skip to Main Content

Best New Children’s Books for Father’s Day 2023

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

REVIEWS:

Dads Can Do It All Cover dads doing many activitiesDADS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan

(Grosset & Dunlap; 8.99, Ages 0-3)

I reviewed Moms Can Do It All! last month and am happy to share its equally charming companion, Dads Can Do It All! with you.

Maass and Trukhan engage children with their easy rhyme and vibrant art in this 18-page board book. “There are dads who sing songs and write music with words, and there are dads who take care of dogs, cats, and birds.” Little ones are encouraged to believe in themselves and in what they might be one day. Dads are shown role modeling in myriad jobs from mail carriers, farmers, construction workers, chefs, and nurses to firefighters, clerks, hairstylists, astronauts, and homemakers. The variety of occupations depicted can open the door for discussing all kinds of positions people have at an age when children love to dress up and play pretend. 

Like the companion board book, here readers are treated to bold colors and simply shaped characters that will capture and hold young ones’ attention. With its convenient bookplate for personalization, this book can be gifted to new dads by anyone including baby! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug ClockPapas Magical Water-Jug Clock cover boy giving out water
Written by  Jesús Trejoa
Illustrated by Eliza Kinkz
(Minerva; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

If you enjoy picture books that entertain on many levels and are more than a Father’s Day book, that’s what you’ll get with this delightful debut from Jesús Trejoa, a popular Mexican American comedian. The multiple hooks of this father-son tale such as humor, gardening and equipment, animals and nature, diversity, and grown-up jobs, will pull in young readers. The family closeness and joyful illustrations will keep them reading.

Is Papá’s water-jug clock truly magical? That’s what children will find out as little Jesús joins his father on a hot and busy Saturday to help out in the family landscaping business. “Remember to drink lots of agua,” his mama reminds him with some innocent foreshadowing before her son starts loading up the van. Papá has already told Jesús that when the water runs out the work day is over meaning the water jug serves as a clock as well as a much-needed source of hydration. That is if Jesús didn’t give away so much water at each home they visited!

Jesús encounters animals every place they go. First cats, then a dog, and even peacocks. Kids should note the ever-present purple skateboard throughout that whimsically provides rides for these creatures along the way. Is the lad deliberately being mischievous by offering water to the animals because he wants to use it up and end the day early or because he genuinely is concerned about the animals’ welfare and doesn’t realize the repercussions of his actions? It’s magical, right?

Then there’s Jesús’s hard labor on such a hot day. Readers see him frequently splash water on his face to cool off. It is fun watching what Jesús gets up to because of Kinkz’s childlike, loose-lined art, created using multimedia including pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, crayons, and queso. In addition to the magical water jug, I always find it magical when the art and prose pair so harmoniously as they do here.

When eventually Jesús tells Papá that the jug is empty, Papá explains that the jug is not really magical and there are many more stops before they can go home. Beyond surprised at this revelation, the little boy worries he’ll be fired, unaware of the simple solution – request water at the next stop. Once reality sets in, the father and son team must make tracks to finish up all the while having laughs along the way. Now Jesús can appreciate that “Time and water are precious. We don’t want to waste them.” The sweet love between father and son is palpable on every page, and the gentle life lesson conveyed makes this a “read again” story. Don’t miss the comical endpapers too! Also available in Spanish – El Barrilito Mágico de Papá. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Ramen for Everyone cover boy with bowl of ramenRAMEN FOR EVERYONE
Written by Patricia Tanumihardja
Illustrated by Shiho Pate
(Atheneum BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

A March/April 2023 Indie Next Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Another great father/son bonding book is Patricia Tanumihardja’s Ramen For Everyone with illustrations rendered in sumi ink, pencil, and digital media by Shiho Pate. The main character, Hiro, has been studying Dad’s technique of cooking the perfect bowl of ramen every Sunday night for as long as he can remember. But when his seventh birthday arrives, Hiro decides he’s ready to make ramen for the family.

With illustrations of Dad chopping the meat, seasoning the broth, and cutting the vegetables it’s hard not to want to run out and get a bowl of ramen—or better yet make it yourself. Let’s make ramen! Hiro says standing beside Dad at the cooking block. Yes, chef! Dad responds with his arms poised straight by his side. The roles have now been reversed! Hiro’s hair is pulled back in a grey cap as he Thwacks, Thumps, and Bumps his way into the kitchen attempting to make the noodles soft and springy. You got this! His dad says supporting him from the side.

Mom, sister Mia, Dad, and dog Sushi watch as the eggs slip through Hiro’s fingers and the pork falls apart. Shiho Pate perfectly depicts anger on Hiro’s face as Dinner is ruined! He throws the food in the trash. Dad sits crossed-legged on the kitchen floor with his hand on Hiro’s head. It isn’t perfect like yours, Hiro says. Ramen doesn’t have to be perfect, Dad replies.

Hiro and Dad return to the kitchen together to create a meal that both Mom and Mia will enjoy. Cheesy ramen for Mom, Asian Pears for Mia, and for Dad, who loves Hawaiian pizza, pieces of pineapple are a delight in his bowl.

