skip to Main Content

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

VALENTINE’S DAY CHILDREN’S BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

clip art of hearts

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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

Best New Christmas Books for Children Part One

OUR ANNUAL KIDS’ CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP …

IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!

– PART ONE –

Wreath free Christmas clip art image

 

Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins cover illustrationMRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Mark Chambers
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

For anyone interested in a holiday book with a strong female character, I recommend Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Mark Chambers. When Santa wakes up “stuffy” and “sneezy” on the morning of Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus fearlessly steps in to save the day. She is a proactive problem solver. “‘I may not have magic,’” she says, “‘but I’ve got a brain!’” As she and the reindeer encounter challenges along the way, Mrs. Claus’s resourcefulness helps her stay in control and on task. “[S]tuff[ing] some ribbon to plug up the hole” in the leaky fuel tank, she keeps calm and carries on.

In addition to Mrs. Claus’s gumption, I love the endearing and homey touches in the illustrations:  Santa’s headboard and footboard with their Christmas tree cutouts, his bedspread with complementary tree designs, his reindeer-patterned socks resting on his footboard, and Mrs. Claus’s updated green plaid skirt. Modern day details also make the story relatable to young readers. Holding a Starbucks look-alike cup in her hand, Mrs. Claus starts off her journey waving goodbye to her elves. Her strong organizational skills can be seen as she maps out “her route” (perhaps using Waze?) on what looks like an iPhone. And on what looks like an iPad, she makes “a supply list and check[s] on the weather.” Even her sleigh has an attachment for her tablet that she uses to check off deliveries!

Through rhyme and clever illustrations, children will love to get to know Mrs. Claus’s spunky, can-do spirit.

 

Coming Home book cover artworkCOMING HOME
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, Coming Home, is a touching tale about a robin’s harrowing journey home to his mate-just in time for Christmas. Before the story begins, readers are given information about the Scandinavian red robin’s migration to find refuge in Britain from the harsher winters up north. In steady rhythm and repetitive language, Morpurgo narrates the robin’s struggles with snow, sleet, predators, fatigue, and fear. “Beat, my wings, beat faster. Easy, my heart, go steady. Steady.” The story’s underlying themes of perseverance and determination are evident in the robin’s journey—a journey, in fact, symbolic of life’s storms and struggles and the ways we can cope with them. We can find community with others who are on a similar path (as the robin does when he joins a flock of thrushes) and seek cycles of rest and rejuvenation. When the unexpected happens, we can also, like the robin, surrender to the mercy of another’s tenderhearted care.

If you’re looking for a quiet holiday book that highlights the winter season, I highly recommend this story. Double page, bird’s eye view spreads of a dark and deep blue forest as well as close ups of the bird seeking shelter from the rough winter weather complement each other nicely. A great bedtime story to end the day (and the winter season), Coming Home is a hopeful and soothing tale both adults and children will come home to again and again.

 

Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway book cover illustrationTOUGH COOKIE: A CHRISTMAS STORY
Written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A hilarious fractured fairy tale, Tough Cookie is the story of a cookie with an identity crisis. In a town called the “Land of Holiday Treats” where everything is sugary and sweet, our hero feels like the odd cookie out.

Shaped like a classic gingerbread man, he jumps fresh out of the oven and runs out the door with the familiar “run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me-I’m the….” He  soon discovers, though, that this same old script isn’t true for every cookie. When a curious passerby, Fox, takes up on the cookie’s challenge, the cookie realizes that he’s not only sluggish, but also positively unpalatable. Shocked and dismayed, the cookie tries to fit the mold, but, alas, to no avail. At his breaking point, “Cookie crumble[s]” but then is introduced to a special group of cookies. They have been following him all day eager to share with him his true identity. Proud of his unique role in the community, the cookie joyfully joins his cohorts, singing a new tune: “‘Look, look, look at me! You can’t reach me-I’m a….” (You’ll have to get the book to find out!)

Written and illustrated by the youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, Edward Hemingway brings much fun to the story, especially for younger audiences. Just about everything in his illustrations of Christmastown beams with a happy face. Large text, colorful pastels, and traditional holiday colors create a warm, festive, and inviting atmosphere. Hemingway’s humorous play on words through baking references keeps the pace energetic. Added touches are cookie recipes at the end of the story as well as front and back matter illustrations of adorable cookie characters.  I found myself playing a “Where’s Waldo” kind of game by trying to locate each character in the pages of the story (they are there!). I’m certain little ones will find many more creative ways to engage with Cookie’s quest of self-discovery.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

 

 

 

