.  ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.

Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.

This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.

  •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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22Jun 20

Picture Book Review – Ronan the Librarian

RONAN THE LIBRARIAN

Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie

Illustrated by Victoria Maderna

(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Ronan the Librarian cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

 

What do you get when you mix books with a barbarian? You get the delightfully disarming Ronan the Librarian by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with art by Victoria Maderna.

When we first meet Ronan, the barbarian leader, he’s a typical marauder, pillaging with his cohorts and pretty much content. His usual raids involve bringing back jewels and gold, that is until his latest plundering reveals a chest full of books. Not exactly what was in the cards. While at first Ronan considers the haul useless“Kindling? Origami? Toilet paper?”it doesn’t take long for him to get pulled in by a picture and hooked on the book. He reads late into the night, oversleeping in fact. From that moment on, Ronan was a changed marauder.

 

Ronan interior 1
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

Wherever Ronan travels to invade, raid and then trade, his mind is always focused on the current book he was devouring, eager to return home to it at day’s end. As the leader, Ronan shifts the pillaging priority from taking baubles to books and his collection grows and grows. It becomes so huge he needs a library to contain it. Much to Ronan’s disappointment, his partners in pillage show no interest in reading. “Barbarians do not read books.”

Determined to whet their literary appetites, Ronan decides to read a mythical tale aloud to his community. Yet everyone appears to carry on with their work, leaving the barbarian bibliophile convinced his story has not made an impact. However, when he later discovers the library has been invaded, not by pillagers, but by curious villagers, Ronan could not be happier. “It turns out, barbarians do read books.” Ronan lives happily ever after only now he can add librarian to his skill set. With stories filling their minds, everyone’s lives grow richer because we all know what treasures can be found inside the pages of a book.

 

ronan the librarian interior 2
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

I love how Luebbe and Cattie have taken the most unlikely of characters to ever want to read and turned that on its head. Who can’t fall for a big bearded barbarian smitten by the love of reading? Kids will love saying some of the goofy barbarian expressions like “Uff da!” They’ll also find adorable characters (I like Helgi), wonderful rhythm, and repetition that will make this a much requested read. In addition to enjoying every page, kids should make sure to revisit the art. Maderna’s added some fun details in her lively illustrations like a goat eating the paper from the book haul and again in the library munching on a book, a dinosaur skeleton under the floorboards in Ronan’s home, a library sandwich board that reads “Come Read! Free Mead,” and a library bulletin board with some very funny “Rules and Advice” notices. Parents, teachers and librarians will enjoy sharing Ronan the Librarian, a book that subtly and cleverly extols the virtues of reading. This witty picture book begs to be read at library story times and will make even the most reluctant of readers root for Ronan, even if you may think he could use a shave.

Learn more about the authors at www.becktyarabooks.com

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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17Jun 20

Five New Books for Father’s Day 2020

BOOKS TO READ WITH DAD OR GRANDPA

ON FATHER’S DAY OR ANY DAY

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Happy Father's Day clip art

 

Lion Needs a Haircut cvrLION NEEDS A HAIRCUT
Written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Booklist

Hyewon Yum’s adorable picture book, Lion Needs a Haircut, reminds me of how much my son disliked getting his haircut when he was little. What I especially like is how Yum’s chosen to use lions, a dad and his cub, as the main characters since their manes are such powerful symbols.

The lion father lets his son know he needs a haircut, but the cub does not agree. When the big lion shows compassion, saying he understands his son’s fear, is he perhaps putting words into his son’s mouth or hitting the nail right on its head? Regardless, the cub continues to resist. When at last the little one says, “I just wanted my hair to look like yours,” the story presents a clever new twist that is so satisfying and entertaining. Suffice it to say that parents, caregivers and kids will get a kick out of some fun role reversal in this charming and sweetly illustrated story.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox cvrWHEN GRANDPA GIVES YOU A TOOLBOX
Written by Jamie L.B. Deenihan
Illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3-7)

The birthday boy, with the golden crown on his head, is anxious to receive a special house for his dolls when Grandpa stops by. Lo and behold, he comes bearing a … TOOLBOX! When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, written by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha shows how an unexpected gift can actually become the one you will always remember.

Lorraine Rocha paints colorful illustrations of the grandpa, the boy and his little brown dog who remains by his side throughout the story. The reader is taken on a journey of love via bright illustrations depicting the boy patiently listening to grandpa’s stories. Deenihan’s prose are written as steps on how to handle a situation that you really don’t have much interest in, but you do out of love—a great lesson for young kids to learn. “Next, compliment Grandpa as he shows photos of all the projects he’s built since he was a kid.”

The boy listens to his grandpa until he runs out of stories, but the reader learns that the stories stay in his memory. We see the boy and his dog playing with his doll as a sad looking yellow bird sits at the bottom of a big tree. “It’ll be easy to forget about Grandpa’s toolbox. Until you meet someone in need and have an idea.” That’s when the boy realizes that maybe the toolbox can be useful. Then the reader is taken on a whole new journey showing the beautiful bond between grandfather and grandson.

At the end, the boy is not only able to get that special doll house, but he gets it by building it with Grandpa by his side. “You and Grandpa will work together measuring and sawing, drilling and hammering, gluing and painting, until finally, you’ve built exactly what you wanted.” This heartwarming story melts your heart deeper when Deenihan not only dedicates the story to her own father, but explains how her husband Ricky was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. In honor of Ricky, along with brain cancer patients and childhood cancer patients, a gray ribbon and gold ribbon have been included in the illustrations to raise awareness and show support for all those affected by cancer. •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

PAPA BRINGS ME THE WORLDPapa Brings Me the World cvr
Written and illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
(Henry Holt BYR/Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Junior Library Guild Selection

There is so much to enjoy when reading Papa Brings Me the World. It’s first and foremost a daughter’s love letter to her dad who is often gone for long periods of time due to his job as a photojournalist. “His pictures and stories are windows into magical worlds.” In addition to being about the parent/child relationship, it’s also a travel story with great glimpses into foreign countries and their cultures that the father in his career, and ultimately together with his daughter Lu, visit. I’ve also never read a picture book about a photojournalist so I think it’s wonderful and enriching to expose children to the world this way.

This book resonated with me not because one of my parents was a photojournalist, but because they loved to travel and instilled that love in me. I eventually studied abroad and then worked in the travel industry for nine years sharing my passion for world travel via educational seminars. The influence this story’s father had on his daughter was what hooked me from the start. “I was born to explore. Just like Papa.” I love how Kostecki-Shaw incorporated all the different places the father visited into journal entries and items collected along the way. Her art, a beautiful blend of acrylic, watercolors, salt, pencil, rubber stamps and collage made me want to linger on every page.

The biracial family in Papa Brings the World to Me is a loving, compassionate one. While the little girl’s thoughts revolve around her father’s often exotic trips and his anticipated return home from each one, Mama holds down the fort and provides support in a frequently one parent household. Any child who has a parent that is often away from home will relate to Lu’s dreams of spending time together with her papa either at home or on the road. The book will likely also spark wanderlust in even the youngest child when learning in the back matter about the variety of places Papa visits. This beautiful picture book is a celebration of the unique father daughter bond and one I recommend for all girl dads to read with their daughters.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Big Papa and the Time Machine cvrBIG PAPA AND THE TIME MACHINE
Written by Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Soft pastel colors adorn the pages of this warm-hearted story of bravery throughout time as Big Papa takes his beloved grandson in a time machine (1950s automobile) telling him about times long ago in Big Papa and the Time Machine.

The beautiful artwork was the first thing to capture my attention, but it did not take long for the words to wrap around me as well. Bernstrom tells the story of his African American grandfather who fought through hardship only to come out brave, while reassuring the boy who is fearful about going off to school for the first time.

“Do I have to go to school?” “Yes,” Big Papa said. “I just wanna go home and watch TV.” “You scared,” Big Papa said. “I’m scared I’ll miss you.”

The kind grandfather with the long gray beard, orange hat, red bow tie and blue overalls kicks off the time travel going back first to Little Rock, Arkansas circa 1952. Here he is a young man hugging his own Mama ever so tightly. The grandson believes his grandfather is never scared. “No been scared lots of times,” Big Papa said. “But sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the love you want. That’s called being brave.”

Bernstrom takes readers through a series of experiences in the past: meeting Nana at a dance; his own daughter walking away from raising the boy and working hard labor, but he always ends with the same beautiful words “that’s called being brave.”

This is a story that I could reread over and over, and what a poignant story at this time in history. We are educated on the hardships this family overcame, but in the end they survived it all through love, perseverance and, of course, being brave. Bravo to Bernstrom for his words that transported me to Arkansas 1941 and 1952; Chicago 1955, 1957, and the year the grandson was placed in the grandfather’s care in 1986.

In the Author’s Note, Bernstrom explains the background to this story and how he wasn’t raised knowing his biological grandfather, but when they met his grandfather had stories upon stories to tell. Evans asks, “what is courage?” and explains that with every line of art there is a story just like there is a story in every word. I felt it in both the words and the art. A beautiful story definitely worth sharing with young readers.
•Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

Dadskills coverDADSKILLS: How to Be an Awesome Father and Impress
All the Other Parents – From Baby Wrangling – to Taming Teenagers
Written by Chris Peterson
(Cool Springs Press; $17.99, Paperback)

Billed as a manual for new fathers, Dadskills‘ subtitle immediately clues you in to the light-hearted read covering child rearing, from their arrival at home to their eventual departure. The six chapters (which include spot illustrations) include “Baby Wrangling,” “Dealing With Toddlers,” “The Single Digit Challenge,” “Managing the Tweens,” “Taming Teens,” and “Empty Nesting (or Not).”