The back matter tells how Ramen is a popular Japanese noodle of Chinese origin and how it has been popularized over the last few years in the United States. Tanumihardja also lists Kitchen Rules telling kids that cooking is fun but you need to wash your hands. Great cooking also takes time. Reading Ramen for Everyone together is a terrific way to get a father and son (or daughter) into the kitchen to create dishes. An Easy Miso Ramen recipe is included and introduces new dishes to add to the family menu. So, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can always bring in ramen bowls this Father’s Day.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

When Daddy Tucks Me In cover girl hugging father WHEN DADDY TUCKS ME IN
Written by Sacha Cotter
Illustrated by Josh Morgan
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4+)

The little girl narrator of this charming picture book rushes out of bed to greet her daddy after he returns home from his medical job that involves working late. Early on we’re clued into the important role of keys in this imaginative story when the girl notes the “jingle, jangle, jingle in the lock of our door.”

From here on in, readers are treated to a slew of fun-sounding, made-up words such as when the little girl proclaims her dad is the “… best tucker-in-er-er in the whole wide world.” On top of that, onomatopeia is peppered throughout the story adding to its read-aloud appeal. We quickly realize how Dad’s packed keychain unlocks the heart of this tale as the narrator inquires about what each key is used for. Is she stalling for time with her dad? It doesn’t matter because we are curious too!

The lumpy, bumpy key leads to Dad’s yarn about a fantastical Zippenburger that takes him zippling off to work with a “Zippeny, zappeny, zippen …” A tiny key unlocks a treasure chest that’s hidden away and only he can find using his
“pirate’s map.” Morgan has filled every spread with whimsical details that one look will not suffice. His art, created in Adobe Photoshop using digital painting and found textures, will hold your child’s attention and delight them. In this particular illustration, there’s a swinging monkey in a pearl necklace, a chest filled with gold, a spider, a snake, and even the little girl’s cat who manages to insert himself into every humorous scene. As a cookie lover, my favorite key is the curly, curvy one that opens the door at her dad’s workplace to a cookie-making machine and conveyor belt. There Dad sits stuffing his face. With each key’s purpose conjuring up wild tales such as the one to a corral where Dad’s woolly mammoth Stanley lives or the one that opens a rocket so Dad can collect space noodles, threads of your child’s dreams are being sewn.

As the story and your child wind down, Cotter brings readers back to the key that started us off, the simple metal one that opens the front door to the narrator’s house and to her! What a satisfying way to end When Daddy Tucks Me In and send your little one off to sleep. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Daddy Dressed Me cover girl hugging dad who sewsDADDY DRESSED ME
Written by Michael Gardner and Ava Gardner
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Aladdin BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Daddy Dressed Me is co-written by thirty-nine-year-old fashion blogger, Michael Gardner, and his confident and thoughtful young daughter, Ava Gardner, who loves pink, getting manicures, and modeling her dad’s unique creations. That alone should fill your heart and give you a reason to read this book with your own child.

The digitally rendered illustrations by Nadia Fisher open to Dad and Ava back to back with Dad wearing an apron for cooking, standing next to a toolbox for building, and cans of paint on the floor for decorating. He’s good at making things.

We see him cooking and painting a mural but what Daddy was best at was sewing. He makes dresses for Ava every year for the holidays and a dress for the Daddy-Daughter dance. When Daddy drops Ava off for Kindergarten, Ava chooses to make a picture frame for Daddy during arts and crafts. But when Miss Sydney announces that everyone should dress in their best clothes for Move Up Day (saying goodbye to Kindergarten and hello to first grade) Ava begins to worry. Would they still make crafts? What about story time?

During dinner, Daddy asks Ava how school was and she tells him about Move Up Day and that she is worried about reciting a poem. Maybe I can make you a special dress, Daddy suggests to Ava who melts into his hug. We see drawings of different dress choices for Ava to choose from. Together they go to the store to find the perfect fabric and Ava finds one that a real princess would wear. She draws a picture of her dream dress. Daddy is a bit worried that it may be complicated but he agrees. Together they practice the poem while Ava helps Daddy with the dress. Ava’s words flowed with more confidence and Daddy’s sewing machine began to whir faster than ever before. When Miss Sydney called Ava’s name she recited the poem perfectly wrapped in the dress that Daddy designed.

The back matter explains the story behind the story of how Michael Gardner used creativity as a way to process his internal struggles. He says, “God turned my pain into power.” Gardner dedicates this book to the memory of his firstborn daughter, Madison-Sole, whose blessed memory he honors in all that he does. This story beautifully highlights what determination, patience, and love can do. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

SOON TO BE RELEASED:

The Coolest Beard cover boy helping dad shaveTHE COOLEST BEARD
Written by Betty Tekle
Illustrated by Nicholas Alexander
(Albert Whitman; $18.99; Ages 4-8, Preorder now, releasing 6/22)

Tenderness and empathy abound in storyteller Betty Tekle’s picture book The Coolest Beard, in which a boy goes with his father to the barbershop and sees the kindness that is shown between his dad and the men who talk about ‘grown folks’ business while getting haircuts and beard trims.

The adults are seated talking on a couch, a cane leaning on Mr. Williams’ knee, but when young Isaac asks, when I grow a beard, I can talk and listen to grown folks’ business? His dad responds, By the time you get a beard, you’ll be one of the grown folks. Nicolas Alexander’s colorful detailed drawings illustrate the Black cultural tradition of the barbershop as a community and family space. And his drawings of the father’s long furry beard are the envy of young Isaac. Some of my favorite illustrations are the humorous spot art pictures of Isaac imagining himself with a beard.

