I Pledge Allegianceby Pat Mora and Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
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 Allegianceby 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.
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!
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.
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 Scarfand 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 (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
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.
Whenever someone asks me, “What’s your favorite color?” I always give the same answer: ANYTHING but GREEN! I can’t imagine how I would feel if I didn’t get to pick out my clothes, or even worse, was forced to wear a color I didn’t like. This is exactly what many parents do when they don’t guide their children to make their own choices. In Little Owl’s Orange Scarf (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 4-8), written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, it is precisely what mother owl does when she makes Little Owl wear an itchy, too long, very orange scarf.
Little Owl comes up with some creative ways to misplace his scarf, but mother owl is just as good at finding it. But, when Little Owl’s class takes a trip to the zoo, the scarf is left behind despite Mother’s efforts to recover it.
Mother, being a wise old owl, decides to include Little Owl when she makes him a new scarf. He goes to the yarn store with her and even gets to pick out the color. The finished product is soft, just the right length, and NOT orange. Little Owl and Mother are both happy. At the end of the story we discover that the orange scarf is being put to good use by a certain long necked creature at the zoo.
The sparse text and simple illustrations combine to make a great picture book. Parents and children alike should get a hoot out of Little Owl’s Orange Scarf.