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Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

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

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah!
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”

And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale had me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.

When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.

All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“

I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.

Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

A Dreidel in Time – A New Spin on an Old Tale

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Board Book Review – God is Great, God is Good

GOD IS GREAT, GOD IS GOOD

Written by Sanna Anderson Baker

Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

(Abrams Appleseed $8.99; Ages 0-3)

 

GodisGreat GodisGood cvr

 

 

Originally published in 1987 and available now as a board book, God is Great, God is Good simply and beautifully captures the message of the Old Testament’s Book of Job. Author Sanna Anderson Baker’s poetic language combined with Tomie dePaola’s familiar, warm illustrations emphasize the point that, ultimately, God is in control.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 194
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

In the original story, Job is a righteous man who suffers insurmountable financial, physical, and personal loss.  Grieving over the tragedies unfairly cast on him, he saves up many questions to ask God; when Job finally does get his day in court, God asks a series of His own:  “Who knows the way to the house of light? And who knows where darkness dwells?” “Who tells Morning, ‘Sweep the stars from the sky’?” God highlights the wonders of the natural world and the orderly passage of time. In God is Great, God is Good, these questions are interrupted three times. Each break gives us the answer in a double page spread: God.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 1910
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

Baker’s lyrical text grounds these profound concepts with words and images familiar to children. Snow rests on the earth as “‘quiet as a cat.’” Whenever “‘Lightning dances’” Thunder “clap[s].” Forces of nature are personified; like people, they too have personality and a unique role in doing what they have been designed to do. While God uses examples from nature to illustrate His power, the last third of the board book focuses on His tender role as “friend,” provider, and protector of the animal world. He feeds, “takes care,” and “knows” His creation.

DePaola’s wonderful illustrationsalways in a peaceful palette of colorscontribute to this feeling of comfort and safety. His signature style of outlining the edges of an object accentuates its shape and contains its form, making the object recognizable, like bringing order out of chaos. All three of the double page spreads remind me of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. In dePaola’s depictions, God’s hand is reaching out to the heavens and emanating light from above to earth below.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 1912
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

By the end of the book, we learn, like Job, the restorative power of God’s presence. In the midst of chaos, the cycles and constant rhythms of the natural world satisfy our deep longings for comfort and peace.

A great book for bedtime, quiet time, Easter, or any time the world seems erratic (oh, so true at this very moment), God is Great, God is Good shows us the steady in unsteady times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Kids Book Reviews – Christmas Board Books Roundup 2019

CHRISTMAS BOARD BOOKS

– A Roundup –

 

Merry Christmas Transparent Clip Art

 

 

christmas puppy book coverCHRISTMAS PUPPY:
A Wag My Tail Book
By Salina Yoon
(Little Simon; $7.99, All Ages)

The 12-page, pull-the-tab board book, Christmas Puppy, begs to be read and enjoyed by parents and youngsters alike. Who can resist a furry tail that either parents or children can pull each time there’s a puppy pal sound effect?

Puppy knows there’s a gift waiting for him under the tree, but which one will it be? Each time he thinks he’s found it, that particular present is actually intended for either Mouse, Hamster or Cat. Readers can imitate the accompanying animal squeaks, chirps and meows while pulling the wagging tail tab to their hearts’ content. Yoon’s sweet story with its four adorable animals concludes with Puppy finding and unwrapping his special gift. Have fun with Puppy and friends and enjoy a wag-ful Christmas.

grandmas christmas wish coverGRANDMA’S CHRISTMAS WISH
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $8.99, Ages 0-4)

Now available in board book, Grandma’s Christmas Wish celebrates the unique bond between a grandmother bunny and her grandbunny. It’s a gentle reminder that multi-generational relationships mean so much and can bring such joy.

I love how this grandma bunny expresses herself so beautifully in her rhyming couplets. As the pair frolic in the burrow and the snow covered woods, Grandma shares her wishes which are so much more than material ones. Instead they’re about spending time together and her feeling of unconditional love for her grandbunny. “But, you with your grin and all of your charms, you’re my best present, just wrapped in my arms.” Be prepared to smile with every lovely page turn in this heartwarming story just perfect for any little one’s first Christmas.

christmas is awesome coverCHRISTMAS IS AWESOME!
A Hello!Lucky Book

Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

The merry, colorful illustrations and simple rhyming text of Christmas is Awesome! convey exactly what children think of when describing Christmas. “… Twinkling Lights, Silent Nights, Busy Elves, Jingle Bells!” Joy jumps off every page of this charming new board book from the sisters who founded Hello!Lucky, “the award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio committed to using creativity to spread joy, fun, and kindness.” They succeed.