Isaac does not have the patience to wait for a beard to grow, so he rubs Dad’s beard oil all over his face to speed up the process. The adorable illustrations of father and son in the bathroom with Dad rubbing the oil on his beard are made sweeter when we see Isaac doing the same.

Week 1: Nothing yet; Week 2: Still nothing. His cute little dog is intently staring at him and waiting for the beard to grow. By the time he reaches Week 6, Dad’s beard oil has been used up and he wonders if olive oil may do the trick.

When Saturday morning barbershop time comes around, Isaac and his doggy see that his face is as soft and empty as the day before. Isaac feels awful about using up the beard oil and confesses to Mom and Dad. Dad says that going with him to the barbershop will make him feel better.

That’s when Cliff the barber has a plan and places Isaac in the barber chair. When Isaac opens his eyes, he sees that Cliff has rubbed shaving cream all over his cheeks and chin resembling Santa Claus. Now that he has his version of a beard, Isaac is invited over to talk with the grown folks learning that Mr. Williams has broken his hip and that Dad has offered to run errands for him. Other guys offer to help as well. I didn’t realize that grown folks’ business is just adults helping each other, Isaac thinks when Dad offers Mr. Williams money to pay his bills since he’s unable to work. Isaac now sees that it’s not just the beard that makes his dad cool, but his care and generosity toward his friends.

Though not out yet, The Coolest Beard celebrates this unique aspect of fatherhood while honoring the men in children’s lives who teach their kids about acts of loving-kindness. Preorder today. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

MORE RECOMMENDED READS FOR FATHER’S DAY

Daddy and Me cover multiple dads kidsDADDY AND ME
Written by Gary Urda
Illustrated by Rosie Butcher
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

 

A Bed of Stars cover dad son in truck stargazingA BED OF STARS
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

How To Catch a Daddysaurus cover assorted toolsHOW TO CATCH A DADDYSAURUS
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Daddy & Me Side by Side cover father son walking in woodsDADDY & ME, SIDE BY SIDE
Written by Pierce Freelon and Nadia Fisher 
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Share this:

Little Red and the Big Bad Editor: An Interview with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey

 

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

Written by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Illustrated by Shanda McCloskey

(Aladdin BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

NOTE FROM RONNA: As a grammar fanatic, I’m thrilled to be able to share this fun and informative interview by Moni Ritchie Hadley with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloseky, author and illustrator respectively of the new picture book LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR. Celebrate its book birthday with us by reading on because I know you’re going to devour this chat! 

 

INTERVIEW

Moni Ritchie Hadley: Welcome, Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey! Thank you for taking the time to chat about your new book and writing and illustration processes. Rebecca, this story creatively spins a popular fairytale with a new narrative. What was the original pitch for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR?

Rebecca Kraft Rector: In this fractured fairytale, the Big Bad Wolf is so distracted by Little Red’s poorly written thank you note to her grandmother that he keeps missing the chance to eat her.  

MRH: Based on the educational subject matter and the structure of a fractured fairytale, this story seems to be the type of book a kid would love, and a parent or teacher would want to purchase. How did you come up with the concept?

RKR: I like to play with words and came up with Little Red WRITING Hood. The idea that Little Red’s poorly-written thank you note to Granny would distract the Big Bad Wolf grew from there. 

MRH: Do you begin your stories with pencil and paper or on the computer?

RKR: I mostly use the computer, but I also jot down phrases and ideas in a notebook that I keep beside my bed. Some of my best ideas come when I’m only half awake.

MRH: Today, kids primarily use technology to communicate. Do you feel that kids will relate to a thank-you note written with pencil and paper?

RKR: I hope so! Kids still use pencil and paper in the early grades, and the Common Core Standards include things like using capital letters and punctuation. I’ve heard from teachers that there’s even a letter-writing unit in most first-grade classes.

MRH: Shanda, as the illustrator, what attracted you to this manuscript?

Shanda McCloskey: The happiness I felt when I read it for the very first time! Rebecca definitely knows how to have fun with words :)

 

 

 

Little Red int1 oresent
Interior spread from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

 

MRH: Can you tell us about your process?

SM: I spent a few days drawing/redrawing character look possibilities for this book. When I saw something good in a character sketch, I would just “follow the light” and then tried drawing the character again, leaving in the good and stripping the bad, over and over until the characters felt “right-ish.”

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR was drawn digitally, printed onto paper, and painted with watercolors.

Little Red’s cape had to be red (obviously), so I started there. I found that Little Red popped best when her colors were warm in contrast to a cooler background. Wolf needed to blend into the background sometimes, so he is cool-toned as well. Then, I stuck in some of my favorite colors for fun, like Little Red’s pink and purple outfit.

The first dummy took me two months or so. Then it went through a couple of versions with feedback from the publishing team over several months. Things like character consistency, spread variation (ex., full bleeds, vignettes, panels), hair and skin color, etc., were tinkered with.

MRH: Were you able to collaborate?

RKR: No.

MRH: Shanda, when illustrating a book based on an existing story, how do you separate the images of the past and make them fresh?

