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Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR
Written by Patricia Valdez,
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cover illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

 

Lovely language and engaging illustrations energize Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles, an amazing picture book biography about a trailblazing scientist from debut author Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala.

 

Interior illustration of young Joan from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Fascinated by reptiles from an early age, Joan Procter followed her childhood passion for slithery, scaly, unusual animals to an internationally renowned career at London’s Zoo and the Natural History Museum. Valdez introduces us to young, curious Joan, holding tea parties with reptiles while her peers preferred dolls. As Joan grew, her interest did not wane, so at 16 years old she received a pet crocodile as a birthday gift!

 

Interior illustration spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

In due time, Joan chatted up the director of Natural History museum about his work with reptiles. She began working there, surveying the museum’s vast collections, publishing research papers, and creating detailed, realistic models and drawings for the reptile exhibits. Given her enthusiasm, experience and extensive knowledge, Joan eventually became the Curator, an unusual role for a female scientist at the time.

When invited to re-design the London Zoo Reptile House, Joan fell in love with a new and exotic creature, the Komodo dragon. This so-called fierce, man-eating lizard was “rumored to be…Thirty feet long! Faster than a motorcar! Stronger than an ox!” Joan, undeterred, could not wait to study the dragons first-hand. Her deep connection with one Komodo called Sumbawa led to some of the most stunning and innovative work of her career.

 

Interior illustration of tea party from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez keeps the paces of this fascinating story lively by introducing wonderful vocabulary woven carefully and completely within a child-friendly framework and perspective. She highlights her heroine’s passion and determination in an understated yet direct manner, giving Joan relevance and timeliness that transcend her time period. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor is an essential addition for collections on women in STEM fields, with the broad appeal of reptiles and science for many young readers boosts this title to the top.

Salas illustrates dramatically, choosing with vibrant, rich colors for the settings, the tropical plants, and the starring-role reptiles. Joan is elegant yet serious, portrayed close to and interacting with her creatures, focused on them with great intensity, delight and passion. The reptiles themselves are marvelously textured and stylized, creeping, curving and twisting with dignified realism. Throughout the story, Salas provides tantalizing glimpses of early 20th century London through architecture and fashions of the era.

 

Interior illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez includes additional biographical information on Procter as well as on Komodo Dragons. A bibliography with primary and secondary sources is a helpful resource for young readers who wish to explore more. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about this impressive scientist, her beloved ‘dragons’ and her trailblazing career in a book that is as beautiful and brilliant as it is important.

 

Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

ABOUT JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR

For fans of Ada Twist: Scientist comes a fascinating picture book biography of a pioneering female scientist–who loved reptiles!

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious Komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her Komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

Starred Reviews: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

 

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We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

WE CAME TO AMERICA
by Faith Ringgold
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

We Came to America Cover Image

 

“We came to America
Every color, race, and religion
From every country in the world.”

This lovely lyrical stanza from We Came to America  invites children to participate in Ringgold’s inspirational poem while reminding them of the journeys made to this country by many different people. From the indigenous peoples already here to those who came bound in chains, from those who fled hardships elsewhere to those who came by choice, it is their stories and creativity which makes America great. As the poem unfolds, children come to realize the scope of this country’s diversity and how it contributes to our success as a country.

The acrylic illustrations have all the rich colors and naivety of folk art, a hallmark of Ringgold’s art. Her familiar style is put to good use here, vividly complementing the theme and helping to interpret the poem. She paints a rich diversity of faces against the backdrop of the red white and blue.

While there is little reference to such events as slavery and anti-immigrant violence, this book is a welcome addition and can used across the curriculum with a variety of age groups. Share it with lower elementary students who are working on a family origins unit for Social Studies. Or pair it up with other resources such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Mary Hoffman’s The Color of Home and Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, to help students gain a deeper sense of the immigration experience and the importance of immigration to this country’s growth. Introduce it to older students as they debate contemporary immigration policies. Share it to help heal recent political divisiveness.

“In spite of where we came from
Or how or why we came,
We are ALL Americans, just the same.”