In addition to the festive feel of this 24-page board book, there are many laughs in store. Inside readers will find humorous spreads—I’m partial to the “Ugly Sweaters” one—that are study-worthy to see what surprises have been included. For example, a lump of coal gets up to all sorts of antics and experiences all sorts of emotions in every spread. I discovered new things with every read and children will enjoy doing the same. Kids will love the variety of animals featured throughout the book such as an elephant, a mole, a penguin, a cat, a squirrel, a dog, a mouse and lots more. Easy to memorize, this terrific read-aloud is recommended for little ones who like the fun and funny side of Christmas.

santas cookie is missing cvrSANTA’S COOKIE IS MISSING!
Written by Chris Ayala-Kronos
Illustrated by Anne Passchier
(HMH Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Die-cut board books are always popular with toddlers and Santa’s Cookie is Missing! is no exception. I like the premise of this story; after a family’s Christmas Even dinner has ended, the narrator (a young girl) notices that the cookie usually saved for Santa has disappeared. The child sets off to solve the mystery first at home, then outdoors, and then inside again.

Every new die-cut reveals something related to the narrator’s search in a circle shape that will hopefully lead to the missing snack. Whether it’s a plate, a Christmas tree ornament, a snowball, the hollow of an old oak tree or even a mug of hot cocoa, there are lots of places to look and several possible suspects. Make note of the cat and dog in the artwork and see if your kids can anticipate who might be the culprit. I’ll admit I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I was too busy checking out all the pretty die-cuts. The tree-ornament and the present with their respective sparkly and shiny designs were my faves. What will be your youngsters’ faves? Don’t miss picking up a copy of this book to gift or to enjoy at home.

The little winter book of gnomes cvrTHE LITTLE WINTER BOOK OF GNOMES
By Kirsten Sevig
(The Countryman Press; $12.95; All Ages)

This compact book (not really a board book, but the same size) makes a wonderful gift to bring to family and friends for the holiday season. It’s packed with playful gnomes in watercolor illustrations coupled with proverbs inspired by author illustrator Sevig’s Norwegian family and her childhood. Though raised in America, Sevig explains that she and her sister were brought up “in the only Norwegian speaking household on the block.” Clearly her fond memories have influenced the warm upbeat tone of this collection.

Early on, Sevig points out how the meaning of the word gnome actually has a double meaning that’s depicted in every illustration. Not only is a gnome a small woodland creature, it’s also a “wise, pithy saying” and The Little Winter Book of Gnomes is filled with them. I knew the majority of the sayings, but the way they’re lovingly paired with assorted gnomes is the true pleasure that’s to be taken away from any reading. Read just several at a time or sit back, have a cup of warm tea and delight in all 128 cheerful pages. Some noteworthy gnomes include “A tree with strong roots laughs at the storm,” “A warm drink is a hug in a mug,” and “Don’t waste time looking back. You aren’t going that way.” Marzipan and Rice Cream with Berry Sauce are just a few of the recipes that are also included, making this book a go-to read when the weather turns cold and party plans get underway.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Have you read IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS by Ann Whitford Paul?
Illustrated by David Walker, Paul’s book is now out in board book format.
Read my review of the picture book from last year here.

Looking for more Christmas book reviews? Click here.

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Kids Book Reviews – Five Holiday Picture Books 2019

 

WINTER HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOKS 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

happy holidays clip art

 

vegetables in holiday underwear coverVEGETABLES IN HOLIDAY UNDERWEAR
Written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, ages 3-7)

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.

 

one wild christmas book coverONE WILD CHRISTMAS (Life in the Wild series)
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.

 

peanut butter and santa claus coverPEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS:
A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE

Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, ages 3-7)

What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!

snow globe wishes book coverSNOW GLOBE WISHES
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Claire Shorrock
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this yearwith or without a power outage.

the teddy bears christmas surprise cvrTHE TEDDY BEARS’ CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Written by Bruno Hächler
Illustrated by Anastasia Arkhipova
(Mineedition; $17.99, ages 5-6)

I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?

Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

Read about last year’s picks here.