SM: It happens automatically when you are working with new characters in a new world. But it’s also cool when my “style” shows through in all my books, at least a little bit. Also, every book is a leveling-up experience for me. There may be a new technique I’m using or a mood I’m trying to achieve. There’s always something in my craft to tinker with or improve upon with each book.

MRH: You are an author of children’s books as well as an illustrator. Is it easier to illustrate someone else’s words or to illustrate your own? How is the process different?

 

 

Little Red int2 swoop
Interior art from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

SM: They both have various perks! When illustrating my own stories, I can add a speech bubble with a joke if the notion hits me. But it’s not really my place to do that when I’m illustrating someone else’s words. But on the flip side, having limitations can sometimes be nice and clean, and it sure is nice to launch a book with a partner. If it flops, it’s not just on you!

MRH: Rebecca, this is your second picture book. Where do you usually get stuck in the writing process, and how do you get out of it? 

RKR: Ha! I get stuck all over the place—the beginning, the middle, the end—everywhere! Sometimes I’ll print out what I have, and seeing it on paper makes it easier to figure out what to do next. If I can let myself play and have fun with the story, I find my writing goes more smoothly. My critique groups are big help with both brainstorming and pointing out where I’ve gone astray.

MRH: Are you more like Little Red or the Big Bad Editor? How so?

RKR: Hmm, I guess I’m more like the Big Bad Editor because, like him, I’m frequently frustrated by bad grammar and punctuation.

SM: Hmmm. I identified with both of them! I can definitely be a stickler for what I think is “the right way” to do something. But I can also appreciate how Red didn’t wait until she had a perfect letter to say thank you to her granny. She just went for it and improved along the way! #amwriting #amillustrating

MRH: Are there any other secret insights that you can share about this book?

RKR: Unlike all the other stories I’ve written, I wrote the last line first. Also, the entire time I was writing and revising the story, I thought I was filling the story with fun metaphors. Nope! Every single one was really a simile. I still can’t write metaphors.

SM: I put my own real kids’ artwork on the refrigerator in Granny’s kitchen :) And there’s usually some nod to a book I’ve previously worked on. Such as the fire truck (FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON) and the snuggle bunny (BEDTIME BALLET) on Little Red’s shelf in her room on the first spread.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR releases today! Thank you both for chatting with us.

 

BUY THE BOOK HERE:

Bookshop.org


FOLLOW REBECCA KRAFT RECTOR:

Website – https://RebeccaKraftRector.wordpress.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/beck.writerrider/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rebeccakrector/

Twitter -https://twitter.com/RebeccaKRector

@RebeccaKRector on Instagram and Twitter

 

FOLLOW SHANDA MCCLOSKEY: 

Website – https://www.shandamc.com/little-red-and-the-big-bad-editor/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/shandamccloskeydraws/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/ShandaMcCloskey

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/shandamc

 

FOLLOW THE INTERVIEWER:

Moni Ritchie Hadley, author of The Star Festival and Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

Website www.moniritchie.com

On Instagram  @bookthreader

On Twitter @bookthreader

 

 

Share this:

Three Middle Grade Fantasy Book Reviews

 

MIDDLE-GRADE FANTASY NOVELS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

The Ghost of Midnight Lake coverTHE GHOST OF MIDNIGHT LAKE
Written by Lucy Strange

(Chicken House; $17.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Review – Kirkus

The spooky middle-grade novel, The Ghost of Midnight Lake by best-selling author Lucy Strange, stands out because of its interesting and unpredictable riches-to-rags plot. Set in 1899, the story opens with twelve-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith’s world falling apart after her father, the Earl of Gosswater, dies. Cruel cousin Clarence (who inherited everything) states that since Agatha’s not really an Asquith she must get out. Shocked, Agatha struggles to come to terms with this news as she’s abruptly moved in with her possible biological father, a poor goose farmer, and (maybe) thief. Though Agatha yearns to hear the truth from him, he’s closed-lipped.

At the Earl’s funeral on Skelter Island, Lady Agatha realizes there is no going back and decides to try embracing her new life, renaming herself Aggie. She soon makes her first-ever friend—Bryn, a boy who works on this cemetery island—but cannot find the words to tell him her real identity.

As Aggie tries unraveling her history, she begins seeing a female spirit. Is this her past self? The ingenious plot shows Aggie’s growth from pampered to strong-willed where she bravely takes charge, seeking answers and forging her path forward. Gosswater’s a place with harsh contrasts between the aristocrats and the peasants. In this small community, the paths people live (determined mainly by their social status) differ dramatically.

Aggie and Bryn are very likable characters and their bumpy road as friends feels truthful. Some of my favorite elements include the presence of geese throughout and the contradicting information that Gosswater is either named after the geese there or after the ghosts! Susan the goose is quite a character, playing a significant role in this thrilling story.

Whether it’s a real ghost haunting Aggie or merely her past, this fascinating story about family, friendship, and self-discovery is one that will keep you enthralled as you follow Aggie into the uncertain future filled with lies, secrets, and one charming goose!

 

Secret of the Storm coverSECRET OF THE STORM
Written by Beth McMullen
(Aladdin BYR; $17.99, Ages 9-13))

In Beth McMullen’s middle-grade fantasy, Secret of the Storm, twelve-year-old Cassie King has lost everything lately: her father’s sudden death turned her mother into a shell of herself, and Cassie’s BFF now hangs with the cool girls. The future seems hopeless until some freaky weather, a scraggly kitten, and the school outcast, Joe Robinson, set Cassie on a new trajectory.