Does father really know best? That’s what author Peterson is aiming for with his “We got this” fix-it guy approach to equipping men with the important skills they’ll need to be a first-rate and rad dad. “You’ll find here a breakdown on all the essentials so that you can feel a little more like ‘I’m witnessing a miracle’ and a little less like ‘What the hell is happening?'”

In the first chapter I was pleasantly surprised to find colic was addressed because, while it’s awfully uncomfortable for baby, it can also be exhausting and trying for parents who feel helpless to make their little one feel better. When our daughter had colic, it was my husband with his secure football hold that I could count on to quell her pain. In Chapter 3 dads are reminded to “enjoy this prehormonal phase of life.” And, as a book reviewer, how could I not love a section that emphasizes encouraging a young reader with tips such as “Make it a nightly habit,” integrate books into your home life, and read beyond books, for example, by playing games that require game card reading in order to practice skills and pronunciation.

Every chapter is full of invaluable information that will give dads the tools they need to solo or co-parent and make them smile while getting the inside scoop in a book created with their needs in mind. Peterson’s voice throughout the book is like that of a close friend’s. Dadskills will leave new dads feeling prepared for and less stressed about fatherhood. With its perfectly balanced blend of advice and wit, this fathering book for a new generation of dads will make a great gift for Father’s Day.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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12Jun 20

Early Chapter Book Review – Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge

FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE
Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

 

FergusandZeke and the Field Day Challenge cvr

 

 

Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge is the third in Kate Messner’s series of two beloved class pets in Miss Maxwell’s class. As fans of the earlier volumes know, these two mice enthusiastically join their human counterparts in all school activities from science experiments to sculpting with clay with humorous and adorable results.

When Miss Maxwell announces the upcoming, school-wide Field Day, the excitement is electric and captured in both Messner’s narrative and the diverse faces in Ross’s expressive illustrations. Who will jump the highest and run the fastest? Who will win the limbo contest or the sack race? The children-and the mice-excitedly prep for the event.

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FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate Messner. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Heather Ross. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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On the morning of the competition, the two mice secretly hitch a ride in a student’s backpack as the children eagerly set out to the field. The first content is the limbo. “How low can you go?” the students ask each other. Well, it turns out mice can go pretty low and Fergus and Zeke handily win that contest. However, as they join the other competitions, Fergus and Zeke quickly realize they have a much bigger challenge on their hands … um paws … they’re too small to compete with the much bigger students! The hula hoops are too big, they fear being trampled in the 50 yard dash, water balloons are too heavy to toss, and let’s not even consider kickball. However, soon they figure out how to bring  kids size sports down to mouse size players.

Readers will be delighted (and relieved) to see how Fergus and Zeke rise to this field day challenge and find substitutes for equipment that’s much too big for them: acorns instead of water balloons, a high jump bar constructed from twigs, a discarded plastic bag for the parachute games, and a lost bracelet for the hula hoop contest.  The two have so much fun that they fail to notice the class has returned to school without them. How will they get back to their second story classroom? And what will happen if the students notice they’re gone? Well, the pair demonstrate their ingenuity once again, finding that a plastic bag may be useful for more than just a parachute game.

FergusandZeke and the Field Day Challenge int2
FERGUS AND ZEKE AND THE FIELD DAY CHALLENGE. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate Messner. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Heather Ross. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Messner, winner of the 2012 Golden Kite Award (and many others), has written an upbeat, straightforward, and engaging story. The vocabulary is action packed and accessible. The books’ themes of friendship, school days, sports, and pets are appealing for 5-8 year-old readers who are done with early readers but not yet ready for chapter books. Caregivers and teachers may want to point out the story’s positive images of friendly competition and how the two mice problem solve and collaborate to overcome challenges.

Ross’s digitally-created and cheerful illustrations support the light-hearted narrative and provide visual clues for young readers transitioning to chapter books. Fergus and Zeke and the Field Day Challenge is a charming addition for families and libraries looking for more offerings in a transitional chapter book format.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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10Jun 20

Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters

PRIDE MONTH PICKS

 

The Derby DaredevilsTHE DERBY DAREDEVILS: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team
Written by Kit Rosewater
Illustrated by Sophie Escabasse
(Amulet Books; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

In Kit Rosewater’s middle grade book, The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, fifth grader Kenzie Ellington has spent the past three years watching her mom skate in Austin’s roller derby league wanting to join in too. Fortunately, her BFF, Shelly, finds a junior league being formed. The girls eagerly prepare for tryouts, ready to show off their signature Dynamic Duo moves. However, to keep from possibly being split up, they must form a five-person team in only one week.

Finding other skaters proves harder than expected; the girls they’re asking can’t even skate. Shelly wants to recruit Bree, Kenzie’s skateboarding neighbor, but Kenzie struggles with her complicated secret-crush feelings toward Bree. Then, as the team comes together, Kenzie worries when Shelly welcomes new members and seemingly replaces Kenzie.

Sophie Escabasse’s art brings to life the story’s emotions as well as the humor and camaraderie. Even readers who know nothing about roller derby will feel comfortable with this book’s easy explanations of the sport and accompanying illustrations—just take a glimpse at the dynamic cover.

Fans of the graphic novel Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson will enjoy this tale which also focuses on friendship and girl power. The six girls depicted in this book are realistic representations of the fifth graders I know. I applaud Rosewater for showing us a diverse group of girls who sword fight and play basketball. Girls can be any combination of things. I look forward to book 2, out in September. Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal

 

Burn book coverBURN
Written by by Patrick Ness
(Quill Tree Books; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

In 1957 rural Washington state, Eisenhower’s being sworn in for his second term in office, the Russians ready to launch a satellite into space, and dragons are hired for farmwork having forged a no-kill policy with humans. Against her father’s wishes, fifteen-year-old Sarah Dewhurst begins to interact with their laborer dragon, Kazimir. However, Kazimir has his own agenda, needing Sarah for prophecy fulfillment.

Nearby, FBI agents chase teen assassin Malcolm as he rushes to complete his secret mission for a radical pro-dragon group called the Believers. Nothing sways Malcolm’s devotion to leader Mitera Thea and his probably suicidal mission until his path crosses Nelson’s (who has been thrown out by his mother). Against his training, Malcolm envelops Nelson into the folds of his dangerous world. Yet his ghastly tasks threaten their blossoming relationship.

Best-selling author Patrick Ness once again delivers a complex, action-filled story in Burn. We can relate to Sarah who still aches from her mother’s death and the ongoing prejudice because of their skin color. Sarah’s boyfriend, Jason Inagawa—the only other nonwhite kid in their area—lost his mother to pneumonia during their three-year forced stay in an internment camp. Ness seamlessly blends historical elements with fantasy.

This fast-paced story, told in alternating viewpoint, takes you on a wild journey that includes an alternate universe. Cleverly crafted text amplifies the suspense, allowing for successful verbal sleight of hand. Burn wraps up dramatically, while leaving room to expand into a series. I couldn’t put this book down and look forward to the tale’s continuation in whatever world(s) where I hope to meet more wonderful—and wonderfully awful—dragons.
Starred Reviews Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly

 

Witches of Ash and Ruin cvrWITCHES OF ASH & RUIN
Written by E. Lattimer
(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

When seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh isn’t struggling with OCD, she wants nothing more than to ascend from witchling to full witch. Dayna has strong familial bonds with her coven yet her biological family is disjointed: a religious father and a mother who was mysteriously sent away thirteen years ago to Camp Blood of the Lamb. Mix in witches from another coven plus a nearby serial killer and you’ll get an idea of this fantastic brew of a book.

Latimer’s Witches of Ash & Ruin unfolds in multiple viewpoints providing glimpses inside the heads of others (witchlings, Dayna’s ex-boyfriend, and a witch-hunter named Dubh). I found it interesting that the book opens with Dubh stating his evil intentions—that seemed to solve the puzzle from the start—but knowing the bad guy in no way slows the suspense.

Speaking of tension, the heat between Dayna and a witchling from the other coven is palpable. You’ll root for them to be alive and together at the end.

If you like complex stories without tidy endings, you’ll enjoy this sweeping tale. Some parts are bloody, but that’s expected with a murderer on the loose and a witch or two dabbling with the dark side. Unless you’re fluent in ancient Celtic mythology, pay attention when gods and their histories are mentioned.

 

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08Jun 20

Picture Book Review – Boats Will Float by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

BOATS WILL FLOAT

Written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

Illustrated by Brett Curzon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Boats Will Float cvr

 

After a third and fourth reading of Boats Will Float by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Brett Curzon, I still found myself smiling as if I were reading it for the first time. There is so much to enjoy in this picture book highlighting a bevy of brightly colored boats both big and small.

Rosenbaum’s descriptive rhyme invites reading aloud and the full page spreads beg to be explored in order to find humorous details that Curzon’s included (hint: check out the front of the cruise ship). Readers learn about a variety of vessels that travel on bays, rivers, and oceans as they’re presented at work and play from early morning until night.

 

Boats Will Float int1
Interior illustration from Boats Will Float written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Brett Curzon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

 

The timeless appeal of watercraft for kids cannot be denied and Boats Will Float celebrates that by introducing over a dozen kinds. There are fishing boats, motor boats, tug boats, submarines, freighters, sailboats and canoes. There’s even a welcoming houseboat that bookends the story. First, a child and her dad greet the new day, watching the boat activity from their deck, “Boats are bobbing in the bay/Waiting to be on their way.” Then at the end, the entire family settles down for the night, “Safely moored in dreams all night-/Boats will float … toward morning light.”

I love how there are even nautical flags cleverly incorporated into the book. At story time youngsters can spell out their own name using the alphabet provided. Be on the lookout for a special treat in the mast art of the sailboat spread to point out to curious children. I won’t say anymore than that.

 

Boats Will Float int2
Interior illustration from Boats Will Float written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Brett Curzon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2020.