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Children’s Books We Love for Valentine’s Day 2019 – A Roundup

VALENTINE’S DAY CHILDREN’S BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

clip art of hearts

 

 

A Hug is for Holding Me by Lisa Wheeler book cover artworkA HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
($14.99; Abrams Appleseed, Ages 3-5)

Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.

Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of  speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.  

I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.

A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.

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Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine book cover artDUCK AND HIPPO: THE SECRET VALENTINE
Written by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Andrew Joyner
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card  is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”

And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.

As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!

The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!

By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.

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What is Given from the Heart book cover artworkWHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART
Written by Patricia McKissack
Illustrated by April Harrison
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.

“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”

Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words.  When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”

For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.

McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.

Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.

A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.

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Get on Board With a New Board Book by Toni Buzzeo & Tom Froese – Whose Boat?

WHOSE BOAT?
Written by Toni Buzzeo
Illustrated by Tom Froese
(Abrams Appleseed; $9.99, Ages 2-4)

Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo cover art by Tom Froese

 

Little ones will love learning all the cool terminology and designs for all the boats in the harbor when they get their hands on Whose Boat? I know I did! Just imagine the fun you’ll have pointing out the various parts of these boats and figuring out which boat goes with which person. With the help of this colorful, 16-page gatefold board book from the folks who brought you Whose Tools? and Whose Truck?, kids can become mini-experts of all sorts of boats and who operates them such as the patrol boat operated by the Harbormaster, the tugboat operated by the Tugboat Pilot, the car ferry operated by the Car Ferry Captain (always a favorite in our family), the lobster boat operated by the Lobsterperson, the emergency lifeboat operated by the Coxswain, the fireboat operated by the firefighters, and last, but definitely not least, toy boats for water play operated by kid power! 

 

Int artwork from Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese
Interior spread from Whose Boat? written by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese, Abrams Appleseed ©2018.

 

 

Int artwork from Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese
Interior gatefold spread from Whose Boat? written by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese, Abrams Appleseed ©2018.

 

When kids memorize the question, “Whose Boat is That?” and the corresponding reply, it won’t take long before they take over the roll of tour guide when you visit a harbor near home or on holiday. They’ll thoroughly enjoy lifting the seven sturdy gatefolds to reveal the answer to the question each time it’s posed. Make a game out of it and quiz each other on the parts of the boats (I’d lose that easily) and watch how fast they pick up all the details.

Smoke billows up.
Cool water flows.
Whose boat is that?
Do you know?

Int artwork from Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese
Interior spread from Whose Boat? written by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese, Abrams Appleseed ©2018.

 

Int artwork from Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese
Interior gatefold spread from Whose Boat? written by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by Tom Froese, Abrams Appleseed ©2018.

 

Buzzeo’s taken a popular nonfiction topic and made it fun for the youngest of boat fans. And Froese, whose stylized illustrations have a vibrant and retro feel about them somewhere between Dan Yaccarino and Salvatore Rubbino, makes turning each page a treat. Head to your local independent bookseller and pick up all three books for handy reference at home or give them as a preschooler birthday present to all the curious kids in your life.

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Best Board Books for Kids – A Roundup

Serious Fun: Board Books With a Lot of Love
A Best Board Books Roundup
Selected by Children’s Bookseller Hilary Taber

 

As a bookseller I think that board books may be one of the most overlooked categories of books. Yet these books are a child’s first exposure to books and to art. So, I want to take some time to give some love to some favorite board books already out for your little ones that I’m really excited about!

 

Baby Tiger: Finger Puppet Book book cover of baby tiger finger puppet book
Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $6.99, Ages 0-3)

This combination board book and finger puppet is only one in a series of adorable animal stories. Short, sweet and sure to please a baby to two-year-old in your life. Follow Baby Tiger through a complete day from morning until night. Be sure to be on the look out for the Baby Reindeer version for a wonderfully sweet Christmas gift! Huang’s illustrations are winsome and welcoming with their gentle expression. These little books are a perfect addition to a little one’s first library.

 

 

Book cover of sleepyheadsSleepyheads
Written by Sandra J. Howatt
Illustrated by Joyce Wan
(Simon & Schuster/Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 2-4)

Sleepyheads caught my eye the minute I saw it, and stole my heart. This is an immensely soothing just-before-bed book. One by one the reader sees all different kinds of animals tucked into their beds. Each animal is plump and peacefully asleep or almost there. Every page is gently illuminated making the night seem welcoming and almost warm. The text encourages children to name each animal and to look for the one sleepyhead at the end of the book that we are still haven’t found for, “But there’s one little sleepyhead who’s not in his bed. Where, oh where, could he be?” A satisfying ending when that particular little sleepy child is finally found! A great baby shower gift.