A mystery begins to unfold as the kitten, Albert, shows some decidedly un-catlike traits. During Cassie and Joe’s after-school volunteer duties at the town library, they suspect their beloved librarian may be hiding information related to recent, unusual activities. (Take a peek at the cover image for a clue about Albert’s secret!)

Beth McMullen accurately captures Cassie’s pain as well as the relief in her developing friendship with an unlikely classmate—depicting how a person’s perceptions can change. Still, Cassie struggles with whether to be a bystander or to do something when popular kids pick on individuals who don’t fit in. Woven in with the fantastic upheaval brought on by her unusual kitten are realistic friendship and family problems.

Short chapters with lots of action make this an ideal book for young middle-grade readers. Older kids will enjoy this story as well; even if they clue into the “secret of the storm” early on, the book is heartfelt and unpredictable enough to provide engagement throughout.

 

The Mirrorwood coverTHE MIRRORWOOD
Written by Deva Fagan

(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 10-12)

I had to read Deva Fagan’s middle-grade fantasy, The Mirrorwood, because of the back-jacket blurb: “I was wearing my sister’s face on the night the hunters came to our cottage.” Awesome, right?! The Mirrorwood is an enchanted land sealed in with a wall of thorns where the inhabitants are locked in time under the rule of a demon-prince—kind of a twisted Sleeping Beauty. The main character, twelve-year-old Fable, has been cursed by magic that leaked from the Mirrorwood and does not have a face of her own; to stay alive, she needs to take faces from others.

Luckily, her loving family hides and helps her but there’s only so much they can do before hunters arrive to eradicate people like Fable (who are called “blighted”). Vycorax, an apprentice near Fable’s age is charged with destroying Fable, however, circumstances set these adversaries on a path where they seem to share the goal of freeing the Mirrorwood from its curse. The dynamics between these two girls are tensely portrayed.

One of my favorite characters is Fable’s fearless cat, Moth, who accompanies her into any situation, able to communicate with her telepathically. Cat people will appreciate Moth’s perfectly catty lines as he adventures along with Fable and Vycorax.

Strong female lead characters, friendship, family, coming-of-age, and adventure make this a well-rounded book that will keep you guessing who’s the bad guy and whether Fable’s wish to have her own face will ever come true. Fagan does an excellent job portraying realistic, dimensional characters in a familiar yet modern fairy tale. I would happily follow Fable onto more stories. This book may be better for older middle-grade readers because of the plot turns and creepiness of face-stealing.

 

 

 

 

Share this:

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.”

 

Int art from doctor dolittle pg166
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.

 

spot int art from_doctor dolittle pg368
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.

Share this:

Five New Halloween Books for Kids – A Roundup Part 2

BEST NEW KIDS BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART 2

 

 

 

Beneath the Bed coverMISTER SHIVERS: BENEATH THE BED AND OTHER SCARY STORIES
Written by Max Brallier
Illustrated by Letizia Rubegni
(Acorn/Scholastic; $4.99, Ages 5-7)

Acorn books, designed for early readers, brings five scary stories to children in this Mister Shivers series. Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories has 64 pages packed with full-color artwork while some other Acorn books have 48 pages. Either way, there’s something for every new reader seeking “relatable characters and experiences” written and illustrated by some of the best known names in children’s literature.

Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories opens with a letter from Mister Shivers about a mysterious box delivered to him in which he found items pertaining to each story and a promise to share the stories in the book. Like all the stories in this book, evocative, muted illustrations help reinforce the easy-to-read text of these fast paced short stories. That’s certainly the case in “Beneath the Bed” about a boy dared by kids at school to visit the local haunted house. Upon entering the house with his sister who he brought along for courage, the pair discover a sinister doll with glowing eyes under a bed in the attic bedroom.

“A Hair Down to My Stomach” as the title implies, is equal parts gross and unsettling, with just the type of visuals accompanying it to make it succeed. “The Statue” will have kids talking back to the book as they turn the pages and tell the mom in the story as her son tries to do, “Don’t buy the statue!” Of course, she does. What follows is the reason why Mr. Shivers’ mysterious box contained a piece of quilty. He never mentioned if it was smelly like the quilt in “The Statue.” All I know is the young boy should have listened to the statue’s owner when she warned the buyers not to remove the quilt. The same goes for Oliver in “A Dark and Stormy Night” who should have done as his parents’ wished and brought his toys inside. Instead, they were left out in the rain to be ruined by the elements. Toys don’t like being forgotten and seek their revenge when that happens. Poor Oliver! And as for the scraping sound in “The Noise at the Window,” I know this well. Only I’ve been fortunate to find a tree outside where I heard the clawing coming from a branch. The little girl in this tale wasn’t so fortunate!

Okay spine, start tingling because these five stories are guaranteed to make you keep the lights on.

The Okay Witch book coverTHE OKAY WITCH
Written and illustrated by Emma Steinkellner
(Aladdin; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get ready to be caught under the spell of Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch, a terrific debut middle grade graphic novel.