 

The structure of this picture book, with its vibrant scenes moving to more tranquil ones, makes it ideal for a bedtime read. The art, beautifully complementing the prose, shifts from bolder colors to calmer ones as nighttime approaches. A glossary in the back matter with pictures pulled from the pages that children will recognize provides additional info for your things-that-float fans. What a fun way to have them drift off to sleep!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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05Jun 20

Early Chapter Book Review – Houndsley and Catina at the Library

HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY

Written by James Howe

Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Houndsley and Catina atthelibrary cvr

 

Today school librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe with art by Marie-Louise Gay.

On Saturday mornings the beloved characters of this series, Houndsley the dog, Catina the cat, and Bert the big white bird, meet and walk to the library together. At the library, Houndsley assists students learning to read, Catina participates in a yoga class, and Bert is a library volunteer who helps reshelve books. After their visit, they return to Houndsley’s house for tea and fresh baked muffins.

On this occasion, they notice that Trixie, the librarian, seems unlike her usual upbeat self and the friends become concerned. Soon they find out that Trixie plans to retire to pursue her dream of performing in a circus. “it is never too late to try something new,” she tells the friends. However, since there is no one able to replace her, the library will have to close. The trio are shocked and saddened, but quickly busy themselves with creating a “special” gift for Trixie’s retirement party. Houndsley and Catina have no problem coming up with an idea for Trixie’s gift. Gay’s homey watercolors depict Houndsley pouring over a recipe book with a steaming cup of tea and Catina strolling through a quaint small town to pick up supplies. However, Bert is unable to think of anything and wonders what he could bring Trixie “… for all the happy Saturday mornings she had given him.”

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Houndsley and Catina int1
HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2020 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Marie-Louise Gay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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On the day of the party, the three friends meet at Houndsley’s house. He has baked delicious muffins: pumpkin chocolate chip, blueberry buttermilk, cranberry orange, and more. Oh what a feast! Catrina brings a special circus outfit that she has made for Trixie’s next career. Poor Bert still has not thought of a gift. However, just as he leaves his house, he suddenly realizes what he can bring. What special gift could he get at the last minute? Why himself, of course! Inspired by Trixie’s belief that anyone can learn something new, Bert decides to attend library school so he can take Trixie’s spot and keep the library open. Everyone gives a big cheer (perhaps even bigger than the cheers for Houndsley and Catina’s gifts). Soon the closing sign on the library door is changed to read: “This library will not be closing.”

This is the sixth in a series of touching friendship stories with gentle life lessons woven in. I love how this story draws on library values of bringing people together and creating a community while weaving in concepts of caring and supporting people. Howe’s story also introduces retirement, new careers, and adult education, life changes even young children are likely to see in their families.

Houndsley and Catina int2
HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2020 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Marie-Louise Gay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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The three short chapters listed in the table of contents give this transitional reader the feel of a chapter book. Vocabulary and concepts are more advanced, but appropriate and accessible for children who are almost ready for full length chapter books.

Adding to the book’s appeal are Gay’s whimsical and endearing illustrations. The bright and homey watercolors, packed with intricate details, perfectly fit the story’s quiet and charming tone. Children will be so busy pouring over the details in Houndsley’s messy kitchen, the visit to Trixie’s backyard, or Catina’s adorable red-trimmed house, that they might forget to read the story! But, no matter, they’ll want to return to this lovely neighborhood again and again.

As a librarian I was touched by Howe’s dedication. He writes: “in memory of Winnifred Genung, my first librarian – and to all librarians past, present, and future. Where would we be without you?”

Thanks James and Marie! Authors and illustrators like you make our job of promoting reading and literature to children so easy!

Starred Review – Booklist

 

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02Jun 20

Middle Grade Nonfiction – Can You Hear the Trees Talking?

CAN YOU HEAR THE TREES TALKING?:

DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN LIFE OF THE FOREST

by Peter Wohlleben

Translated by Shelley Tanaka

(Greystone Kids; $17.95, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Peter Wohlleben has adapted his New York Times adult best seller, The Hidden Life of Trees, into a young readers’ edition, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest. Wohlleben brings his passion to the page and surprises us with interesting facts about trees. This beautifully laid out book is sure to please.

 

CYHTTT spread 1
Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Every two-page spread offers a question. In “Can Forests Make It Rain?” we realize that, indeed, some trees do just that. “Do Trees Sleep at Night?” intrigued me; with no sun, trees take a break and let their branches droop until daylight. Kids will get a kick out of “Is There a Forest Internet?” discovering that fungi help trees relay messages to each other through liquid in the roots. I couldn’t put this book down, enjoying unique information including the more typical topics such as respiration, hydration, and reproduction.

 

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Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Subjects are grouped for easy reference while full-color photos, sidebars, and short quizzes keep readers interested. This fun, gorgeous book is nonfiction at its best because it doesn’t feel like learning at all. The “Try This” sections are some of my favorites. I definitely want to blow bubbles out of a birch log!

 

CYHTTT spread 3
Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Wohlleben’s decades in the forest service and love of nature enlivens this topic. Showcasing trees allows us to appreciate their amazing abilities and care about their conservation. Grab your kid and explore nature, finding an educational adventure as close as your own backyard. A free Companion Guide for Teachers and Parents is available here.

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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28May 20

Picture Book Review – Too Sticky!

TOO STICKY!
Sensory Issues with Autism

Written by Jen Malia

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Too Sticky cover

 

Holly loved experiments.
But not today.
It was slime day.
And she didn’t want to
touch anything sticky.

 

My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.

Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky! is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.

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interior art6 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothinggetting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.

 

interior art9 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.

At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.

Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.

 

int art12 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.

Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky! is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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27May 20

Middle Grade Book Review – One Last Shot

ONE LAST SHOT

Written by John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

One Last Shot cover

 

 

In John David Anderson’s One Last Shot, twelve-year-old Malcolm Greeley navigates life carefully. School is endured, and his home life is a minefield where he painstakingly interprets what’s said—and what’s not said—to keep the peace between his contentious parents. He’s sure that if he can just do everything right, then things between his mom and dad will get better, that they have to.

Malcolm doesn’t realize he needs a friend until Lex’s miniature golf ball and her comical call of “Five!” lands at his feet. With an unwanted push from his wacky golf coach, Malcolm soon finds a something in Lex he’s been sorely missing. While his steadfast mother accepts and understands him, Malcolm is unsettled around his father, an award-winning jock of many sports, who pushed Malcolm into Little League. When Malcolm is given an out, he takes it, only to be subtly pressured into competition mini golf. With Dad, it’s all about winning, but Malcolm’s not wired that way no matter how he tries. He’s a natural at putting, yet dreads the competitive aspect. The voices in his head add to the stress of executing each shot perfectly.

Though I don’t typically gravitate stories centered around competitive sports, I picked up One Last Shot because I’m a fan of Anderson’s other books Granted and Posted (also middle grade). One Last Shot’s a winner with its fully developed, imperfect characters. I appreciated the creative manner in which the story unfolds; the structure adds interest. Each of the eighteen chapters opens with the description of a mini golf hole and closes with how Malcolm scored on that hole. Sandwiched between, we’re shown Malcolm’s life in flashback scenes.

This would be an ideal read for a kid with parents in the bitter pre-divorce stage since Malcolm comes to understand his parents’ troubles are not about him and cannot be fixed by him. Sometimes, parents need to split up for their own good—an upsetting time that’s hard to live through, but, hopefully, better in the long run.

Click here to read a sample.

 

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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21May 20

Middle Grade Book Review – Doctor Dolittle: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

DOCTOR DOLITTLE:

THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, VOLUME 1

Text and art by Hugh Lofting

Updated by Christopher Lofting

(Aladdin; $59.99 Set, $24.99 each, Ages 8-12)

 

Doctor Dolittle vol1 cvr

 

 

Looking for the perfect stuck-at-home, want-to-read-a-classic book? It’s Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 (three different tales of Dolittle’s world travels, accompanied, of course, by his animal friends). Don’t let the 700+-page size scare you away; the short chapters and Lofting’s comical illustrations move the stories along quickly. A middle-grader will feel a great sense of accomplishment after reading this huge book that’s “fully updated for the modern reader by the author’s son, Christopher Lofting.”

 

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Interior illustration from Doctor Dolittle: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 written and illustrated by Hugh Lofting, Aladdin ©2019.

 

Kids may know the various Dolittles represented on the screen, but the real character supplants the others. The literary Dolittle isn’t handsome or debonair; instead, it’s his good-natured, kindhearted personality that quickly wins you over. I like that this Dolittle is a bit on the short and tubby side, it adds to the humorous appeal. Picture a slightly clownish man squished into a matador’s outfit as he tries to bring the cruel sport of bullfighting to an end. Fortunately, he can talk to animals, and always seems to have luck on his side.

 

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Interior illustration from Doctor Dolittle: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 written and illustrated by Hugh Lofting, Aladdin ©2019.

 

Children can explore this world’s appealing mix of reality and fantasy such as the Pushmi-Pullyu, a nearly extinct two-headed creature. These classic tales, “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle;” “The Story of Doctor Dolittle;” “Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office,” will especially delight children fond of animals. Lofting connects with readers, drawing them into his imaginary world. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the stories were originally written as a series of letters to his kids from the front lines during World War I. Though penned in wartime, his entertaining stories resound with the peaceful love of people and animals from everywhere around the globe.

Read more about Dolittle’s creator here.

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19May 20

An Interview with Susan Lendroth About Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones

AN INTERVIEW WITH PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR

SUSAN LENDROTH

 

dinosaur bones cover

 

HERE WE GO DIGGING FOR DINOSAUR BONES
Written by Susan Lendroth
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Charlesbridge; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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Interior spot art from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

SUMMARY

Young paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts are invited on a fossil dig, set to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.” Hike the trail, scan the ground, and make a find – then discover how to build a T. Rex from its bones. Includes hand-play motions for sing-alongs and bite-size science sidebars.