 

Tinyville Town: I’m a FirefighterBook cover of tinyville town: i'm a firefighter
Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Abrams Appleseed; $7.95, Ages 3 and up)

I showed this book to a friend who said, “What I like about it is that the firefighter’s moustache is like three stories tall.” Exactly! I love this firefighter and his enormous moustache. It’s a wonderful book for a little guy or gal who loves to see those firefighters hard at work. The book goes through the day in the life of a fireman and his co-workers (which include a female firefighter). They have an action packed day from the first ring of the alarm bell to the well deserved sleep at the end of a busy day. The team fights fires at a bakery and come home with baked goods! What’s not to love? The illustrations are full of action, but the text is simple enough that little children won’t loose attention. Full of excitement, yet cozy enough to read at any time of day this board book, though recommended for preschoolers, would actually make a great purchase for even a one to two-year-old.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Picture Books of 2015

 

THIS YEAR’S BEST PICTURE BOOKS

Making a List and Checking it Twice!
Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks

GRWRCoveted-Bookseller-Award

 Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!

vegetables-in-underwearVegetables in Underwear
Written by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5)

What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.

 

ItstoughtoloseyourballoonIt’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon
Written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka 
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.

Counting Crows counting-crows-cvr
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!

IfYoureaRobotIf You’re a Robot and You Know It
By Ukelele and Drum Combo, Musical Robot
Illustrated by David A. Carter
(Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.

Butterfly Park 
ButterflyPark
Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House TheMoonisGoingtoAddysHouse
Written and illustrated by Ida Pearle
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!

OnceUponaCloudOnce Upon a Cloud
Written and illustrated by Claire Keane
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her
request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.

A Tower of Giraffes: AnimalsTower-of-Giraffes-cvr.jpg in Groups
Written and illustrated by Anna Wright  
(Charlesbridge  $17.95 Ages 3-7)

What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!

The Bear Ate Your SandwichTheBearAteYourSandwich
Written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach 
(Alfred A.Knopf BYR;  $16.99 Ages 3-7)

This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.

Lenny and Lucy LennyandLucy
Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.

TheWhispercvrThe Whisper
Written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.

 

One FamilyOneFamilycvr.jpg
Written by George Shannon and illustrated by Blanca Gomez
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.

We Forgot Brock!
WeForgotBrock
Written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!

WaitingWaiting
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.

TheSongofDelphineThe Song of Delphine
Written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!

 

We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli

DINOBLOCK
by Christopher Franceschelli with artwork by Peskimo
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.95, Ages 1 and up)

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If you have a budding young paleontologist (and even if you don’t), this book’s inventive and colorful graphic design will delight and engage both children and adults.

Two children stop by the museum to “meet the dinosaurs” as the banner outside proclaims. Wait-don’t be so quick to turn the page: the first two pages fold out to form a four-page spread of the diorama-style exhibit.

But the children want to know:

WHO ARE THE DINOSAURS?

and

WHERE ARE THE DINOSAURS?

 

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Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

And the dinosaurs, peeking out from the jungle brush, call out:

HERE WE ARE

Pairs of two-page spreads combine to create clues and answers, comparing the characteristics of contemporary objects with dinosaur features. The design of the “clue” spread interacts with the “answer” spread and links the present to past.

A tall building is compared to the Sauroposeidon, a dinosaur that reached heights of 18 meters (almost 60 feet).

I AM TALL LIKE A SIX-STORY BUILDING …

The straight-edged tab on the shared page of the clue and the answer emphasizes both the building’s height and the long neck of the Sauroposeidon and gives children a peek into the stylized prehistoric environment.

 

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Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

In one two-page spread, the two friends float in a small boat over a large whale. The text of the clue reads:

I AM LONG LIKE A WHALE …

The next spread reveals the answer:

I AM A DIPLODOCUS.

In these two spreads, the shared tab follows the curving back and tail of both the whale and the diplodocus.

Not sure how to pronounce those complicated sounding dino names? Not to worry-the author provides a phonetic *translation” beneath the scientific name. Boy, I could have used this years ago when my sons and I struggled to pronounce names like MICROPACHYCEPHALOSAURUS (MY-cro-PACK-ee=SEFF-ah-low-SORE-us).