Tween readers will be charmed by the main character Moth Hush, who at 13 learns she is part witch with special powers, something she had only dreamed of up until that point. Living above her single mom Calendula’s second hand store, Moth has never felt the warm and fuzzies from her classmates in her Massachusetts hometown of Founder’s Bluff nor in the community at large. She soon learns there’s a good reason why and goes exploring back in time via her mother’s diary.

In 1692 a group of women suspected of being witches, her grandmother Sarah being one of them, was run out of town. They were indeed witches but good ones and many townspeople secretly went to them to avail of magic to help them. When ousted, Sarah led the women to a timeless land she created called Hecate, but Calendula refused to live there. She returned to Founder’s Bluff to live a normal non-witch life for herself having fallen in love with a human. Sadly, Sarah cast a spell to make this man have no memory of Calendula. Pregnant, the brokenhearted, Calendula raised Moth alone with no magic.

In school Moth befriends another fish-out-of-water named Charlie who is new to Founder’s Bluff. Little does Moth know that there’s a connection between her family and Charlie’s that could test their friendship. I got a kick out of the magical cat, Mr. Laszlo, the spirit of Keeper’s Secondhand Store who had taken Calendula in and, when he passed away, left the store to her. The talking feline’s speech is peppered with Yiddish and in my head I heard Billy Crystal doing the dialogue.

Steinkellner must have had such fun writing and illustrating this story which reads quickly and nicely ties all the loose threads together at the end. The artwork wonderfully and convincingly conveys the moments when Moth experiences the power of magic. I especially liked the historical scenes and when Moth visits Hecate, but to be honest, all the illustrations brought the story alive. The novel is filled with humor, sarcasm, action, fantasy, pride and most of all, love as evidenced by Moth’s efforts to navigate the magical world of her grandmother and the real world in which Calendula has chosen to raise her. She’s new to the witch world and she’s far from perfect, making her The Okay Witch we care about and want to see happy and at home with her mom.

Graphic novel fans will quickly be swept up into Moth’s witchy world of time travel, timelessness, tween curiosity and relationships as Moth tries to learn more about herself. Will the way in which her family’s life intersects with that of Founder’s Bluff  be a reason to stay or retreat to Hecate? The fun’s in the finding out in this enchanting, recommended read that’s definitely not just for Halloween.

Ghoulia and the Mysterious Vistor cvrGHOULIA AND THE MYSTERIOUS VISITOR (Book #2)
Written and illustrated by Barbara Cantini
Translated from Italian by Anna Golding
(Amulet Books; $9.99, Ages 6-8)

You don’t need to have read Book#1 in order to enjoy Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor (Book #2), a chapter book series about a friendly zombie called Ghoulia and the dead and not-so-dead inhabitants of Crumbling Manor. Billed as Clue meets Little Shop of Horrors, this full-color illustrated book is sure to get young readers in a Halloween mood.

The story opens with Ghoulia feeling bored. When cranky cousin Dilbert arrives unexpectedly, Ghoulia looks for her Auntie Departed to explain why this relative she’d never even heard of got invited to Crumbling Manor. But her Chatterbox-Ivy-obsessed aunt is nowhere to be found. Ghoulia thinks it’s odd when more friends turn up, each with an invitation to a surprise dinner the young vampire knows nothing about.

As Ghoulia and her pals search Crumbling Manor for Auntie Departed, a friend Theresa also goes missing. Something weird is happening so the remaining guests split up to find those who’ve disappeared while trying to help Ghoulia figure out who sent the invitations.

This delightful chapter book will hook confident young readers ages 6 to 8 who still love beautifully illustrated stories that aren’t scary yet have an air of mystery about them. I’m not sure kids will recognize famous individuals such as Hitchcock and Poe in framed pictures on Crumbling Manor’s walls, but they’re certainly a treat for adult readers. In fact every illustration is a treat and worthy of a thorough scanning to see what special things Cantini has hung up on the walls or placed in each room. Her prose and pictures provide the perfect foreshadowing for kids quick to pick up clues. At the end there are bonus activities including how to write an invitation and fill out an envelope, how to start a garden and how to make Dilbert’s special pumpkin juice (minus the spiders’ eggs)! Watch out for Ghoulia and the Ghost With No Name (Book #3) coming soon!

THE CURSE OF THE WERE PENGUIN
Written by Allan Woodrow
Illustrated by Scott Brown
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Described by Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author, as “Young Frankenstein meets The Princess Bride in the most hysterically hilarious book I’ve read in years,” and I could not agree more. I smiled my whole way through The Curse of the Werepenguin, a clever, funny and original story within a story. I read it over two days and could not wait to see how author Allan Woodrow would end it. As I suspected, it’s TO BE CONTINUED so now I have to find out where he takes this wild and feathery tale of an orphan boy named Bolt.

Meet Humboldt Wattle (aka Bolt), a twelve-year-old boy abandoned as a baby at The Oak Wilt Home for Unwanted Boys. There’s little about him that makes him stand out except a large bird-shaped birthmark on his neck. When suddenly his life changes overnight, Bolt’s unusual marking will take on tremendous significance in his life. He’s been summoned to the distant land of Brugaria by a wealthy baron who no one wishes to disobey. Could this mean the family he’s been hoping for is finally ready to reunite with him?