Awards
School library Journal Starred Review
2017 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

  • Review by Dornel Cerro

Children’s Books for Mother’s Day 2017

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR MOTHER’S DAY
– A ROUNDUP –

 

Mama’s KissesMama's Kisses cover art
Written by Kate McMullan
Illustrated by Tao Nyeu
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

With starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, Mama’s Kisses is sure to be an in-demand picture book for many Mother’s Days to come. McMullan has written a sweet ode to the unwavering devotion and patience of moms, in this case, rainforest moms. The moon is on the rise and four mommy animals are on the lookout for their young ones, a baby panda, elephant, orangutan and leopard. As bedtime beckons, the babies engage in a playful game of hide-and-seek that seems so successful until all at once, when the moms are ready, their hiding place is uncovered. But being found means getting kisses, smooches, and hugs galore until tired eyes can no longer remain open. Dreamland is drawing nigh so the baby animals go to sleep soon followed by their tired moms, always close at hand. Conveyed in uncomplicated rhyme and calming rhythm, Mama’s Kisses is a gentle bedtime tale perfect for pre-schoolers. Nyeu’s artwork fills all corners of most every page and, though using only oranges, yellows and blues, she manages to create a subtle softness, warmth and calming mood with just these few well chosen hues.

Love isCover image for Love is by Diane Adams
Written by Diane Adams
Illustrated by Claire Keane
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 3-5)

Whether it’s for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Graduation or simply just because, Love is by Diane Adams will make a great gift. Love is a girl and her duckling. Looking after the fuzzy little creature is not unlike a mother caring for her child which is why Love is works on many levels. It’s a story about loving and nurturing something that is dear to you, as well as being about the responsibility involved in such a privilege. “Love is holding something fragile, tiny wings and downy head. Love is noisy midnight feedings, shoebox right beside the bed.” The little girl must also accept that her duckling is growing. She will soon need to allow her pet to move on, fend for itself, find a new home and start a family all its own, all the while knowing that the love she has shared will not be forgotten. This 32 page picture book is a delightful read aloud story with well-paced rhyme and evocative illustrations that, coupled with the meaningful verse, will tug at your heartstrings.

How to Raise a Mom book cover imageHow To Raise a Mom
Written by Jean Reagan
Illustrated by Lee Wildish
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Another winner from the creators of the How To picture book series, How to Raise a Mom will totally charm moms, dads and kids alike.
“Raising a happy, healthy mom is fun … and important! Are you ready for some tips?” The sibling narrators take readers through their mother’s typical day as part of their instruction guide, and clearly based on the wonderful rearing and love they’re getting from her. After kisses to awaken her, and giving her choices for the day’s outfit, the kids take her to the supermarket and the playground to name a few places while also leaving quiet time for her to get some work done. It’s fantastic to be treated again to Wildish’s whimsical illustrations like those found in the other How To books, full of humorous not-to-miss touches and amusing expressions in every spread. Kids will especially get a kick out of the dog and cat Wildish includes in many scenes. The children also cover playtime, mealtime and finish up the full day with stories and snuggles. I loved how they occasionally mimic just what Mom always says to them such as “Thank you so much, Sweat Pea, for being so patient,” or “Remember to be a good sharer!” There is so much to enjoy in this picture book tribute celebrating moms everywhere.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

More recommended children’s books for Mother’s Day:

Love 
Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Nosy Crow; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

When I Carried You in My Belly
Written by Thrity Umriar
Illustrated by Ziyue Chen
(Running Press Kids; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

I Love My Mommy
by Sebastien Braun
(Harper Collins; $7.99, Ages 0-4)

 

 

 

Mommy Snuggles
by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben
(Chronicle Books; $5.99, Ages 1-3)

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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Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

 

Christmas Books Roundup Part One

CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP
PART ONE
By Lucy Ravitch

 

ChristmasBooksRoundup

 

 

 

The BestPartsofChristmasThe Best Parts of Christmas
Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
(Candlewick Press; $14.99 )
This is a sweet story about a young boy named Fritz during the Christmas season. Within the lovely watercolor illustrations you’ll find Fritz’s family as they get their tree, bring it into the house (breaking rule number 5 of “no branches, sticks, or twigs allowed indoors”), and prepare for the Christmas season. Fritz spends much of his time around the tree, making sweet memories. Even after the tree is taken away, he is able to keep a little bit of the Christmas spirit for the rest of the year. This book is perfect for little ones 3-7!