The final two pages fold out to reveal a four-page spread of the skeletons of each of the dinosaurs depicted in the book.

Simple words typed in capitol letters and some repetition in the sentences make the text accessible to toddlers and preschoolers. The diversity of the children and the dinosaurs they discover hint at the diversity of life and demonstrates that many children share the same wonder and amazement over dinosaurs.

Bold and colorful illustrations over two-page spreads, cheerful faces (Peskimo’s T-Rex is nothing like the raging monster in Jurassic Park), and the larger board book format guarantee interactivity. A block (buster) of a book (forgive the pun). Be prepared to read and play with this book more than once!

Christopher Franceschelli is the publisher and president of Handprint Books and the creator of other concept books like Alphablock and Countablock. See GRWR’s reviewer Rita Zobayan’s earlier review of Countablock, and check out School Library Journal’s interview with the author. Peskimo, a British husband and wife team, did the artwork on both books. Visit their website to see more of their nostalgic, retro artwork.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

 

VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR by Jared Chapman
(And what else would you expect them to wear?)

VegetablesinUnderwear-cvr.jpgAt last, a picture book that categorically confirms what we’ve suspected all along: underwear is fun-to-wear! In Vegetables in Underwear (Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5), author/illustrator Jared Chapman revels in this most important milestone of life, graduating from diapers to undies.

The celebration starts at the very beginning. The front endpapers show a variety of vegetables dressed in all kinds of snappy attire. On the copyright page, we cheer for the stalk of broccoli whose evident struggle in taking off his shirt brings to hilarious light the technical difficulties of vegetables undressing. By the dedication page, we are well on our way to the underwear party.

Kids will love the lively contrast of color between the stark white pages and vibrant colors of Chapman’s vegetables. Parents and caregivers will appreciate the multiple layers Chapman offers: names of vegetables, colors, opposites, synonymous for underwear (drawers, undies, briefs, underpants—who knew there were so many??), and days of the week. As a side note, we can assume from our hero, the pea, who blissfully runs about holding (not wearing) his underwear that undergarments are optional on Friday. After all, we do have our own ways to celebrate the kick off of another weekend, don’t we? On the opposite side of the emotion spectrum, we also empathize with our friend, the potato, whose “LITTLE UNDERWEAR” creates an embarrassing, shall we say… AHEM…, “cracking” problem that anyone, human or vegetable, can relate. The author himself certainly admits to this fact on the book jacket, but we won’t hold it against him.

We do come to find out on page 27 that, sadly, the underwear club is an exclusive club. “BABIES DON”T WEAR UNDERWEAR. BABIES WEAR DIAPERS!” As such, they are barred from joining the party, complete with confetti and balloons. But, not to worry, for the closing endpapers show them being comforted by a grown up eggplant whose encouraging pat on the head may perhaps give our baby veggies (as well as our preschool audience) all the more reason to ditch the diapers and put on those big boy/girl underpants.

I thoroughly enjoyed this light hearted book and found myself coming back to Chapman’s loveable characters again and again. Head over to your local independent book seller and pre-order your copy today.

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

ArminehManookianEver since reading her first Berenstain Bears book, reviewer Armineh Manookian has made it her life’s ambition to live in that “big tree house down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country.” When she’s not dreaming about Mama Bear’s kitchen, you can find Armineh in her own, working to keep her cubs well fed. (It’s a full time job!) In addition to kitchen duties, she loves cooking up picture book stories spiced with wacky characters who get into all sorts of trouble. How will they work through their problems? As a former preschool teacher and current mentor, Armineh draws inspiration from those little people whose small size disguises the biggest and bravest heart.

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Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 2015!
❤️A ROUNDUP TO SHARE THE LOVE ❤️

In-My-Heart-cvr.jpgThis book is great for Valentine’s Day, but is not limited to the holiday.

Even as an adult, feelings are hard to pinpoint, much less express. Written by Jo Witek, with illustrations by Christine Roussey, IN MY HEART: A Book of Feelings, (AbramsAppleseed, $16.95, Ages 2-4), may be a book intended for toddlers, but its universal theme will appeal to all ages.

This beautiful die-cut board book uses colors, shapes, and symbolism to help children identify and verbalize what they are feeling. Witek’s lyrical writing and masterful use of vocabulary are awe-worthy, and are complemented perfectly by Roussey’s fanciful illustrations.