INTERVIEW

GoodReadsWithRonna: There are a lot of dinosaur picture books on the market; how did you try to make your new book Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones stand out from the rest?

Susan Lendroth: Obviously, one of the main differences is that you sing it! The primary verse is set to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” but there are also additional bite-sized facts in smaller text on each page, making it a “twice-through” book. Sing it once for the primary verse, and then page through it a second time for the additional text. 

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The focus on paleontology is also less common, describing the science of excavating fossils, studying them and reconstructing what dinosaurs were like for a very young audience.
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here we go digging spread-1
Interior spread from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

GRWR: Besides the additional facts on each page, I noticed the book had extensive back matter. Can you tell me a little about that?
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SL: This is my third book for Charlesbridge, and I love that my editor likes to load in more science to the back of the book. I was given room in Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones for such additional tidbits as the theory that many dinosaurs may have had feathers. Plus, the book’s wonderful illustrator, Bob Kolar, included a page identifying all the modern day birds and animals that he scattered through his fossil dig illustrations. You could page through the book a third time just to hunt for and name each of those critters.

GRWR: You included one more thing in back matter, didn’t you?
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SL: Early literacy practices emphasize five elements for reading stories with children: reading, singing, writing (looking at words together), talking and playing. By illustrating interactive arm movements children can make to mime the actions in the book, play was added to the other four practices that the book already encourages.

 

here we go digging spread-2
Interior spread from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

 

GRWR: In our current situation where many communities may still be on lockdown with libraries and book stores closed or offering curbside pickup, are you doing anything different to market your book?
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Susan Lendroth Instagram
Plastic Dino and Cat, photo courtesy  ©Susan Lendroth 2020.       

SL: Funny you should ask! My book was released just a couple of weeks before the area where I live was put on lockdown. I was fortunate enough to do readings at two book stores before that happened, but by the time a box of plastic dinosaurs that I had ordered for props arrived, my other readings had been cancelled.

So the dinos and I are having fun on Instagram instead. I am pretty new to posting, having just started my account six months ago. I am learning to market the book without being too heavy-handed by posing dinos around my apartment and patio. Not only am I sharing the title with a broader community, and gaining a few new followers, but I am also relieving the tedium of lockdown. That’s a win win in my books! (Pun intended) Check out dinosaur antics at susanlendroth.

Click here for an activity guide.
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Susan Lendroth with Pippi at Once Upon a Time Bookstore.

BIO

Author of eight picture books, Susan writes about everything from dinosaurs to history to an exuberant little girl in Japan. NASA flew her book Hey Ho, to Mars We’ll Go! to the International Space Station where Astronaut Christina Koch read it for for Story Time from Space (https://storytimefromspace.com/hey-ho-to-mars-2/). Susan works for the Los Angeles Public Library and shares her news on Instagram (@susanlendroth) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SusanLendroth).

Susan, Good Reads With Ronna would like to thank you for channeling your inner paleontologist with us. We truly dug what you had to say!

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18May 20

Three Children’s Books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS

FOR

ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

 

 

tiny feet between the mountains cvrTINY FEET BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
Written and illustrated by Hanna Cha
(Simon Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.

In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.

Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.

bilal cook daal coverBILAL COOKS DAAL
Written by Aisha Saeed
Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019
Starred Review – Kirkus

An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.

Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.

The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.

summer bird blue cvrSUMMER BIRD BLUE
Written by Akemi Dawn Bowman

(Simon Pulse; $18.99 HC, $12.99 PB, $9.99 eBook, Ages 12+)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.

Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)

Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.

The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.

I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.

 

Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month here and here.

 

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15May 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – Flash and Gleam

FLASH AND GLEAM
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Khoa Le
(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

There’s more to light than meets the eye and Flash and Gleam: Light in Our World by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Khoa Le makes that apparent and oh so interesting with every page turn. This read-aloud, rhyming nonfiction picture book introduces young readers to four diverse children, their light-filled lives and holidays, as well as the science behind light.

Fliess’s spare and poetic text takes us from morning, noon and night as we see wake up time, gardening, thunderstorms, birthdays, sunsets and rainbows, excellent examples of how light is at work in its myriad and miraculous forms.

flash and gleam int2
Interior spread from Flash and Gleam written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Khoa Le, Millbrook Press ©2020.

 

I love how the words and art work so wonderfully together to convey the story of light in such an accessible way. It would be easy for kids to follow along just by looking at Le’s lovely illustrations with their warm tones and expressive poses. But Fliess’s poetic stanzas, “Flicker/Feel/Help us heal” (a family lighting candles at a sidewalk memorial), or one of my favorites, “Float/Guide/Far and wide” (visiting a lighthouse by boat), gently share the magic of light in a meaningful and repeatable way. Whether watching fireflies or enjoying a campfire, the scenes throughout Flash and Gleam show how light fills our lives with amazement, energy, entertainment and so much more.

flash and gleam int4
Interior art from Flash and Gleam written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Khoa Le, Millbrook Press ©2020.

 

Helpful back matter delves deeper into “The Science of Light” by breaking down the topic into six sections including What is Light?, Lightning, Rainbows, The Northern Lights, Fireflies, and Moonlight, all things that the four children experienced on the previous pages. Intermittent factoids shed light on fun facts: When you are looking at a rainbow the sun is always directly behind you! There is also a section called Light and Celebration where children can learn about the varying ways light is associated with certain holidays such Thailand’s Yi Peng and its “fire-powered rice paper sky lanterns.”

Flash and Gleam will be a welcome read at home, in classrooms or at the library. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but how it’s presented will spark children’s curiosity about the light all around them, every day, everywhere.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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12May 20

Kids Picture Book Review – Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous

JUDAH TOURO DIDN’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS

Written by Audrey Ades

Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $17.99 HC,$7.99 PB, Ages 5-9)

 

Judah Touro Cover

 

In 1801, Judah Touro dreamed of finding success in New Orleans as he set sail from Boston Harbor. His story is vividly recounted in Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous, written by debut author Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger.

After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.”

Mildenberger’s illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro’s new hometown. “A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.” Ades takes us through Judah’s transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner’s business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. “Had God planned for him to be a businessman?”

The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of “the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.” During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.”

 

Judah Touro DWTBF intspread
Interior spread from Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous written by Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2020.

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Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger’s moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. “His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.” The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he “requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn’t want to be famous.”

This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah’s purchase of the city’s first Jewish synagogue. We then see how “everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.” Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. “He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.” In his lifetime, “Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that’s the way he wanted it.”

In the Author’s Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They’ll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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11May 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – Caspian Finds a Friend

CASPIAN FINDS A FRIEND

Written by Jacqueline Véissid

Illustrated by Merrilees Brown

(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Caspian Finds a Friend cvr

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friend begins with a quotation on its dedication page that captures the essence of the book:  “What you seek is seeking you.” Written by the Persian poet Rumi, this profound statement hints at our deep connection to each other, even if we may not quite understand or see it yet. Through patience and quiet determination, we will certainly experience this truth.

 

CFAF int.pt01
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

From the first page, Brown’s illustrations are completely mesmerizing. The vastness of the “cold gray-blue sea” speaks to little Caspian’s loneliness and longing for a friend. The soft color palette and gentle lines indicating movement radiate outward. Everything in Caspian’s environment is casting out a light, past the great beyond of the sea. The lighthouse where he lives and even the sun are reaching out to seek love. Nearly every page is a double page spread helping readers connect with Caspian’s gentleness and faithfulness in “wondering, waiting, wishing for a friend.” 

 

CFAF int.pt02
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

Though “no one arrives,” the little boy does not grow disheartened. Instead, he has a “new thought” and sends out to sea a message in a bottle. There’s an undeniable meditative quality in this process. We see Caspian emptying out his vase, rolling up his note to put inside, and placing the flower back in the vase-perhaps a gift to the receiver and a sign to us readers of his generous heart. In this step by step way, Veissid’s lyrical language slows us down, helping us feel safe and calm.

As days “sink into weeks [and] weeks into months,” Caspian’s hope never falters; his patience for a response gets rewarded. The little boy rows out to sea to meet his new companion, a bear who is just as eager as Caspian to make a new friend. 

 

CFAF int.pt03
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

Caspian Finds a Friend is excellent for bedtime or anytime parents and caregivers are looking to settle little ones down. Themes of love, patience, friendship, and mindfulness will encourage readers (and listeners) to return to this story again and again. I find this book especially relevant for our current time as it shows us the power of our imagination to bring healing and comfort.

• Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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08May 20

Our Favorite New Mother’s Day Books for Children

MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR KIDS

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

This may not be your typical Mother’s Day, but you can still make it special. So, wherever you are, please consider adding a good book to any celebration that you may be planning. Support moms while also helping independent bookstores around the country when you make your reading selections. Check out Indiebound.org, Bookshop.org today or call your local independent bookseller for curbside pickup available in many parts of the country.

 

Mommy Daddy and MeMOMMY, DADDY, AND ME!
Written by Eve Tharlet
Illustrated by Anne-Gaëlle Balpe
(Minedition; $11.99, Ages 0-3)

What’s wonderful about this unassuming little die-cut board book is that it’s full of surprises that will entertain parents as well as children. Adorably illustrated throughout, the book has a circle cut-out on the cover focusing in on the sweetest little bear . Each page turn reveals how much he loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and the two of them together. All kinds of hands-on treats await youngsters because there are flaps to lift and pages to flip as well as a big gatefold illustration and sturdy, glossy pages. Little Bear’s parents pass him between them, Daddy picks him up like an airplane and is comforted by him when he’s sad. My favorite spread is the one where Little Bear rubs noses with his mommy because that’s something my son and I always used to do. Not only ideal for Mother’s Day, Mommy, Daddy, and Me! would make a great Father’s Day gift or story time interactive read.

hand in hand cvrHAND IN HAND
Written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrated by Sheryl Murray
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Part of the New Books for Newborns series, this 16-page board book would make a great baby shower or Mother’s Day gift. Hand in Hand’s gentle, soothing verse coupled with its charming illustrations will capture the attention of infants and toddlers. Created with the littlest readers in mind, the story introduces children to a little girl heading out to the park with her mom and a floral decorated ball. “Me/You/We, two/Hand in hand/Through and through.” Mother and child spend time together in all kinds of play and tender moments depicted in scenes that reassure children of their mother’s love. The read aloud quality of the prose invites sweet story times for little ones just becoming acquainted with books.