 

 

HowToCatchSanta

How to Catch Santa: A holiday How To book!
Written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish 
(Alfred A. Knopf; $17.99)
What a fun read for kids and adults! How to Catch Santa goes through a lot of clever scenarios if you were to catch Santa. It also gives ideas for gifts and questions for the big man in red. My favorite part was how to find “Santa’s been here” clues so you don’t necessarily need to catch him, but you’re sure to know he came by. This book is sure to delight kids ages 4-8 and their parents–giving kids plenty of starter ideas as to how they might ‘catch Santa’. It also reassures that if you don’t catch him this year there is always next year.

 

 

TheRunawaySanta

The Runaway Santa: A Christmas Adventure Story
Written by Anne Margaret Lewis and illustrated by Aaron Zenz 
(Sky Pony Press; $15.99)
You’ve heard of The Runaway Bunny, right? Now it’s Santa’s turn and you’ll love the twist. Santa desperately wants to take a vacation and runaway to have fun adventures throughout the world. Mrs. Claus always shows her love by packing him the right equipment for the adventure. As he is out on the adventures it’s fun to try and find where Mrs. Claus is hiding within the illustrations. It’s a darling story and my four-year-old really enjoyed the simple and sweet pictures, especially when Santa swung with the monkeys. A jolly good book for kids 3-6!

 

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

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Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
with illustrations by Raul Colón
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist & School Library Journal

Leontyne-Price-cvr.jpgI chose to read and review author Carole Boston Weatherford’s nonfiction picture book biography, Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, not only because I’m a HUGE Porgy and Bess fan, but also to honor a powerhouse performer during Black History Month.

Other African-American kids might not have persevered in light of the pervasive prejudice that existed when Leontyne Price was growing up in the deep south, but thankfully she did. Price was born in 1927, just one year after Melba Doretta Liston, another musical talent. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi to a hard-working, supportive, and music-loving mother and father. At a young age Leontyne found herself moved by the music she heard:  “Singing along to her daddy James’s records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts.” Her parents even sold their phonograph so their daughter could get a piano along with lessons.

Like the opera singer Marian Anderson before her, Leontyne felt the music stir within her as she sang in the church choir. Soon she was heading off to college to pursue a teaching career since, in that era, the chances of becoming a successful black singer seemed out of reach. Surely her talent played a part in that educational opportunity as I read online that she received a scholarship to attend university in Ohio. Everything changed however, when her singing talents were heard by the college president who “convinced her to study voice instead.”

It didn’t take long for Leontyne’s star to begin rising when she attended Julliard and began earning acclaim for her singing. Her first break came when she appeared on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She was also the “the first black singer to star at La Scala, Italy’s famed opera palace.” What I would have given to be in the audience at that performance! Eventually she landed a lead role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, breaking new ground for generations of African-American performers to come.

Weatherford points out in her Author’s Note that while Leontyne may have achieved great fame, she “still encountered racism in the United States. To her credit, her wondrous voice overcame the obstacles.” This wonderful biography chronicles the life of an iconic 20th century opera singer who followed her dream and ultimately fulfilled it. As an adult, I can recall watching Price on Ed Sullivan but having no idea of what her  challenges would have been to gain recognition and be on TV. In fact, Weatherford says, “Price was the first black opera singer to perform on television in the United States.” What a great story for kids to read who may take for granted the struggles African-Americans like Price faced in the past. Nowadays it may just take a click of a cell phone to get a video made and uploaded onto YouTube for anyone to see, when in the previous century it may have taken an entire lifetime. I like that young readers can use this book as a jumping off point for reading more about influential African-Americans mentioned such as Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves.

Raul Colón’s illustrations bring the same joy to this picture book that Price’s voice brought to anyone who heard it. From the opening spread, what looks like a rainbow of musical notes, takes on the form of a wave and flows through the book on pages when Leontyne sings. I also like the slight fuzziness of the artwork, as if we’re watching Price’s life unfold as seen on the early days of television broadcasting.