The catch is that Baron Chordata is not only a cruel person feared by most inhabitants of Brugaria, he looks like he’s the same age as Bolt. On top of that, he dresses in tuxedos even at home, and consumes massive quantities of fish, every kind imaginable, including live goldfish. Woodraw’s descriptions of eating seafood have to be some of the funniest and disgusting ones I’ve ever read and I lapped up every slimy, slithery sentence. I also may never look at fish sticks the same way again!

In a trance from his first experience playing video games, Bolt unknowingly agrees to a request by Baron Chordata. This eventually leads to his being bitten on the neck. The result? Bolt turns partially into half boy, half penguin or werepenguin, so maybe a quarter … Anyway, after three days the full effect of the transformation will be complete. When the full moon shines, which is every night in Brugaria, the change in Bolt occurs. His feet turn webbed and orange, he sprouts wild tufts of hair, wings, an enormous nose and has cravings for seafood. Then he, along with all the other werepenguins including the baron, bark, wreak havoc and steal fish whenever possible.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Bolt, a girl named Annika who tried to rob and kidnap him because she’s “the world’s great bandit,” becomes an ally (or not) in trying to help Bolt escape the baron’s wicked clutches and rid himself of the werepenguin curse. The curse is not the only thing Bolt’s dealing with. He’s got this wacky, whale-loving cult leader named Günter determined to destroy him. Günter’s weapon of choice, a loaf of French bread! Plus Bolt’s learned that the werepenguins, led by power and fish hungry werepenguin-in-chief, Baron Chordata, are orchestrating a takeover of Brugaria the same day the curse on Bolt goes into full force. Someone has to do something and Bolt realizes it’s him. What that something is, he’s not totally sure, but still …

You’ll LOL at the Cloris Leachman-like “lowly housekeeper” called Frau Farfenugen, a greenish, warty and miserable woman who is not what she seems, Blazenda, a fortune-telling witch whose cackles drive Bolt crazy, but who may hold the key (or tooth) to Bolt’s freedom, and a cast of colorful characters, some of whom scream and faint whenever the name Baron Chordata is said aloud, that will entertain you and have you sitting on the edge of your seat or wherever it is that you read fantastic books.

Ultimately, Bolt has to decide what real family is. Is it Annika and her bandit dad and his buddies or is it the rook of penguins that, we learn in the novel’s prologue, should never be split up? I’m not going to spoil it by telling you, but I will say that joining Bolt on his journey is something you’ll love doing. So start cooking some fish sticks, grab a baguette and get reading!

Ghost book coverGHOST: THIRTEEN HAUNTING TALES TO TELL
A Collection by Illustrátus
(Chronicle Books; $21.99, Ages 9-12)
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

I made sure I read this book when my husband was home because I’m a big chicken. When I did read Ghost, I realized the stories are not only fantastic ghost stories for Halloween, but also ones to commit to memory to share around a campfire. You could also bring the book along but you many not want the hauntingly illustrated, white embossed cover to get dirty. “Contributors to this chilling collection include authors Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin, and illustrators Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley,” and Kit Turley, and they’ve done a fantastic job of scaring me although, as I said above, I do scare easily.

As I settled down to read each of the thirteen eerie tales, an owl hooted from my back yard adding to spooky feeling the stories exude. The tales, brief but powerfully creepy, are ideal for tweens who love to feel the hair on their necks stand up. The subjects range from a girl getting a tap tap tap from her mirror and then being imprisoned in it by her evil reflection, to two boys going ice fishing who disregard a shopkeeper’s advice to avoid the north of Point Whitney. The reasonit’s haunted by the ghost of Max Whitney, the former owner of the bait and tackle shop. Do the boys catch a lot of fish? Yep. Do they return safely home to share their experience? I’m not telling. There’s another one that takes place by a pond. Suffice it to say that, unlike the main character in this tale, a boy named Samuel who hears his drowned sister call out to him and follows her cries, I would never go out of my house in the middle of the night with a lantern by myself. The artwork throughout Ghost has a spare quality about it with a very limited palette which is appropriate for the collection. And though created digitally, all the illustrations resemble wood block prints and imbue every tale with as frightening an effect as the words themselves.

The tale that particularly resonated with me was about a girl who finally gets a room of her own away from her younger sister. Now alone in her new bedroom, the girl is terrified of the ghostly night noises but thinks if she just huddles under the covers and keeps her eyes tightly closed, everything will be okay. And it is, but how long can she keep her eyes shut? Did I mention that as a child I had my dad install a lock on my bedroom closet door? I will not easily forget the story of the young boy, Michael Alvey deep sea diving to a WWII sub wreck in search of the bodies of his deceased parents. They died just after their last communication was, “Please! Help! They’re coming.” When I found out who “they” were, I was shocked and readers will be, too. I caution young readers to avoid basements, elevators, hiking or making a trip after midnight to a cemetery right after reading Ghost.

Some stories unhinged me more than others, “The Descent” being one of them. That’s not to say they weren’t all good because they were, but certain stories played off of my deepest fears more than others. That being said, it might be best to read this book with a cat curled up on your lap or with a big dog nearby during the day!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another Halloween Books roundup here.

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Novel Spotlight Post – The Last Dragon by James Riley

THE LAST DRAGON

By James Riley

Book #2 of The Revenge of Magic

(Aladdin; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The Last Dragon book cover

 

MY TAKE:

Perfect for fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Stranger Things, THE LAST DRAGON went on sale this past Monday, Oct. 8. This is the second novel, which can be read as a standalone, in New York Times bestselling author James Riley’s thrilling new series The Revenge of Magic.