To The Moon And Back cvrTO THE MOON AND BACK FOR YOU
Written by
Emilia Bechrakis Serhant
Illustrated by EG Keller
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This moving debut picture book with its spare yet lyrically written text explores the extent to which a mother will go in her efforts to conceive a child via IVF. Sherhant honestly shares the emotional and difficult journey she experienced using metaphors that are beautifully illustrated by Keller. The purple and blue palette is just the right combination of warmth and heart. While not an adoption story, I felt the same strong message of commitment and love as I felt when reading I’ve Loved You Since Forever and Born From the Heart. “I loved you before I met you. I felt you in my arms before I could hold you. But the road was long, and the way was hard.” In an author’s note at the end, Serhant explains how she wanted to write this book “for mothers and fathers who have had a similar road to parenthood.” I’m so glad she channeled her quest into a picture book that will mean so much to so many families who’ll be able to read this to their miracle children one day. I have a friend with her first child from IVF due this fall and, having watched her heartbreak then hope this past year and half, I know just how much this book will resonate with her.

JUST LIKE A MAMA
Written by Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
(Denene Millner Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I’m so glad children have a picture book that celebrates an alternative family arrangement in such a positive way. The main character, Carol Olivia Clementine, is six-years-old. “I live with Mama Rose right now,” she explains. While the young reader never learns the reason for the separation, or the relationship between Mama Rose and Carol, that never detracts from the story. Duncan’s upbeat prose, and carefully placed gentle repetition, “My mother and father live far away. I wish we lived together. I wish that they were here,” lets us know that Carol is aware of her situation, yet happy and cared for as if she were Mama Rose’s own child. Mama Rose treats Carol just like any mom would whether that’s teaching her how to tell time, making her eat all her veggies, sending her upstairs to clean up her messy bedroom or complimenting her on a job well done.

Duncan tells us in the Author’s Note that her Aunt was raised with her by her mother and says “It is love that defines our relationships.” A family friend can serve as a mother, as can a guardian or another relative as was the case in Duncan’s household. Regardless of what brought Carol into Mama Rose’s home, Barlow’s charming and cheerful watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and gel pen illustrations feel hopeful. They depict a little girl who misses her parents⁠—we see her make drawings of her parents and can spot a picture of them on Mama Rose’s wall⁠—but who also accepts the love of Mama Rose. “Mama Rose is my home.”

Grama's Hug coverGRAMA’S HUG
Written and illustrated by Amy Nielander
(Page Street Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
Starred review – Booklist

“May loved to visit Grama every summer and watch the stars.” So begins this picture book that is definitely not just for Mother’s Day, though it does get its heart from the nurturing relationship of Grama and her granddaughter, May. “Then one cold day, May came to live with her.” From that the older reader can gather that May has lost her parents or perhaps Grama has just become her guardian for other reasons. Either way, she’s always there for May, to offer love, hugs and inspiration. What’s so sweet about this story is how the pair share the love of stars, birds and dreaming. Grama encourages May who, we learn from a succession of first day of school spreads over the years, has a passion for outer space. “May wanted to take off to the stars one day.” Winning at school fairs leads to a month at space camp where May’s dreams are finally realized. She’ll become the world’s youngest astronaut, but before she heads off anywhere, she must have a hug from Grama. What Nielander shows in her 40-page book’s text and illustrations is how important it is to reach for the stars while having someone on Earth who helps keep you grounded and confident. With that and a hug, who knows what else May might achieve in her life.


JUST BETWEEN US: MOTHER & SON
a no-stress, no-rules journal
by Meredith & Jules Jacobs
(Chronicle Books; $16.95, Ages 10+)

Begin a new tradition in 2020 and find clever new ways to connect. Take the mother and son bond to another level with this thought-provoking and creative journal.

 

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06May 20

Children’s Book Review – Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner

LENNY THE LOBSTER CAN’T STAY FOR DINNER …

Written by Finn Buckley with Michael Buckley

Illustrated by Catherine Meurisse

(Phaidon; $16.95, Ages 4-7)

 

 

I’m a sucker for picture books with secret covers and Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner . . . or Can He? You Decide! grabbed my attention before I read the first word. Since it’s a you-decide-the-ending book, the book jacket has both choices: one side Lenny stays for dinner, the other side he doesn’t. Underneath, the book itself has an entirely different image—without Lenny’s hilarious mustachioed face—that’s explained once you read the book.

 

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Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner written by Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon 2019; dust jacket and front cover.

 

The story is deceivingly simple: Lenny’s thrilled that he’s been invited to a fancy dinner but soon finds everyone’s a little too excited to see him. At this juncture, a reader can choose whether to continue (Lenny stays), or decide Lenny should leave (turn to page 22). Staying seems straightforward, but you’ll appreciate the clever twists.

 

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Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner, Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon 2019; ‘When Lenny got to the dinner party, everyone was excited to seem him. ‘(page 6) ‘In fact, they seemed a little too excited … ‘ (page 7)

 

It’s hard not to smile when looking at the many renditions of Lenny and his crazy antics. Catherine Meurisse’s art expands the text to its full potential. Bright-orange Lenny coupled with a limited color palette lets the illustrations pop against the bright white pages.

 

Lenny The Lobster int26-27
Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner, Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon2019; ‘As Lenny fought his way through the dinner party, a few things happened that are hard to explain … ‘ (pages 26-27)

 

The text is a father-son collaboration between Michael and Finn Buckley who “wrote this book (with his dad) when he was seven years . . . and does not like to eat lobster.” Therefore, Lenny would be welcome to stay for dinner any night with the Buckleys and not have to worry about being the main course!

 

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04May 20

An Interview with Author Suzanne Kamata About Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters

AN INTERVIEW

WITH AUTHOR  SUZANNE KAMATA

 

PopFlies CVR

 

POP FLIES, ROBO-PETS, AND OTHER DISASTERS

Written by Suzanne Kamata

Illustrated by Tracy Bishop

(One Elm Books; $16.99, eBook available, Ages 9-14)

 

 

INTRO

The release of this fast-paced and interesting middle grade novel was scheduled around Major League Baseball’s Opening Day events. We all know that’s been delayed due to the pandemic, but there’s no reason kids cannot enjoy the thrill of baseball season between the pages of an engaging novel. Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters offers readers just that with its insider’s perspective on the sport along with the ups and downs of being on a team. But that’s only part of the story as the title hints. It’s a diverse novel set in Japan that addresses repatriation, dementia, special needs, and bullying. Read below to find out more. Also a pdf of discussion questions is available here.

SUMMARY

Thirteen-year-old Satoshi Matsumoto spent the last three years living in Atlanta where he was the star of his middle-school baseball team—a slugger with pro potential, according to his coach. Now that his father’s work in the US has come to an end, he’s moved back to his hometown in rural Japan. Living abroad has changed him, and now his old friends in Japan are suspicious of his new foreign ways. Even worse, his childhood foe Shintaro, whose dad has ties to gangsters, is in his homeroom. After he joins his new school’s baseball team, Satoshi has a chance to be a hero until he makes a major-league error.

INTERVIEW

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Interior illustration from Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters written by Suzanne Kamata and illustrated by Tracy Bishop, One Elm Books ©2020.

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: When did the idea hit you to write a middle grade novel about a school baseball team set in Japan?

SUZANNE KAMATA: Hmmm. I did write a picture book baseball story, which was published in 2009, at my son’s request. Around that time, I started writing an adult novel based on my husband’s experience as a Japanese high school baseball coach. Originally, Satoshi was a character in that novel. Later, maybe about ten years ago, a friend suggested that I write a YA novel about Koshien, the extremely popular Japanese national high school baseball tournament. I took Satoshi out of my adult novel and tried to write a YA novel about him. Even later, readers suggested that it seemed more like a middle grade novel, so I made adjustments. That’s the long answer. I guess the short answer would be that I never set out to write a middle grade novel about a school baseball team in Japan.

GRWR: Let’s talk first about the pop flies portion of your novel’s title. With Major League Baseball put on hold due to the Corona Virus, readers get to vicariously experience the sport in your book. Have you been a baseball mom and, because you write about it so convincingly, do you enjoy baseball?

SK: I do enjoy baseball. My husband was a high school baseball coach for 12 years, and I used to go to his games. So, first, I was a baseball wife. My son played baseball from elementary school throughout high school, and I also taught at a couple of high schools in Japan that were known for their strong baseball teams. I feel like I know a lot about high school baseball in Japan, but I often checked with my husband and son about the details. I read an early draft to my son, and he corrected a few things.

GRWR: Upon his return to his old school, Tokushima Whirlpool Junior High, a private school founded by his grandfather, the main character Satoshi Matsumoto’s old friends and classmates “are suspicious of his new foreign ways.” I love how your book honestly explores the struggles of this thirteen-year-old’s readjustment upon returning to rural Japan after three years living in Atlanta. Can you speak to the pros and cons of the international experience to help readers understand his mixed emotions and the changes that occur in people after a move abroad.?