Before reading Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century I had no idea all the firsts this amazing woman achieved and I hope her accomplishments will inspire our 21st century children to keep reaching for the stars.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!
Starred Reviews – Publishers WeeklyBooklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

A Junior Library Guild Selection

The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Mary GrandPré (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99. Ages 4-8) is a wonderfully inspiring historical biographical fiction picture book.

Young Vasya (or Vasily) led a staid, privileged life in 19th century Moscow, that is until his aunt presented him with “a small wooden paint box.”

“Every proper Russian boy should appreciate art,” said Auntie. She showed Vasya the correct way to mix colors on the paint-box palette.

Vasya felt the colors spoke to him. They jumped out of the box and made sounds that only he heard, sounds that could be translated onto canvas. Fortunately, Vasya’s Auntie recommended his parents put him into art class. For the Russian elite, however, art was no substitute for an acceptable career like law which Vasya pursued as was expected of him. It was only after attending an opera that it was clear to Vasya that music and the emotions it evoked inside him could be expressed through art. His old noisy paint box that had been brought to life by the orchestra could not be ignored.

After quitting his job teaching law, Vasya moved from Moscow to Munich to study from great artists of the time. Everyone wanted this talented man to adhere to more traditional styles of painting, but Vasya and his artist friends could not conform. “Art should make you feel,” Vasya told them, “Like music.” Kandinsky’s influential new abstract art evolved from the emotions he experienced from color, music and the world around him. Though at first not easily understood, abstract art “sparked a revolution in the art world.”

Fans of Mary GrandPré will once again be treated to beautiful artwork that, like its subject, is never boring. As an artist bringing another artist’s work to life, GrandPré’s illustrations perfectly convey the emotion and vibrancy of Kandinsky’s creations.

In Rosenstock’s Author’s Note in the back matter, she goes into more detail about Kandinsky’s emergence as an artist and the speculation he may have had a genetic condition known as synesthesia where one sense (in his case listening to music) triggers a different sense. Rosenstock explains that individuals with synesthesia hear colors, see music, taste words, or smell numbers. –

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read more about Kandinsky here.

Leo Lionni’s Who?, What?, When?, and Where?

Who?, What?, When?, and Where?: Four fabulous board books from the late Caldecott Honor Winner Leo Lionni are simple yet oh so satisfying for babies to toddlers. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

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IWhat?-cvr.jpgt’s easy to see Lionni’s Modernist roots and graphic design background when you turn the pages of any of these four books. In Who?, What?, When? and Where?, his signature torn paper artwork combined with graphic elements are visually delightful. The gray mice look as though they were created from boiled wool, and fans of Lionni’s classic, Frederick, will find these board books a perfect intro to his body of work.

With just 16 pages, these four question-themed board books are asking to be shared with your youngsters When?-cvr.jpgWhere?-cvr.jpgso they can explore the world with beginning concepts. The parent and child mice first look at different animals in Who? including a fluffy squirrel, a slow turtle, a hungry rabbit, a curious chicken, a big owl and a sharp porcupine. In What? there’s a bit more humor infused in the marriage of artwork and text as little ones are asked to guess what objects they’re looking at: “Let’s make a call.” (a phone), “Do you see what I see?” (a pair of eyeglasses) and a chuckle inducing, “Dinner time!” has to be cheese. In When? the seasons and times of day are featured and I’ll admit this one is my personal favorite because the images are especially rich and colorful, particularly for fall. I also like that daytime and nighttime are included in the mix. Some of the questions posed are:

“When does it snow?”

“When do the flowers bloom?”

“When do the stars shine?”

In Where? it’s all about location, location, location. And kids’ll get a kick out of all the different places where the mice can be found. Whether they’re up high, popping out or squeezed inside, Lionni’s mice are cute and curious, just like toddlers. These short, sweet, and accessible board books are an appealing and interesting approach to early concepts.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014 $17.99; ages 5-8) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book & Booklist

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Hermelin, the Detective Mouse as told to Mini Grey makes me ache for my childhood days in London. With pictures of terraced houses and characters named Lady Chumley-Plumley and Captain Potts, the book transports the reader across the pond and squarely to England.