Inspired by a True Tale – The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM
Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Levi Pinfold
(Candlewick Studio; $17.99, Ages: 5-9)

Starred Review – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

cover illustration from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold


Poignant words and haunting illustrations tell this tale based on a true story of love, loss, and rebirth in The Dam written by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

“He woke her early. ‘Bring your fiddle,’” a father tells his daughter. Through these sparse words, the book opens with an immediate sense of urgency. A dam under construction will soon flood a valley cherished by Kathryn and her father. Once home to beloved musician friends, this valley will forever “be gone” and “washed away.” Pinfold’s illustrations echo the somber tone in a palette of gray, green, and white. While his “snapshot” pictures highlight samples of the delicate flora and fauna that will be lost, his double page spreads bring a bigger perspective to the vastness of the English countryside—the vastness of the loss and of the task at hand.

 

interior spread by Levi Pinfold from The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“‘Take no notice. There’s no danger,’” Kathryn’s father tells her. Tearing off boards on the abandoned houses they once gathered in to dance and sing, Kathryn’s father asks her to enter the rooms and play her fiddle. I couldn’t help but pause after reading these lines in the book. No danger? Had this story taken place in America, such an area would be visibly marked off with miles of flourescent yellow “CAUTION” tape and multiple “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Though the illustrations in the book show no such signage, it’s quite possible the characters’ presence in the valley was to some degree illegal. Though whatever physical danger there may have been, they faced an even greater one: the danger of the grieving process.

I compare tearing off boards from house to house to tearing off the bandage on a deep wound, acknowledging its pain, and being present with the discomfort. Kathryn plays and “Daddy sing[s],” lifting spirits “gone and … still to come” up and out of the houses and setting them free to become part of the landscape—the earth, the sky, the animals, and people. What a profound mystery of the human spirit, that we can find the safety of healing only by taking the risk to be vulnerable. Father teaches daughter there really is no danger when we grieve fully and wholeheartedly.

 

interior spread from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“The lake is beautiful” the author tells us, reflecting on how Kathryn and her father embrace the new creation. And just as before, Pinfold’s illustrations give us both detailed and wide-angled views of the landscape. Peaceful blues, gentle greens, and flowy whites restore what was once lost. Even the movement of the little fish mimic the dance of the spirits. Though the valley is gone, music continues to be celebrated.

Both multi-award winners, Almond and Pinfold complement each other beautifully. I strongly recommend the book to caregivers and educators alike, especially as an introduction to issues of change and loss for younger elementary-age children and to issues of death and bereavement for older ones.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read a review of another David Almond book here.
Read another review by Armineh here.

Flashback Friday Featuring The Day I Ran Away by Holly L. Niner

 

 

THE DAY I RAN AWAY
Written by Holly L. Niner
Illustrated by Isabella Ongaro
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 2-6)

cover illustration from The Day I Ran Away

 

Written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, The Day I Ran Away shows loving parents creatively assuaging little Grace’s frustration during a challenging day.  

It’s bedtime and Grace begins sharing her day with her father who gently reflects her feelings: disappointment at not being able to wear her purple shirt, anger at finding out her favorite cereal is “all gone,” repentance for having lashed out at Mom, and betrayal for not being recognized for her creativity (in using a purple marker to transform her white shirt into her favorite color). As spunky Grace narrates her day, it’s clear to us readers she’s more concerned about telling a good story than disobeying her parents. “No, Silly, you can’t run away to your room,” she tells her dad after he incorrectly assumes the bedroom is her go-to runaway hideout. I like how Dad playfully adds to the drama of her story: “Like a princess in a tower,” he compares her to after Grace explains she was “Banished to [her] bedroom.”

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.

 

These endearing exchanges between father and daughter are enhanced by Ongaro’s colorful illustrations. Double page spreads guide the story. On the left side of the page we see the written words (Dad’s words are in orange and Grace’s are in purple-of course!) and the day’s events are illustrated on the right. This technique makes reading the story, for even very little ones, easy and fun to follow. Hand sketched and digitally colored, the illustrations feel warm and safe, especially in details like the scalloped fringes on Mom’s sleeves and kitchen tablecloth.

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.

 

While the subject matter of running away can be controversial, the lighthearted interaction between parent and child encourages respect and space for children’s emotions. After all, when Grace finally decides to run away, she remembers and obeys a fundamental house rule. “I’m not allowed to cross the street!” she tells her father and solves her predicament by following her mother’s suggestion. Camped out in the yard, Grace is in her pop up tent, steps away from the kitchen and Mom’s cookies. In fact, this presence of food (and the comfort it connotes) I felt was a quiet nod to Where the Wild Things Are. Max returns from his adventure to find dinner on the table, piping hot–as if he never really ran away from home in the first place.