SK: Personally, I feel that there are no cons to having lived or traveled abroad. I am sure that many kids in Japan don’t feel that way now, but when they grow up they will understand the value of these experiences. For my own children, having a foreign mom and growing up with additional cultural elements (like the tooth fairy, and macaroni and cheese, and speaking English at home) set them apart and perhaps made them feel a bit lonely at times. This was especially true since we lived in a small town in a conservative, somewhat remote part of Japan. However, I wanted them  to understand that there was a world beyond the one that they lived in, that even though they were in the minority in the town where we lived, they had a tribe out there somewhere. When you live abroad, you start to look at your own country differently. You can see things that people who have never left cannot. I think, in many ways, you begin to appreciate your own country and culture more. In the book, Satoshi goes through the same thing.

GRWR: The novel’s supporting characters include Satoshi’s grandfather (Oji-chan) who now has dementia and once had a chance for a promising career in baseball before WWII, and younger sister, Momoko , age four, who has cerebral palsy and uses sign language to communicate and leg-braces or a wheelchair for mobility. Are they based on actual people in your life and how are special needs and disabilities treated in Japan?

SK: Yes and no. For many years, we lived with an elderly relative who showed signs of dementia, and my daughter is multiply disabled. She is deaf and has cerebral palsy, and, yes, she has leg braces, uses a wheelchair, and communicates mostly via sign language. But these characters are fictional.

As in the book, children with special needs and disabilities are not usually mainstreamed. There are separate schools for children who are deaf, blind, or who have intellectual or physical disabilities. For the record, my two children, who are twins, went to two different schools.

Children with disabilities, or some other difference, are sometimes bullied.

While accessibility is gradually improving, there is still a degree of shame in Japan surrounding mental health issues and disability. To be honest, certain members of my Japanese family don’t approve of my writing about disability so openly, even though I am writing fiction. However, I think it’s important to do so.

GRWR: A bully named Shintaro plays a prominent role in this story. He bullied Satoshi before his move abroad, and the fact that his dad has ties to gangsters makes him all the more scary. He picks on both Misa, a new student who is biracial and Satoshi, sometimes quite aggressively. Is bullying common in Japanese culture and how does the approach to dealing with bullying in school differ in Japan than in the U.S.?

SK: Bullying is a persistent problem in Japan. Typically, teachers try not to intervene, with the thinking that kids should try to work things out by themselves. Japanese schools have classes in morality, where they might discuss bullying, but most schools don’t have counselors, and some classes have up to 40 students, which is a lot for one teacher to manage.

PopFlies page 205 r
Interior illustration from Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters written by Suzanne Kamata and illustrated by Tracy Bishop, One Elm Books ©2020.

GRWR: There’s a crucial part of the story where Satoshi’s ego is on full display when he chooses to ignore instructions from his coach. I was surprised by this display of disobedience, especially given all the examples of students being raised to be very respectful. Do you think there are too many rules in a Japanese student’s life and that’s why Satoshi preferred his life in America? Here is good spot to ask you to speak to any cultural differences about being a team player in the US and in Japan.

SK: Independence is valued more in the United States, whereas conformity is valued more in Japan. As a teacher, I have come into contact with many students who have gone abroad for a year or more. They are different when they come back. Generally, they enjoy the sense of freedom and self-expression that they experienced in the U.S. Satoshi enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of American school, and he finds it hard to buckle down. Also, in Japan, it’s not good to stand out. It’s better to be humble and to give credit to your teammates than to draw attention to your abilities.

GRWR: Satoshi’s grandfather has a therapeutic robo-pet seal known as Nana-chan. Where did this unusual idea come from because it’s sweet, funny and a plot driver as well?

SK: I first read about these therapeutic robo-pet seals in a Japanese textbook, and then I later saw one in person at a science exhibition. I was immediately charmed – a seal! How random! —  and I wanted to put it into a story.

GRWR: I like that there are illustrations included by Tracy Bishop in every chapter although I only saw an ARC and am not sure if there were any changes made before publication. Did you always picture the novel with illustrations?

SK: No. Actually, I didn’t expect that the novel would be illustrated, but I love having my work illustrated, so I was very excited about it. I am glad that the illustrator is Japanese-American, and that she was familiar with what I wrote about. I was very happy with the final result.

GRWR: What advice can you offer to readers who may have international students at their schools here in America?

SK: As they say, “variety is the spice of life.” Make an effort to get to know people who are different from yourself. Be patient with students from other cultures when they make “mistakes” or do something differently from you. You can learn so much from people from other countries.

I would also encourage students to read books, such as mine, about kids in other countries and from other cultures. There’s nothing like a book to build empathy.

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

SK: If readers enjoy this book, perhaps they would be interested to know that I have written two other novels that  have a connection to Japan, and are appropriate for middle grade readers – Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible and Indigo Girl. Both feature Aiko Cassidy, a biracial girl with cerebral palsy who aspires to be a manga artist.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing!

BIO

Author Suzanne Kamata
Photo of Suzanne Kamata by © Solveig Boergen

Award-winning author Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in the United States, but has lived in Japan for over half of her life. Suzanne raised two kids and now lives with her husband in Aizumi, Japan.

Website: http://www.suzannekamata.com

Thank you so much, Suzanne, for your honest, enlightening replies. I loved learning about your experience as an ex-pat living and raising a family in Japan and how it’s informed your writing. I hope readers will get a copy of Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters to find out all the things Satoshi dealt with upon his return to Japan. Good luck on your works-in-progress (an adult novel and several picture books), too.

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30Apr 20

Children’s Picture Book Review – Caveboy Crush

CAVEBOY CRUSH

By Beth Ferry

Illustrated by Joseph Kuefler

(Abrams BYR; $17.99 HC/eBook available; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Caveboy Crush cover

 

 

Neander is a typical caveboy. He loves his pet rock, Rock, as well as catching fish which is what he was doing when he catches a glimpse of the most beautiful girl in the prehistoric world in Caveboy Crush. This adorable picture book, written by the NYT bestselling author Beth Ferry and illustrated by author-illustrator Joseph Kuefler, is a great read-aloud and perfect to share when a child is eager to capture someone’s attention and heart.

Ferry’s words perfectly paint a prehistoric picture. Then Kuefler’s rich colors and sweet drawings of the dark curly haired Neander and the young girl, Neanne, with a bone tied up in her full head of red hair take the reader on a journey through young love. Neander watches the young girl with an archery bow in her hand perched atop an alligator preparing to shoot the fish he was about to catch. “She was short. She was hairy. She was perfect.” Like all young crushes, all is good for Neander until she notices him from afar. “Neander turned six shades of sunset and jumped into the lake. When he finally surfaced, she was gone.”

 

Caveboy Crush int1
Interior spread from Caveboy Crush written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler, Abrams BYR ©2019.

 

The reader feels Neander’s sadness as he makes his way home. Papa asks what is wrong with Neander who was cuddling a rock. Kuefler draws a large amount of hair on Neander’s back, Papa’s large shoulders, and Mama’s arms and eyebrows reminding us of the prehistoric time period. Mama tells Papa “Crush,” as she shatters rocks with her bat. CRUSH? (Worth repeating as kids will find out!) The meaning of crush gets misinterpreted by the young boy who sets out to find Neanne, offering her just picked flowers. Neanne, frightened by Neander’s unexpected crushing of the flowers, runs away. There’s humor in young Neander’s determination and assorted attempts to win Neanne’s heart with gift after gift, always prompting her to run away from his crushing.

 

Caveboy Crush int2
Interior spread from Caveboy Crush written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler, Abrams BYR ©2019.

 

Undeterred, Neander ventures to the Waves of Salt where he spies a conch shell which gives him an idea. He begins “chipping, chiseling, carving, and creating. It was a work of art straight from the heart.” Will Neanne agree?

This sweet story of young love “crushes” the idea of being put on a pedestal. Caveboy Crush is sure to provide a full on gigglefest with its silly art and poetic writing. Ferry’s great story telling and Kuefler’s illustrations make another perfect match. Valentine’s Day may have passed, but this adorable picture book reminds us it’s never too late for love and lots of laughter.

• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here to read a review of a book by Joseph Kuefler.

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27Apr 20

Children’s Activity Book – This Is How I Do It

THIS IS HOW I DO IT:

One Day in the Life of You
and 59 Real Kids from Around the World

Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe

(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

This Is How I Do It  by Matt Lamothe is a great activity book to open kids’ eyes to the lives of children around the world and get them thinking about their own. Following the success of his picture book, This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, Lamothe was inspired by how one teacher in particular in Fiji was using the book to have children document their lives. The result is this unique activity book that focuses on different aspects of 59 real children’s lives from countries as varied as America to Vietnam, Bangladesh to Uruguay. 

 

This Is Me int
Interior illustration from This Is How I Do It written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

This hands-on 56-page book not only documents almost 60 kids’ lives from around the globe, but it provides an opportunity for young readers to get introspective and fill in the blanks about their daily life (when not in a pandemic). There’s even a die-cut opening in the cover, an inviting feature for children to put in a picture of themselves or draw one. Kids will also find the cool looking postcards and stickers in the back matter appealing for use in their own artwork or on the postcards Lamothe’s designed. A bonus is a fold-out map both in color and labeled with all the countries covered in the book. There’s also a blank map kids can fill in with the names of the places where they’ve visited, lived or want to see in the future. Parents or teachers might want to share with kids/students the website www.thisishowwedoitbook.com where “great resources for communicating with other kids” can be found.

 

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Interior illustration from This Is How I Do It written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe, Chronicle Books ©2019.

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From the very beginning of the book, in the “This is me,” illustration, Lamothe welcomes readers into the book with the warm faces of four international children. This is followed by a spread of “Hello” labels featuring the greeting shown in different languages from China, Kenya, Ukraine, Israel, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Greece. Readers will see different types of housing, beautiful views from out the windows, as well as assorted clothing the kids wear, what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how they get around, where they learn, who their teachers are, how their food is cooked, and what they get up to in the evening.