The cover of this picture book caught my eye straight away with its image of an old-fashioned typewriter with Hermelin standing boldly atop with flag staff in paw. The illustrations are full of fun-to-spot details, such as candy wrappers, book covers, creatively placed paper clips, and cereal boxes. The variously placed text engages the reader by drawing the eye across the page, up and down, and to newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, notes, and messages. This picture book has a lot going on in both the visuals and the story.

The residents of Offley Street need a detective! Various items, including a teddy bear, reading glasses, goldfish, and diamond bracelet, have mysteriously vanished. The good folks are at a loss. Who can help them? Help comes in an unexpectedly small package: a mouse in a cheese box. Hermelin (named after the Czech cheese) makes himself right at home in the attic of number 33, where he finds an old-fashioned typewriter. As he locates each of the missing items, Hermelin uses the typewriter to communicate with the residents.

Dear Dr. Parker,

You will find your reading glasses in chapter 26 of Medical Monthly (infectious diseases) which is at the bottom of your bathtub. I’m afraid it may be a bit soggy by now.

                  Yours sincerely,

                  Hermelin

The grateful residents want to thank the elusive detective, so they invite Hermelin to a “thank-you party in your honor … Everybody wants to meet you!” But a detective mouse is not what they expect and havoc ensues. Will Hermelin be recognized as more than just an “unclean, unhygienic, unwanted” pest? Your child will enjoy this book to the end!

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

A knock-kneed, asthmatic, tween-aged girl digs deep within, faces her greatest fears, and saves the world. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers; 2014; $16.99, Ages 8 – 12) by the award-winning author of The Anatomy of Wings, Karen Foxlee, combines a classic fairytale and contemporary fantasy to create the perfect middle-grade fiction novel.

Ophelia, her older sister, Alice, and their father are grieving over the death of the girls’ mother. Ophelia’s father takes a job at a museum in a city that is inexplicably in a perpetual state of winter. Snow and ice cover all the land.

The girls are left to fend for themselves much of the time as their father helps the beautiful museum curator, Miss Kaminski, prepare for Battle: The Greatest Exhibition of Swords in the World.

Ophelia’s father is quite taken by Miss Kaminski’s beauty and Alice enjoys the finer things in life that Miss Kaminski offers her. Normally a logical girl, Ophelia’s intuition has her avoiding the curator. Instead, Ophelia has taken to wandering about alone and discovers a secret room inside which, locked up, is a boy from a different time than the present. The boy requests Ophelia’s help in finding the key to release him so that together they may save the world from the evil snow queen. The room, as well as the key to it, is guarded by unearthly creatures that test Ophelia’s sensibilities and courage even more. As the time draws closer for The Exhibition, Ophelia discovers dark truths about the curator that give Ophelia the brave determination needed to save the boy, her family, and the world from the snow queen.

This book is a wonderful modern day fairytale that Kirkus Reviews called- ”A well-wrought, poignant and original reworking of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

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Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Summertime means the beach. It also means opportunities to meet new people at camps, so a story about seahorse Peanut Butter and his best friend, Jellyfish, is a perfect avenue to the themes of friendship, bullying, and coping. The pair loves to explore their ocean home. They have so much to see, such as a sunken ship and reefs. Unfortunately, their explorations take them near Crabby who taunts them every time they swim by.

Crabby was relentless. “You guys smell like rotten barnacles! Pee-yew! I’ve seen sea snails swim with more style. What a bunch of bubbleheads.”

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish do their best to ignore Crabby’s teasing and, when that doesn’t work, stand up for themselves.

Jellyfish puffed up his chest and said, “Driftwood and sea stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” 

Then one day, Crabby isn’t on his rock. In fact, he is in big trouble and needs Peanut Butter’s and Jellyfish’s help. The duo decides that even though Crabby has been so mean to them, they should still try to help him. With an exciting endeavor, the sea friends manage to rescue Crabby. Will their actions make a difference in how Crabby behaves?