While our darker emotions can make us feel miles away, our parents’ love and validation always bring us back home.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

    Read another review by Armineh here.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale by Penny Parker Klostermann

A COOKED-UP FAIRY TALE
Written by Penny Parker Klostermann
Illustrated by Ben Mantle
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Cover image from A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale

 

Author Penny Parker Klostermann and illustrator Ben Mantle add just the right ingredients to A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale, a fractured fairy tale that spices up some of our favorite classics.

The story takes place in “the magical land of fairy tales” where our hero, William, resides. Though it may seem like the perfect place to live, something is missing for William: an outlet to express his culinary artistry. In his endeavor to make his dream come true, he works as a chef in local restaurants, The Brick House and The Bears Bistro; but when the work proves far too dangerous and painstaking, respectively, he decides to cook from his own kitchen.  With just a few coins left in his cookie jar, he heads out to the marketplace and purchases what he thinks are ordinary ingredients: raw apples, beans, and a pumpkin—items central to the plot of three specific fairy tales. These items are intended for delivery to Fairy Tale Headquarters. Convinced that Fairy Tale Headquarters simply “needs a good chef to spice things up,” William transforms each item into an exquisite dish and heads off to deliver them to their intended destination.

 

Interior illustrations from A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale

Interior spread from A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale by Penny Parker Klostermann with illustrations by Ben Mantle, Random House BYR ©2017.

 

But William soon discovers his creations pose a possible threat to the children’s bedtime tales. His delicious creations are recreating the endings. Fortunately and most pleasantly, his creative flare produces an even more “happily ever after” than the original story lines.  

A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale isn’t the usual fractured fairy tale in which a single tale is twisted, altered, or updated in some way. William is a unique character living in the land of familiar fairy tales. Klostermann’s frame technique draws us into the story of our hero who unintentionally disrupts the familiar, immerses himself into these stories, and ultimately becomes part of one. Children will get a kick out of the creative and comical changes that take place in the plot. I can imagine them laughing out loud about what “should” have happened.  

 

Interior illustration from A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale

Interior spread from A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale by Penny Parker Klostermann with illustrations by Ben Mantle, Random House BYR ©2017.

 

Mantle’s illustrations delightfully blend the familiar and unfamiliar as well. Vertical lines move the plot along in an energetic and steady direction. At the same time, Mantle’s soft color palette creates a comfortable, safe and calm tone, and his curved drawings sprinkle in the fun.  

I would recommend this book to children who enjoy lighthearted, wacky tales and to parents/caregivers who enjoy reading stories that celebrate creativity and individuality. The book’s underlying message of how our creative endeavors give us agency to write our own stories is something I truly appreciate and admire.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

SaveSave

Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Three

BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART THREE

 

Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

Nativity by Cynthia Rylant Cover ImageNativity
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.  

The story begins on the cover flap:  “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result,  the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.

In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Ninja Claus book cover imageNinja Claus!
Written and illustrated by Arree Chung
(Henry Holt and Company, $17.99, ages 4-7)

Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.

Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

The Nutcracker in Harlem book cover imageThe Nutcracker in Harlem
Written by T.E. McMorrow
Illustrated by James Ransome
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares book cover imageRed and Lulu
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Lulu to Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided.  “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout.   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Weird but True Christmas from NatGeoKids cover imageWeird but True! Christmas: 300 Festive Facts 
to Light Up The Holiday
(National Geographic Kids; $8.99, Ages 8-12 )

Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True! series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a  holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad!    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:

This Little Reindeer
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Christmas Eve
Annie Auerbach
(Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )

 

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Holiday Gift Books Guide

SaveSave

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Angela Barrett
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

TheMostWonderfulThinginTheWorld
Starred Reviews: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

Sometimes the very thing we are searching for is right before our eyes. And sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we get the opportunity to discover this truth through beautiful picture book stories like The Most Wonderful Thing in the World.

A retelling of illustrator Angela Barrett’s favorite childhood story, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World starts with a royal problem. An over-protective king and queen of a picturesque kingdom with “sky-blue water and golden bridges” must find a proper husband for their only child, Lucia. Unsure of how to find the right man, they write to “Wise Old Angelo” for advice on what to do. In response, Angelo advises them to find the man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. And, alas, the parade of suitors who visits the king and queen bring one bizarre item after another: “mysterious magical beasts and a piece of frozen sky,” a “mammoth tusk” and “wind machine”—“even [a] mermaid in a tank.”