When I read that this particular installment was “packed with mystery, magic, and mayhem sure to keep readers guessing until the very end,” I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to get started. In doing so I was rewarded with an action-packed story that introduced me to likeable and not-so-likeable characters, the Oppenheimer School for magical training, and an assortment of creatures and adventures that kept me turning the pages of this new middle grade fantasy. I don’t often read the second book in a series without having read the first, but was immediately swept into the main character Fort’s quest to rescue his father who had been taken by evil beings called the Old Ones in an attack on the National Mall in D.C.

Once I was eager to know what would happen to Fort and his friends Jia, Rachel, Cyrus and Sierra, I also became invested in the dangerous and risky journey being planned. When a new student, Gabriel, was introduced, I also had to know how he fit into the picture. Would he be a help or hindrance to his roommate, Fort? What did it mean that he too was haunted by nightmares similar to those that Fort kept having?

The novel has some clever scenes where telepathy plays a big role. If I say too much more it will spoil things. Teleporting also features largely in The Last Dragon and the descriptions are fantastic. I almost felt I could do it. And in some scenes, like those in London or New York, I could easily picture everything because of Riley’s deft writing. The way magic is used in this novel not only advances the plot, but feels believable and that matters when myriad novels include magic. There’s humor that tweens will appreciate too. I love how, for example, before Fort sets off to find his father, he makes sure to take a pee stop. A lot of the banter, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes funny, but mostly important, between the friends also feels real.

If your child is interested in an entertaining and super satisfying fantasy that delivers on all fronts, I’d recommend the The Last Dragon, book #2 in the The Revenge of Magic series. Now I just have to go back and read the first book!

 

SUMMARY:

Fort Fitzgerald can’t stop having nightmares about the day his father was taken from him in an attack on Washington, DC. In these dreams, an Old One, an evil beyond comprehension, demands the location of the last dragon. But other than some dragon skeletons dug up with the books of magic on Discovery Day, Fort has never seen a dragon before. Could there still be one left alive?

And weirdly, Fort’s not the only one at the Oppenheimer School having these nightmares. His new roommate, Gabriel, seems to know more than he’s letting on about this dragon as well. And why does everyone at the school seem to do whatever Gabriel says? What’s his secret?

Fort’s going to need the help of his friends Cyrus, Jia, and Rachel, if he’s going to have any chance of keeping the Old Ones from returning to Earth. Unless, the Old Ones offer something Fort could never turn down …

Buy the book from Once Upon A Time bookstore here to support a local independent retailer.

Buy the book from Indie Bound here.

Find out more about The Last Dragon here.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

 

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO
Written by Kat Zhang,
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Aladdin; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

 

Amy Wu and the perfect bao cvr

 

As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.

 

AmyWu in01 87e93
Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.

 

AmyWu.in02 15a30
Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

Charlena Chua captures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.

Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.

The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!

 

Read another review by Christine here.

Share this:

Kids Can Start Businesses Too

Daryl Bernstein wrote the original edition of  Better Than a Lemonade Stand: Small Business Ideas for Kids ($16.99, Aladdin/Atheneum Books, Ages 9 and up) when he was only 15 years old. Since then, he has polished his book, updated the information and added more detail.  Most of us are now familiar with the story of Alexandra Scott, who at the age of 4, started a lemonade stand to raise money  for cancer that is now a multi-million dollar charity known as Alex’s Lemonade StandHer story is heartwarming and inspiring.

With the today’s technology, the opportunities for kids to start businesses are seemingly endless. Better Than a Lemonade Stand lists 56 small business ideas. Going over the list, I can sense that some of the ideas are better for older kids than younger ones, such as a new product assembler or a store window painter, someone who paints ads, holiday greetings and such on store windows. It doesn’t seem likely that a store owner would hire a 9-year-old to do those jobs. In any event, the wholesome list of business ideas is wonderfully broad, and at least one is sure to inspire your child and tap into his or her talents.

Each business idea comes with an explanation of duties, time needed to do the job, what to charge, how to advertise and also lists some hints about how to most efficiently do the work. At the beginning of the book, Bernstein also touches upon cautions that young business owners must take, a list of lessons for entrepreneurs and tips on starting and running a business, such as choosing a name, buying supplies, billing and more.  I thoroughly enjoyed the inspirational stories from kids who started their own businesses. There are additional resources listed in the back of the book as well.

What I like about Better Than a Lemonade Stand is that it really gets kids thinking about what it takes to make a living, and more importantly, how hard their parents have to work to pay for housing, food, cars and their education. The most successful people I’ve ever met are the ones who were self-motivated as children, resourceful and hard-working. Today, many of us parents want our kids to have the best, so we don’t always make them work for what they want. I think there’s a nice balance between receiving gifts and earning money to buy these things for one’s self. Clearly children who are willing to work for what they want seem to appreciate what they have even more. By starting their own ventures, they will also learn to think creatively, build their confidence and ultimately hone their math skills. How wonderful is that?

Debbie Glade reviewed today’s book and appreciates that her daughter Rachel works during summers when not at university.

Share this:
Back To Top