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Kids Picture Book Review – This Is a Sea Cow by Cassandra Federman

THIS IS A SEA COW
Written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

This Is a Sea Cow cover

 

This Is a Sea Cow, the debut picture book by Cassandra Federman, will have kids laughing out loud at story time especially at the lines about how much a sea cow weighs, how her milk “squirts out of her armpits!” and the size of their brains. Federman knows how to quickly pull her readers into this funny and informative story about the popular underwater mammal perhaps better known as a manatee. The titular sea cow actually prefers to be called a manatee for multiple reasons kids will learn about. Fact: Happy faces plastered with huge grins will appear throughout the duration of this book.

 

This Is a Sea Cow int1

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

One thing I particularly adore about This Is a Sea Cow is the format Federman uses. The story unfolds as a child’s school book report about sea cows. Soon, however, the sea cow, who is the subject of the report, begins responding to the facts presented. This interactive approach is certain to engage young readers. I’m guessing they’ll start talking back to the book much like the audience does in an English pantomime.

At first the adorable blue-crayon-colored sea cow disputes most of what the student writes when it’s not complimentary. Fact: weight of 1,000 pounds. Response: “Hey! That’s personal information.” With each eagerly awaited page turn, youngsters will note how the student author highlights a fact or two the sea cow cannot disagree with. There’s the small size of its brain (see bottom illustration) and how small-brained explorers  thought sea cows were mermaids. The report’s flattered blue subject basks in being considered the mythical water nymph. Those irresistible illustrations are some of my faves.

 

Thisisaseacow 3 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The book’s colorful, kid-like artwork cleverly incorporates a variety of features guaranteed to keep a child’s interest. There are speech bubbles (just some of the bubbles they’ll read about … the others being gassy ones), hand lettering, hand drawings, and paper cutouts. Interspersed with these are photos of real objects such as scissors, crayons, shells, staples, paper clips and a backpack.

 

Thisisaseacow 2 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The pleasing twist at the end will charm children who, like the second grade writer, easily fall for the sea cow, small brain, gassiness, toenails and all! And if that’s not sweet and silly enough, several other cute creatures chime in after being mentioned. Federman’s adept use of kid-friendly prose in this light-hearted look at the much-loved manatee will make this a regularly requested read for animal lovers.

Helpful back matter provides kids, parents and teachers with additional interesting info about sea cows like where they live and how fast they can swim. The names of several websites where readers can adopt a manatee or help injured ones are also included. Head over to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy today and make a manatee (and me) happy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find This Is a Sea Cow activities for children on the Albert Whitman website here.

Read a review about more sea creatures here.

 

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Creative Chaos Links Two Terrific Tales – Teach Your Giraffe to Ski and Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI
Written by Viviane Elbee,
Illustrated by Danni Gowdy
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

&

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
Written by Melissa Stoller 
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Spork/Clear Fork Press, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.Teach Your Giraffe to Ski book cover illustration Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.

Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.

Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski is tons of fun.

 

cover art from Scarlet's Magic PaintbrushCreative determination also threads through Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, the story of a young artist who learns to appreciate the power of a hands-on, personal touch. This is a sweet debut book from author Melissa Stoller and illustrator Sandie Sonke.

Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.

Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.

Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Find another recent Epic18 debut review here.

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I Am Famous & Shark Nate-O: A Double Dose of Luebbe and Cattie

I AM FAMOUS
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
&
SHARK NATE-O
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Daniel Duncan
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

A delightful double dose of picture book pleasure reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

I Am Famous cover imageKiely, surrounded by devoted family and friends, is confident that her celebrity status is widespread and well-deserved in I AM FAMOUS, the first picture book from prolific story sisters Luebbe and Cattie.

Kids will cackle at super-cool Kiely’s misperceptions. She continually interprets the behavior of her doting family – posting videos, taking photos, indulging her whims – as signs of her special stardom. But what will the spunky mini-diva do when she stumbles and stops sparkling in the pressure of the spotlight? The intersection of fame and family is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a wink to modern parents about over-sharing the ordinary achievements of their spirited progeny.

Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations deftly bring Kiely’s personality to life from cover to cover. Dazzling accessories and bright, bold colors spring off the page. Touches of borrowed glamour pair well with Kiely’s expressive face and energetic motion, keeping young readers entertained and amused. There is a lot of fun and flair on display enhancing the confident, snappy text. Diva-licious!

 

Cover image from Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky CattieNate is a shark fanatic, but must learn how to swim before he can transform into the one and only SHARK NATE-O in this pool perfect fish tale from Luebbe and Cattie.

Obsessed with sharks, Nate fills his world with shark facts that he can’t resist sharing and even acting out, much to his older brother’s chagrin. But when it comes to light that Nate can’t swim, he isn’t put off for long. Enrolling in swim lessons, Nate learns to prove his water-worthiness by blowing bubbles, using a kickboard, and eventually swimming solo. Will Nate’s determination and persistence pay off in time to challenge his brother in tryouts for the ultimate prize – membership on the Shark swim team?

Duncan’s fun illustrations make a splash in noteworthy settings by incorporating plenty of shark décor and pool puns. Filled with heart and humor, Nate’s expressions and body language invigorate the appealing story with clever, imaginative elements. The authors include more shark facts at the end for readers who just can’t get enough of this jaw-some tale perfect for enjoying between summer swims. Download an activity kit here.

 

Read about another debut #Epic18 picture book review by Cathy here.

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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New Books for Valentine’s Day

NEW BOOKS & GIFT IDEAS
FOR VALENTINE’S DAY 2018
A Roundup – Part Two

 

 

We’ve taken a look at a lot of Valentine’s Day books which is why we’ve decided to add a second part to our holiday roundup. This year we’re adding some fun gift books into the mix because, for us, sharing the Valentine’s Day love means sharing books. It may be last minute, but here’s a chance to make every minute matter. Head over to your local indie bookshop and pick up any or all of these books to make Valentine’s Day 2018 best one ever!

 

Everything Grows With Love:
Beautiful Words. Inspiring Thoughts
By Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst
(Workman Publishing; $9.95)

From the editors of Flow, an international mindfulness magazine, comes Everything Grows With Love, a purse-sized soft-cover book filled with over 100 feel good thoughts including affirmations, motivational sayings and quotes. Imagine 396 pages of sheer joy and you’ve got a good idea what to expect when you open the cover of this creative book. There are decorated lines from songs like “Somewhere over the rainbow …” and simple statements such as “Let’s cuddle” and “Collect moments, not things” that are turned into art. Cool calligraphy, paint, chalk lettering, embroidery, even Scrabble-like letter tiles will greet you and invite you to turn the pages.  I didn’t go through the book in order so that I could see what randomly appeared. My favorite illustrations are the animal ones, particularly the anthropomorphic mice, cats and bunnies, but that’s not to say that the vivid colors or soothing pastels and original designs and lettering coupled with the inspirational sayings don’t also lift my spirits, because they do and then some! Give this book to someone you love for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day and spread the love around.

Warts and All: 
A Book of Unconditional Love
Written by Lori Haskins Houran
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Albert Whitman & Company; $15.99, Ages 4-8) 

Not only is the title, Warts and All a good one, so is the heartwarming sentiment of this adorable picture book. It’s the kind of story parents will enjoy reading at bedtime and kids will enjoy hearing. Warts and All is filled with precious animal kid characters from bats and birds to ponies and pugs. Hanson’s illustrations in subdued shades achieved with water color and colored pencils beautifully complement Houran’s easy flowing text. What a wonderful way to send youngsters off to dreamland with a caring message of love. The book opens with this honest line: “So here’s the thing. I love you. And not just when you’re sweet and cuddly.” In other words, not part time, but all of the time. Parents can use the story as a jumping off point for a reassuring conversation. Children will learn they are loved no matter what their mood or their actions are (and yes, that includes burps). And even when, like the spray from a sweetly portrayed skunk, they’re stinky! This book makes a nice companion to I Love You Stinky Face.