In the meantime, clever Lucia finds a way to avoid the madness. Her quiet defiance enriches the storyline as do the illustrations of the city, done in soft colors and lush detail. Lucia’s parents intend on sheltering their daughter. Ironically, their decision to send her away while they choose her future husband provides Lucia the independence she needs to choose for herself.

Away from her parents’ watchful eyes, she befriends Angelo’s grandson, Salvatore, who gladly fulfills her request to show her the city, ancient and romantic—like Venice with an Edwardian twist. Through piazzas, busy markets, and “marble arches” they visit the central spaces but also the hidden gems of the city “where the grand never [think] to go.”

This middle section is my favorite part for the tone feels modern and old at the same time. The story comes alive, as if what we are reading may have actually taken place. In pictures, we see the classic architecture of the buildings juxtaposed with the fairly modern attire of the characters. While Lucia and Salvatore roam the city, the items the suitors bring, too, showcase modern technology. As a side note, I like how some of the illustrations are done in a film reel kind of lay out which may help younger readers follow along more easily.

In words, Vivian French also balances this magical space of old and new. Most powerful for me is the opening line, “Once, in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother.” While fairy tales tend to take place in a time and place centuries old, often foreign and unreal, French’s language gives readers the feeling this tale might be true—or at least the possibility of being real, like it’s just within our reach. After all, as French reminds us, “[Our] grandmother’s grandmother would remember it.”

In the end, it’s Salvatore who reveals the most wonderful thing in the world to the king and queen who realize the answer they’ve been searching for has been in plain view all along. Married, Salvatore and Lucia gracefully rule their kingdom with a deep love for their people. And while the historical details of the story are debatable, one fact is certain: love is the most wonderful thing in the world.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Shop Indie Bookstores

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.

Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer

LITTLE CRITTER: JUST A SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
(Harper Festival$4.99, Ages 4-7)

LittleCritter_JustaSpecialThanksgiving

One of the very first picture books I ever bought for my son was by Mercer Mayer. I love Little Critter’s character:  rambunctious, sweet, and fun-loving – someone who kids of all ages can relate to. Much like other series books I enjoy (The  Berenstain Bears and the Froggy series), Little Critter’s books give us an opportunity to see the central character in different snippets of life. In Just a Special Thanksgiving, we celebrate the holiday alongside Little Critter and learn that, though Thanksgiving activities and events may not go as planned, realizing the spirit of the holiday is what matters.

From the get-go we feel that exciting sense of “Thanksgiving is in the air.” In the classroom, Little Critter and his friends are drawing pilgrims and turkeys. When school is out, he must rush home to change into his turkey costume for the Thanksgiving play. While you can probably guess what his lines are, poor Little Critter forgets them and opts to sing a song.

At the “big Thanksgiving Day Parade” early next morning more surprises from Little Critter are in store for all participants.  Tired from marching, our hero hops on a float proudly waving to his parents who, along with law enforcement and other parade goers, have become quite irate by his actions.

I love how Little Critter’s innocence tugs on our heartstrings and how blissfully unaware he is of the commotion his actions cause. What’s even more touching is the way he tries to “right” his wrongs (particularly in the scenes at the grocery store) which lead to even more disaster. Kids will enjoy the humor implicit in Little Critter’s goof-ups. At the same time, parents will be reminded that, no matter how bad things may seem, our children’s intentions are good; their hearts are in the right place. Little Critter’s excitement with helping cook and serve the meal at the community center reminds us what’s at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A great book to curl up with your little one-perhaps while the turkey is roasting in the oven! (Includes 20 stickers).

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Shop Indie Bookstores

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.

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

MAPLE & WILLOW APART
Written & illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

Maple & Will Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart, the follow up to author/illustrator Lori Nichols’ Maple and Maple & Willow Together, will draw in fans new and old alike as they witness Maple and Willow’s growing sisterly bond.

Done in pencil and digitally colored, the illustrations emphasize the two central characters. The background is simply white with just enough detail to hint at the setting.  At center stage of the book is the sisters’ relationship.

When a major change in their routine takes place, both girls feel this relationship may be in jeopardy. Maple, now old enough to attend “big-girl school,” will be away from home, and her younger sister Willow, for most of the day. While the two pretend this fact doesn’t bother them, their actions speak louder than words.

From Monday through Wednesday, Maple returns home sharing the thrill of her new school life–perhaps a bit too forcefully. Speaking in what seems like a mile a minute, she narrates with open arms, expressive eyes, and a dazzling smile. In true sibling rivalry fashion, Willow subtly strikes back with her own tale of adventures with an imaginary forest friend. In this game of one-upmanship,or rather one-upgirlship, each sibling creates a more fantastic story than the other.  