Krosoczka’s illustrations, made from digital collage of acrylic paintings, are bright and cartoon-like. The characters are fun to look at and children can watch for a clam who appears on many of the pages. My daughter especially enjoys the continuity of the plot found on the inside of the front and back covers. She also very much likes the heart-felt nature of this story and we’ve read this picture book probably every day since I’ve brought it home. So, while she won’t touch peanut butter the food, she can’t get enough of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.

For July 4th, Read I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez

I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

 

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I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Independence Day is just around the corner, and for many of us that means barbecues, fireworks, and parades. Of course, the celebration includes the pride of being or becoming an American, and that’s the focus of I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez and illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf; $16.99; ages 3-7).

Young Libby must lead her class in the school flag ceremony, and her great aunt Lobo is getting ready for her citizenship ceremony. They both must learn the Pledge of Allegiance, so they decide to practice together. They practice in front of their cat, Libby’s stuffed animals, and each other, and during the week, Libby learns Lobo’s story about coming to America and becoming a citizen.

“Why do you want to be a citizen?” I ask.

“Mi querida, I was born in Mexico and went to school there, but the United States has been my home for many years. I am proud to be from Mexico and to speak Spanish and English. Many people are proud of the places where they were born or where they grew up. But a long time ago…my father wanted a safer place for us to grow up, and we came to the United States. The American flag—read, white, and blue—wrapped itself around me to protect me.”

This sweet story artfully weaves the themes of patriotism, immigration, citizenship, history, and family. It’s a wonderful introduction to the importance, history, and meaning of the Pledge, as well as a reminder that no matter where we come from, we are all together under the flag.

A Gift for Mama by Linda Ravin Lodding is Perfect for Mother’s Day

A MUST FOR MOTHER’S DAY!

A Gift for Mama, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Alison Jay, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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This is the kind of picture book you will want to read slowly and relish as if you were eating a piece of the finest European chocolate after going off a diet. Simply delicious.

I have a soft spot for stories set in Europe, having lived there over 10 years. Cities with beautiful pedestrian-friendly town squares are abundant, and the Viennese ones where so much of A Gift for Mama (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 4-8) takes place is no exception. Being transported back to a bustling 19th century Vienna is just part of the pleasure children will experience when reading this gorgeous, uplifting new picture book.

Meet Oskar, an adorable lad eager to find something special to give his mother on her birthday, but alas, he has but one single coin. There, much to Oskar’s delight, “in the middle of the market, was a flower seller.” A bright yellow rose beckoned to him so he used his coin to buy a blossom that would be “the perfect present.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that Oskar has a heart of gold. There’s even a golden, sunshiny quality to all the illustrations, helping the reader feel good all over as Oskar’s kindness is demonstrated again and again. As the story unfolds, Oskar’s encounter with an artist – with whom he trades his rose for a “beautiful horsehair paintbrush” – sets off a series of exchanges with a conductor, a singer, a lyricist, an Empress and ultimately a sad little girl, linking one individual to the other, and always demonstrating Oskar’s generosity.

You can almost hear a waltz playing in the background as you turn the pages of this stunning-to-look-at picture book. Between Lodding’s obvious love of Vienna captured in her prose, and Jay’s crackly-style, vivid vignettes of vintage Viennese life, it’s tempting to book a flight to Austria to track down the places depicted in this must-read picture book. A Gift for Mama is at once a touching tribute to a child’s love for his mother while also an homage to glorious Vienna of a bygone era. I’m going back for seconds!

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble & Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney

A Delightful Double Dose of Tatyana Feeney!
Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble & Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket,
both reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Tatyana Feeney wows us again with her simple brand of illustrating and storytelling in Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 1-3).

The universal tale of a new baby (or in this case, nine tadpoles) taking all of mommy and daddy’s attention from big brother (or in this instance, Little Frog) will delight older siblings, whether boys or girls.

We all know newborns don’t do much, but require oodles of attention from their parents. So it is when Little Frog suddenly finds himself the big brother to nine tadpoles. They can’t build towers, they can’t play the drums, and they can’t even jump! All they can do is take mommy and daddy’s time away from Little Frog, who is resentful of missing story time and goodnight kisses from his parents.