I like that the examples given are never boring, sometimes unexpected, and always thought provoking. In “This is how I get around” children learn that Lurongdeji, from China, “lives with his mom and grandmother, who are both farmers. They use a modified motorcycle to get around.” The front is a motorcycle, but the back has been altered into an open truck bed for carrying crops, tools, animals or whatever! In a mouthwatering spread titled “This is a fruit or vegetable that grows near me,” I was surprised to see a picture of a red seaweed called dulse that is dried and eaten as a snack on the west coast of Ireland. My favorite illustration would have to be the one showing some favorite books read around the world with blank lines for kids to fill in with their favorite book, too. It’s nice that Lamothe ends the tour with bedtime and the places where some of the children in the story sleep at night. But this is anything but a bedtime book. It’s ideal for daytime reading and dreaming and will definitely give children stuck indoors a chance for interesting armchair travel.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read Dornel Cerro’s review of This Is How We Do It.

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23Apr 20

Young Adult Book Review – What I Want You to See

 

WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE

by Catherine Linka

(Little Brown BYR; $18.99 HC/$9.99 Kindle, Ages 14+)

 

 

WIWYTS cover

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The author of A Girl Called Fearless and A Girl Undone, presents a compelling tale about moral ambiguity and how our perceptions shape our decisions and what we see and believe in the young adult novel, What I Want You to See.

Following a devastating senior year, things are looking up for eighteen-year-old Sabine Reyes. She has been accepted to a prestigious art school on a full scholarship, including an allowance for housing. Still traumatized from the events of her senior year, which left her homeless, she becomes alarmed when her professor, a noted artist, is brutally critical of her artwork. Nothing she does meets his approval and she is fearful that failure in this class will result in the loss of her scholarship. Vulnerable, and under intense pressure, she is manipulated  by someone she trusts, and engages in unethical activity she at first rationalizes and later realizes is wrong.

Set in contemporary Pasadena and surrounding areas, Linka’s book explores Sabine’s last year of high school and how the events of that year impacted her later actions and decisions. This gradual build up, intertwined with Sabine’s current life of school, work, friendships, and loves, dramatically increases the story’s intensity. Readers helplessly witness Sabine’s entanglement in a criminal world and the staggering consequences she faces when exposed.

Linka’s love of art is clearly evident in the story and provides fascinating backdrops and insights. Yet, this story is also shaped by Linka’s growing concern over homelessness, especially among college students. In Sabine, Linka has created an innocent and fragile young woman who has experienced hardships unimaginable by most of her peers. Due to society’s negative impression of the homeless, Sabine lives in fear that her friends and classmates will find out about her earlier homeless experience. Yet this very hardship enables Sabine to treat the story’s homeless characters with dignity and respect. One such character, inspired by the author’s chance encounter with an older homeless woman, becomes the subject of a powerful work painted by Sabine.

I recommend this complex and gripping story, infused with the beauty of art and the ugliness of deceit and betrayal.

  • Review by Dornel Cerro

Support a local independent bookstore by ordering your copy of What I Want You to See here.

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21Apr 20

Kids Picture Book Review – Snowy Farm

SNOWY FARM

Written by Calvin Shaw

Illustrated by Oamul Lu

(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

Snowy Farm cover

 

It may be April, but some parts of the country are blanketed in snow. While those places eagerly await spring’s arrival, we thought we’d share a story about the magic of snow.

 

Bundled-up horses and bundled-up hens living on water more than living on land in Snowy Farm, written by author and songwriter Calvin Shaw with illustrations by Oamul Lu, takes the reader on a family’s lyrical journey one day on their farm.

The story opens with snow-capped mountains and frost covered trees as a lone wind mill sits behind the frosty old house. “There’s a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn.” Lu paints a tall farmer with only eyes and a mustache shown on his face as he’s bundled from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet in warm clothing. Standing beside him is his sweet faced horse with red ear muffs and a scarf protecting him from the harsh winter. And his friend the hen has matching red ear muffs!

 

 

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Interior spread from Snowy Farm written by Calvin Shaw and illustrated by Oamul Lu, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

 

Turning the page, we are introduced to two children with smiles on their faces. “They’re living on ice with no grass at hand. They’re living on water more than living on land.” Shaw introduces us to life on an icy farm. The children help their father pick the apples, but they also take time to make snow angels with the chickens and goats. Lu outlines angels underneath the boy, chicken and goat and the cold doesn’t seem to bother any of them.

The traditional roles are kept as mom is cooking while “outside of her window, her kids work the field. The chickens are fed and the apples are peeled.” When dinner is ready the family runs inside and Lu paints warm colors of  a family gathering together on a cold winter night. This is a sweet story of a close knit family that work and spend time together talking about their day by the fire. When the day comes to an end “with the starlight appearing, they’re warm and at ease, while falling asleep to a cold winter breeze.” The page turns to dark and the stars are seen in the night. We know the family is peaceful and happy on the farm.

In the Author’s Note, Shaw explains how Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. He tells the reader about the peak summer months and gives a lesson on how daylight lasts for twenty-four hours. This is a great family bedtime story that teaches kids who live in a snowy part of the world, and teaches those who have never experienced snow. Shaw himself has never traveled to Antarctica, but is able to give the reader great insight and, as he says, until we visit, this book can be our imagined journey there together. I imagined that journey, too, and maybe one day I’ll visit Antarctica, but until then I have Snowy Farm to read and re-read.

• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here to read a review of another snow-themed picture book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20Apr 20

Earth Day Books for Kids – A 2020 Roundup

RECOMMENDED READS FOR EARTH DAY

A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.

 

One Little Bag coverONE LITTLE BAG: AN AMAZING JOURNEY
by Henry Cole

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, eBook available, Ages 4-8)

One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.

In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.

Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo!  Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE:
THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit fills in the blanks.

Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.

The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.

This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. Starred Review – Foreward Reviews

 

THE GIRL WHO SPOKE TO THE MOON:The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon cvr
A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND LOVING OUR PLANET
Written by Land Wilson
Illustrated by Sue Cornelison
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Kindle eBook available, Ages 4-8)

Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”

Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.

The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.

 

Christine’s also reviewed If We Were Giants, a middle grade novel ideal for Earth Day reading.

Read an illustrator interview here for Greta and the Giants.

Click here for another recommended read for 🌎Earth Day.

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15Apr 20

An Interview with Author Alexis O’Neill About Picture Book Bio Jacob Riis’s Camera

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH AUTHOR ALEXIS O’NEILL

 

RIIS Cover from BMK

 

 

JACOB RIIS’S CAMERA: BRINGING LIGHT TO TENEMENT CHILDREN

ILLUSTRATED BY GARY KELLEY

(Calkins Creek/Boyd Mills & Kane; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

I’m so happy to share this interview with popular SoCal author, Alexis O’Neill. Her new picture book biography introduces Jacob Riis, a determined New Yorker born in Denmark, to a new generation of readers. It’s hard not to feel as though you’ve traveled back in time as you learn about Riis, who is best known for his moving photographs of the plight of the poor tenement dwellers in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

SUMMARY

In Jacob Riis’s Camera, a penniless immigrant, who becomes a reporter and social activist, uses new flash powder technology to illuminate desperate tenement living conditions and brings about changes for children and their families.

INTERVIEW

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you happen upon Jacob Riis’s photos one day and find inspiration to write this picture book or did you intentionally set out to write his story?

Riis Interior with Flash
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

ALEXIS O’NEILL: I’ve always been interested in photography and photographers. I used to live pretty much with a camera in my hand, and when I lived in central New York, I belonged to the Syracuse Camera Club, one of the oldest in the nation. I met Riis’s photos when I was researching child labor issues for other projects. Then later, I read his autobiography, The Making of an American. He wrote so vividly and personally that I felt as if he were right beside me, chatting with me in my living room. That’s when I knew I wanted to write a book about him.

GRWR: Despite my familiarity with Riis’s haunting b + w photos, I had no idea how influential he had been during his lifetime. What fact or facts about Riis surprised you the most?

AON: I was really surprised that Riis didn’t consider himself a photographer. In fact, he later carelessly tossed his glass plate negatives into his attic. Then, just before a wrecking ball was about to destroy the family home, the images were rescued, thanks to photographer Alexander Alland, Sr., and donated by Riis’s son, Roger William, to the Museum of the City of New York.

GRWR: Riis was a champion of the poor as early as his youth in Denmark. What impact would you say his photos have had on the way this segment of our society is treated?

AON: Riis’s photos were revolutionary. They inspired accountability and gave documentary evidence that helped force compliance of landlords with sanitary and building regulations.

GRWR: How big a role did Riis’s immigrant background play in his career?

AON: Like most immigrants, he had a driving work ethic. He was an educated Dane with carpentry skills, but he had a hard time finding work in America. He did all kinds of menial tasks in order to survive. He experienced homelessness and hunger. He experienced injustices and wanted to fix themnot just for himself, but for others.

 

RIIS Tenement Neighborhood
Interior spread from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.


GRWR:
Is there a particular photo of Riis’s that particularly resonates with you?

AON: To me, his most heartbreaking photo is “The Baby’s Playground.” A toddler with a shaved head and filthy dress stands in front of an overflowing public sink at the top of a dark staircase that has a railing held together with rope. The wall behind the baby is coming loose. No child should have to live like that.

p23 RIIS Book116
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

GRWR: Obviously this nonfiction bio involved a lot of research. How did you choose what to include or leave out when his rags to not-so-riches-but-fame story is so fascinating? Was there a portion or time period of his life that was most difficult to nail down?

AON: Riis’s relationship with his Danish sweetheart was complicated, so I treated that with a broad brush stroke.

GRWR: Why do you think no professional photographer had captured the lives of shelters and tenement dwellers prior to Riis?