I Love Kisses
Written by Sheryl McFarlane
Illustrated by Brenna Vaughan
(Jabberwocky Kids; $9.99, Ages 3-7)

This charming book is all about smooches and McFarlane’s included them all here. Whether they’re wake up in the morning kisses, “Baby brother drool kisses” or  “Daddy’s prickly hair kisses,” it’s clear that kisses are fantastic. McFarlane’s written I Love Kisses in a catchy rhyme with some internal rhymes and lots of alliteration, too. Illustrator Vaughan’s digital artwork is cheerful and varied, featuring a diverse group of families including several that are multicultural and biracial. It’s great that a gay couple and a child in a wheelchair are also shown making the neighborhood presented one I’d like to live in. Although the book is suggested for ages four and up, I found the book to be better suited to those a bit younger as older ones are ready for more of a storyline. Regardless, I Love Kisses definitely delivers the best message and that is how terrific it is to get kisses whatever kind of kiss you get. The book ends with this loving line: “But the very best kisses are the ones I get from you.”

Pour Your Heart Out:
A Journal of Wit, Wisdom, And a Touch of Charm
With Quotes by Jane Austen and illustrations by Clare Owen
(Penguin Young Readers; $10.99, Ages 13 and up)

Oh how I wish I’d had a journal like this when I was a teenager! Pour Your Heart Out is 224 pages of pure Regency charm in a 21st century time machine, like Pride and Prejudice meets Pretty Little Liars, especially for the passionate young adult in your life. If your teen, or adult friend for that matter, isn’t familiar with Austen’s seminal works, this is an ideal introduction. If they’re already a fan, this will fill them with delight. There are prompts tied to Austen’s quotes to help guide young writers, providing a safe place to share emotions and sort through feelings. On one page there’s the quote: “Angry people are not always wise.” On the opposite page is the question: “What’s a decision you’ve made in anger that you now regret?” Austen’s quotes are great to help teens get introspective and consider all aspects of their lives from friendships, to relationships and school.  For example: “These were charming feelings, but not lasting.” Pour Your Heart Out then provides a blank page where the reader can “Write about a relationship that didn’t pan out.” Owen’s artwork is upbeat and works perfectly with the purpose of the book, put it all down on the page and by getting it off your chest, you’ll not only feel better, but learn about yourself at the sometime. Consider gifting this journal to your hopeless romantic, your college English major or your Anglophile just waiting to study abroad in search of her own modern day Mr. Darcy. “Laugh as much as you chuse, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

Guess How Much I Love You:
Baby Milestone Moments
Written by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 0-3)

Here’s a book that needs no describing. Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare are back in this must-have classic board book set for new parents. Guess How Much I Love You, already a fave in so many households, is made even more giftable with the addition of beautifully illustrated milestone cards. For the cell-phone photo taking  and social media savvy generation, the 24 cards make documenting all baby’s once-in-a-lifetime moments as easy and unique as ever! For Valentine’s Day or as a baby shower gift, this board book and cards gift set is a great idea for those of us who forget to keep track of pictures and, when looking back years later, cannot remember what milestone the photo was taken for. Capture those moments and make everyone happy.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

    Click here for our Valentine’s Day Books Roundup – Part One

    ALSO RECOMMENDED

The 12 Days of Valentine’s
(Including 30 stickers!)
Written by Jenna Lettice
Illustrated by Colleen Madden
(Random House Kids; $4.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Rookie on Love: 45 Voices on Romance, Friendship, and Self-Care
Edited by Tavi Gevinson and featuring – Janet Mock, John Green, Rainbow Rowell,
Hilton Als, Florence Welch, Gabourey Sidibe and more
(Razor Bill; $14.95, Ages 13 and up)

 

 

 

Instructions for a Secondhand Heart
Written by Tamsyn Murray
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 15 and up)

 

 

 

 

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Hooray for Hanukkah! New Kids’ Books for the Festival of Lights

THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel cvr imageThe Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.

Way Too Many Latkes cover imageWay Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the  humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!

Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale cover imageLittle Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas picture book cover imageQueen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.

Dreidel Dog Mensch pets in box from Mensch on a Bench pkg image

 

Dreidel Dog
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)

Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.

 

Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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