Then, one day the tadpoles grow into little frogs themselves becoming perfect playmates for their big brother. Little Frog decides having siblings isn’t so bad after all, and that it makes his family better than ever. Little Frog becomes the best big brother and one youngsters can relate to.

A companion book for Feeney’s other works: Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket (see below) and Little Owl’s Orange Scarf, Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble is the perfect book when a new baby is brought into the family.

 

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Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Here’s a book for all of you parents out there with little ones who have an attachment to a blanket, stuffed animal, or other inanimate object. You are not alone! Who hasn’t tried to sneak a sour smelling “doggie” into the washer? How many times have you heard of the dad cajoling the night janitor to let him into the preschool to retrieve the “bunny” left in a cubby, just so his daughter could go to sleep, or seen the dirty, frayed, and much loved blanket dragging behind a toddler in the grocery store? Tatyana Feeney, author of Little Owl’s Orange Scarf and Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble, has enchanted us again with Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket and captured one of the cutest and at the same time most frustrating, loves of wee ones: the security blanket.

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 1-3 ) is released this time as a board book, just perfect for tiny hands to hold. With simple text and illustrations in watercolor and ink, it will be enjoyable for the youngest of “readers.”

Small Bunny and his blue blanket are inseparable. They swing together, play in the sand together, and even paint together. Just as bunnies get dirty and need a bath, so do blankets. At bath time, Small Bunny tries hiding from Mother, but she finds him and his blue blanket. After giving Small Bunny a bath, she insists on washing blue blanket too. Small Bunny counts the minutes until it is done washing and drying, which to him feels like an eternity. Mother is happy with the blanket and says it’s “just like new.” Small Bunny doesn’t like “new” and goes about swinging, painting, and playing with his blue blanket until it’s just the way it was before.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Parents, how many times have you volunteered in your child’s school and noticed an invisible boy? They’re not easy to see, I know. Like Brian, the main character in Ludwig’s touching and thoughtfully written new picture book, The Invisible Boy, they fly under the radar in schools all over the world.

Illustrator Barton’s drawn Brian in muted grays and white although everyone else is in color. Unlike Brian’s imaginative artwork (wonderfully rendered in kid-style by Barton) depicting Super Brian, he’s not a superhero “with the power to make friends” wherever he goes. Nope. Kids like Brian are the last ones chosen for sports teams, they don’t get invited to parties, in fact other kids don’t even think of the Brians as having feelings. They’re often overlooked in the classroom because they’re quiet and so well-behaved. Typically the teacher has to devote his or her time to dealing with the whiners and the yellers.

The Brians in schools everywhere tend to slip between the cracks like the Brian in this tale. So when a new boy named Justin comes to school and eats Bulgogi with chopsticks, he’s a perfect target for ridicule by the others. “There’s No Way I’d eat Booger-gi” says one nasty kid who, of course, gets a laugh. I thought I’d cry when Ludwig wrote of Brian, “He sits there wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

And while Brian may frequently get ignored, he’s smart. So smart that he puts a note in the cubby of new boy Justin, with a drawing of himself eating Bulgogi, “Yum!” The two boys hit it off at recess, but it’s clear Justin’s already made another friend, Emilio, who says it’s his turn to play tetherball. But Justin is kind and doesn’t leave to play with Emilio without first complimenting Brian’s artwork. When Brian wants to partner with Justin on a special project, Emilio holds Justin back. “I’m already with Justin,” says Emilio. “Find someone else.” I could feel my grin spreading when the image of Brian begins to shift from grays and white to greens and blues when Justin tells him the teacher says the special project group can have three people in it. As the friendship grows, and Emilio accepts Brian, too, a once lonely boy becomes visibly happy and colorful.

The Invisible Boy includes important back matter with questions for discussion that parents and teachers can use to prompt kids about the topic of bullying. There’s also recommended reading for adults and kids. With bullying being so prominent in the news, it’s great to have a resource like The Invisible Boy to enlighten youngsters about the pain and heartache of being ignored or ostracized.

  • 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal
  • Featured in USA Today
  • Back-to-School Read Pick by Scholastic Instructor
  • 2013 NAPPA Gold Medal Winner

 

 

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