AON: At the time, most photographers made pretty portraits or, like Matthew Brady, recorded historical events. Riis, in contrast, showed the underbelly of life. I think that when Riis read about the invention of flash powder, it came at the right time for him. Photographs taken with this new technological tool helped him convince officials to make changes in the tenements.

RIIS Five Cents a spot
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

GRWR: Do you attribute Riis’s success to his talent as a photographer, his perseverance, good timing or all three?

AON: I believe Riis’s success can be attributed to his determination and tireless work to tell a complete story of the social injustice experienced by impoverished city inhabitants. He lived during a time of great interest in social reform.

GRWR: As a former New Yorker and lover of NYC’s Tenement Museum, I’ve always admired Riis’s photos. Why do you think his accomplishments are not better known today?

AON: Riis’s photos continue to impress people, and his contribution was unique. In his advocacy for improving substandard housing, he was one among many of his contemporaries who also advocated for changing laws on child labor, suffrage, public health, housing, and schools.

GRWR: What’s one of your favorite illustrations by Gary Kelley in your book?

AON: I love Gary’s illustration of Jacob giving a lecture and pointing to his photograph of a tenement mother holding her swaddled infant. As he talks, Jacob gestures to the poignant image. This image makes me wish I could have heard Jacob in person!

BIO

AON Headshot2 by SonyaSones
Alexis O’Neill, photo by ©Sonya Sones.

Alexis O’Neill is the author of several picture books including The Recess Queen, the winner of several children’s choice awards, and The Kite That Bridged Two Nations, a California Young Reader Medal Nominee. Her new picture book biographies are Jacob Riis’s Camera; Bringing Light to Tenement Children and The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey (due Fall 2020). Alexis received the California Reading Association’s award for making significant and outstanding contributions to reading throughout California and is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Website: www.alexisoneill.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexis.oneill.9

Twitter: @AlexisInCA

Instagram: @Alexis2017

Thank you so much, Alexis, for sharing your insights about Jacob Riis and giving us the inside scoop about your new picture book biography, Jacob Riis’s Camera. It’s so great to know how many children will now have a chance to learn about Riis’s important contributions to society.

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13Apr 20

YA Book Review – The Blossom and the Firefly

THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY

Written by Sherri L. Smith

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99 HC,
available in Ebook, Audio, Ages 12+)

 

 

The Blossom and the Firefly cvr

 

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, School Library Journal

Sherri L. Smith’s YA book,The Blossom and the Firefly, depicts an interesting slice of Japanese World War II history. Hana, assigned fieldwork is, one day, buried alive during an air attack. After she is dug out, Hana feels a part of her died in that bombing. Adding to her despair, she is reassigned as a Nadeshiko Tai girl—a handmaiden to the dead—serving tokkō, the special attack pilots also known as kamikaze. When each group readies to leaves, she must smile and wave as they take their last flight hoping to honorably body-crash into enemy battleships.

I appreciate the unique story structure, based on the Eastern style of storytelling called kishōtenketsu. Instead of a plot with conflict, kishōtenketsu revolves around contrast or juxtaposition. In The Blossom and the Firefly, Hana’s first-person chapters are in the “now,” while Taro’s (her love interest) third-person chapters begin in 1928 during his childhood. About halfway in, the narratives synchronize. Utilizing these time lines, we are shown Taro’s backstory without relying on flashbacks.

The story questions whether it’s possible to live and love during wartime. Hana keeps coolly distant until stumbling upon a special connection with Taro. After the war ends, rebuilding entails mending emotionally and moving forward to embrace what’s left. Readers will feel what it was like to be a teen caught in a war-torn land, where it’s not whether you have lost a loved one, but, rather, how many. This young adult novel about a little known aspect of the war is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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09Apr 20

Six Kids’ Books for Easter 2020 – A Roundup

 

EASTER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

EGGS ARE EVERYWHERE
Baby’s First Easter Board Book
Illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan
(Chronicle Books; $10.99, Ages 2-4)

Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.

Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg. 

The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters. 

Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.

 

Hoppy Floppys Carrot Hunt cvrHOPPY FLOPPY’S CARROT HUNT
A Lift-the-Flap Book
(Candlewick Entertainment; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Hunt is yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.” 

The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.

An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find. 

There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.

 

Hazel and Twig TLE cvrHAZEL AND TWIG: THE LOST EGG
Written and Illustrated by Brenna Burns Yu
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.

Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch. 

As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family. 

The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig. 

Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.

Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.

 

ELSIE
Written by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Maja Kastelic
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsie explores additional themes of  love, family, and diversity. 

The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundaysall except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path. 

Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of  the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.  

In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership. 

Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.

Hop Little Bunnies coverHOP LITTLE BUNNIES
Written by Martha Mumford
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(
Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunnies is a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.

Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.

In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”

A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.

Follow Me Flo cvrFOLLOW ME, FLO!
Written and illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis, Follow Me, Flo! is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.

From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.

Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.

Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)

When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).

Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.

  • Review by Armineh Manookian
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07Apr 20

Kids Books for Passover 2020 – A Roundup

PASSOVER PICTURE BOOKS

Passover will be different this year because we’re self-isolating. And since it’s advisable to not meet up with family and friends, some of us may participate in Seders via video teleconferencing. We may also have to choose new menu variations based on what food is available. One thing that won’t change is the Passover story in our Haggadahs and the variety of wonderful books we can share with our children. Here are some books worth reading during this eagerly awaited eight day holiday.

 

Welcoming Elijah
WELCOMING ELIJAH:

A PASSOVER TALE WITH A TAIL
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

I loved the new perspective Newman has captured with her gently flowing, lyrical language in Welcoming Elijah. It’s been years since I thought about all the times I went to my Aunt’s front door and opened it for Elijah when I was a child. So reading about the main character’s experience filled me with joy. As readers feel the young boy’s anticipation about every aspect of the evening’s Seder inside, they’ll also be introduced to a stray cat outside mimicking many of the steps that are taking place at the dining room table.

Inside, the boy dipped
parsley into salt water.

Outside, the kitten chewed
a wet blade of grass.

Inside, the boy broke
the middle matzo in half.

Outside, the kitten split
a twig in two.

When at last the youngster opens the front door for the Prophet Elijah, and looks outside, it’s not the prophet who makes an appearance at the Seder, but a friendly kitty looking for a home. Gal’s warm palette adds to the uplifting ambiance in all her illustrations. This sweet Passover tale should resonate with many children who look forward to celebrating Passover and all its beloved kid-centric rituals of not only asking the four questions, and finding the afikoman, but to welcoming Elijah into their homes year after year. Back matter about the holiday is also included.

 

Asteroid Goldberg cover

ASTEROID GOLDBERG:
PASSOVER IN OUTER SPACE

Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Merrill Rainey
(Intergalactic Afikoman; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

You may think you’ve heard of every kind of Seder possible, but I have a feeling you’ve never heard of a Seder in outer space. And Asteroid Goldberg is no ordinary story so if you have children who are into all things cosmic, Sayres’s 40-page holiday picture book will deliver just the right blast of humor and read aloud rhyme.

As space-whiz Asteroid steers the spaceship home from Pluto in time for Seder, she and her family are notified they’ll “have to wait to land.” The timing couldn’t be worse and Passover prep will now require an added dimension. Looks like this family’s going to have to search for Pesach supplies in the Milky Way!

She aimed their ship toward Jupiter.
So many yummy moons!

“Matzoh balls!” said Asteroid.
“All we need are spoons!”

The clever way our plucky heroine finds all the food on offer in outer space is just one of the things children will enjoy when reading this far out story. The idea of dining in an anti-gravity setting is such fun as is an intergalactic afikoman hunt. Rainey’s jewel-toned illustrations are cheerful and humorous, complementing this truly creative Passover tale. Once given the all clear to land from Houston, the Goldbergs deliver readers a surprise ending for those of us who know the traditional closing of the Seder as being “Next year in Jerusalem!”

 

I Love Matzah bbcoverI LOVE MATZAH
Written by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Illustrated by Angelika Scudamore
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

I Love Matzah is an adorable board book ode to the delights of the unleavened bread we eat during Passover. Its simple rhyme pattern is easy for little ones to repeat and to anticipate the rhyming word from the illustrations. There are so many different ways and times of day to enjoy matzah, whether you have it after a morning stroll or with yogurt in a Passover bowl. But what happened to matzah brei, my fave? Scudamore’s bright artwork adds to the upbeat feeling conveyed on all 12 pages of this charming read. Parents can point out the boy’s I Matzah t-shirt and help their kids try reading the rhyming words printed in red, an educational component that works quite well.

 

Alligator Seder book coverALLIGATOR SEDER
Written by Jessica Hickman
Illustrated by Ellisambura
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

Alligator Seder is such a funny spin on the Seder stories we usually see. This 12-page full color board book is guaranteed to get laughs with its gorgeously illustrated gator family getting ready for Passover. There are some truly funny lines such as:

They look for bits of chametz.
They’re good investigators.
They’re really just like you and me
except they’re ALLIGATORS!

Mommy gator makes gefilte fish. Gator guests join the celebration. Their mouthful of teeth make for some serious matzah crunching sounds. However for me, the ending is what’s perfect. In fact, it was the inspiration for the name of my Zoom Passover Seder this year which is called Seder, See Ya Later!

Everyone is going home.
They all say, “See you later!”

Another year, another splendid
ALLIGATOR SEDER!

If you want to bring smiles to any Seder, I recommend getting a copy of Alligator Seder to share and get swamped in the best possible way!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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06Apr 20

Best Passover Books for Children – The Passover Mouse

THE PASSOVER MOUSE

Written by Joy Nelkin Wieder

Illustrated by Shahar Kober

(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The Passover Mouse cvr

 

Starred review – Kirkus

The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mouse begins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.

This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.