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Interior spread from In My Heart by Jo Witek with illustrations by Christine Roussey, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

 

When I get really angry, my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!
Don’t come near me!
My heart is yelling, hot and loud.
This is when my heart is mad.

But other times, my heart is cool.
I bob along gently like a balloon on a string.
My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall.
This is when my heart is calm.

Sad, afraid, and shy are emotions which are explored by this perfect pairing of author and illustrator, along with hopeful, brave, and proud, to name a few. Witek ends the book with an open-ended question for the reader, sure to encourage a heart-felt discussion. She asks:

How does your heart feel?

Both Witek and Roussey live in France, and originally published their book in French under the title Dans Mon Petit Coeur, (Editions de La Martiniere/2013). Nothing has been lost in the translation to English, proving the heart speaks a language all its own. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Guess-How-Much-cvr.jpgIt must have been twenty years ago when I first read the touching tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, and teared up. Then, when my oldest daughter was in high school, her boyfriend gave her a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I got choked up again when she let me read it. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, written by Sam McBratney, and illustrated by Anita Jeram, (Candlewick Press, $9.99, Ages 4-8), is now available in a 4″x4″ special foldout, pop-up book format, and after all of these years, still makes me misty.

A timeless tale of love, this beloved book comes to life with Jeram’s ink and watercolor illustrations of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In this most recent edition, the characters pop off the pages as they try to outdo one another while expressing their love.

“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“But I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare — and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

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Interior artwork from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Anita Jeram, Candlewick Press, ©2014.

 

McBratney’s text expands upon the phrase, “I love you this much,” so often heard between parent and child, with his creative prose. The sentiment is appropriate any time, but tucked away in a beautiful red sleeve with a decorative gold title, Guess How Much I Love You  makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loved ones of any age. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Love-Monster-cvr.jpgThis little Love Monster was a nice little monster living in a land called Cutesville. LOVE MONSTER, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 2-4), is another terrific Valentine’s Day picture book to add to your gift list. Living in a world full of everything cute and fluffy can be hard when you’re a funny looking monster of bright red hue, and googly eyes. Or so it felt that way for our main character who was seeking someone to love him “just the way he was.”

NOTE: Make sure to point out the sign that reads BIG, WIDE WORLD as Love Monster sets off on his search.

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Interior artwork from LOVE MONSTER by Rachel Bright, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©2014.

Monster looked high, low and he even looked “middle-ish,” one of my favorite words in the story. At the Fancy Dress Shop (costume store) he was almost fooled by a monster mask, then again by his shadow, and finally by his reflection. Was there no one for him?  It almost seemed as if he had a dark cloud hanging over his head. But in a moment of pure storybook serendipity, as Love Monster was almost running out of places to look for love, his luck changed.

“You see, sometimes when you least expect it … love finds you.”

Bright’s message is not a new one, but it’s an oh so important one to share with children. How many times have we said something similar to our kids?  This simple tale is one of hope and reassurance for any child feeling they don’t quite fit in.

Bright’s artwork is not only bold and colorful, reflecting Little Monster’s various moods, but unique. Bright’s created her illustrations with solar etching according to jacket copy.  She uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates, a truly illuminating technique!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other New & Noteworthy Picture Books

Zombie in Love 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Scott Campbell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

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Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli with art by Peskimo

 Countablock
by Christopher Franceschelli with art by Peskimo
(Abrams Appleseed, 2014, $16.95; ages 1-3)

AlphablockcvrCountablock by Christopher Franceschelli is no ordinary counting book. Of course, it has numbers 1-10 and then highlights 20, 30, 40 and so on until 100. It features fun objects to count, such as snowmen, heads of hair, baskets of cucumbers, and popsicles. Each main number is represented in words and a die-cut numeral over a double two-page spread. For example, we see forty eggs become [turn the page] thirty nine chicks and one dinosaur. Ninety kernels of corn become [turn the page] ninety pieces of popcorn.

However, the real delight is in the incredible artwork by the husband and wife design duo, Peskimo. The art has a retro/vintage style that nevertheless feels fresh. Cute expressions and cheery colors will appeal to both adults and children. Number 100 is treated to a double gatefold that is replete with characters from the previous numbers and lots of jigsaw puzzle pieces.

This companion to Alphablock has earned a starred review from the School Library Journal and positive reviews from Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times. Sturdily built with thick pages and strong covers, this book should be able to withstand the little hands that will want to explore it again and again. It will make a great gift for the preschooler in your life.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

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