Though underneath the theatrics lie real emotions:  the fear of separation and the longing to express it. By Thursday morning, the siblings have toned down their contest of words allowing for the natural bonds of sisterhood to take over and heal their friendship. First in pig Latin, then in more candid conversation, Maple shares how she “miss[es] playing at home” with Willow who admits to sharing the same feelings. While younger, Willow finds a way to stay connected with her sister even when Maple is away at school.  

For families who are experiencing a similar change or for parents looking to open a more general discussion of separation, I highly recommend Maple & Willow Apart. The inherent presence of love between family members ensures that no change is too scary to face.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van

In a Village by the Sea
Written by Muon Van
Illustrated by April Chu
(Creston Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly
Junior Library Guild
selection

InaVillage1

 

Inspired by the author’s own life as the daughter of a fishing family in Vietnam, In a Village by the Sea is the story of yearning for the safety and security of home. Told in a circular fashion, Van uses few but poignant words to guide us from the open ocean, to a home atop a hill, and back to the ocean once more. Chu’s beautiful illustrations elicit powerful, conflicting emotions.  

VillageInterior

Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

We see fishermen casting their nets amidst choppy waves.  Dark storm clouds gather in the distance; solemn expressions foreshadow the dangers to come.  Details like these are lush in each spread.  In a Village by the Sea is the  kind of book a child would spread out on the floor slowly studying and absorbing each image, like the gentle mist above the mountains where a family dog guides our eyes to a home, the home belonging to one of the fishermen.

Colors here are warm. Reds, yellows, and oranges from the lanterns hanging on the front porch and in the fire roaring beneath the “steaming noodle soup,” as well as the tender eyes of the faithful dog remind us of the things home symbolize. Though the contemplative stare of the central character of the home (the fisherman’s wife) jars our sense of security. Juxtaposed to her serene surroundings, the wife’s gaze is heavy with worry as she awaits the return of her husband.

A particularly breathtaking spread is on pages 16-17 in which we get an aerial view of an orderly and organized home where there’s a place for everything and everything has a place for itself. Every detail is intriguing: the sandals neatly placed right outside the door, prepped vegetables in baskets ready for cooking, a sleepy baby in a bassinet. Even the cricket that lives in the home is appropriately placed-in a “dusty hole” underneath a mat.

VillageInterio

Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

Through this extraordinary cricket, we are privy to another layer of Chu’s artistic skills (fully revealed on the last page of the story). “Humming and painting,” the cricket, we come to find out, is the master creator of this story. He is drawing the scene of a “sudden storm,/ roaring and flashing” where the fisherman’s “white boat,” helplessly “crash[es] and roll[s].” As one of the cricket’s hands draws the stormy gray clouds, you can see the pressure point of his brush. It’s as if the story itself is happening in the moment we are reading it, as if we’re experiencing the moment of creation itself. Chu reminds us that, like the fisherman’s dangerous journey, reading involves risk. We readers, too, are at the mercy of fate, unaware of what’s to come next.

Open skies, calm waters, and cheerful yellows at the final pages tell us the end is hopeful.  The fisherman will arrive safely back to his home.  In fact, the cricket’s final creation on the last page ensures it’s just so.

Readers of all ages will undoubtedly connect with In a Village by the Sea. In a world of certain uncertainty, the reassurance of family and love bring all of us home.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

MrHappyMissGrimm-cvr.jpg

 

First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Song of Delphine by Kenneth Kraegel

The Song of Delphine
Written & Illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, ages 5-8)

TheSongofDelphinecvr.jpg

Starred review – Booklist

A gentle tale of healing, friendship, and forgiveness, Kenneth Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine unfolds an orphan girl’s journey from pain to peace.

The story begins “[i]n the far reaches of the wild savannah” where “the palace of the great queen Theodora” stands. Against this backdrop of grandeur, lives little Delphine, a servant girl faithful to her daily chores but deeply saddened by loneliness. As she sings by the arched frames of the palace windows “to let some of the loneliness out,” she finds solace. When a niece of Queen Theodora comes to stay at the palace, Delphine naturally reacts with excitement, hopeful she may forge a friendship. Princess Beatrice, however, proves to be anything but a friend, deliberately sabotaging Delphine’s hard work on a daily basis. The princess even breaks a centuries-old mirror and threatens to put the blame on Delphine. That night alone in her room, a hopeless Delphine sings her most soulful song yet.

Then something incredible happens (my favorite part of the book). Friends pop their heads through her bedroom windows, friends who have been listening to her songs all along, at nearly every page turn from the beginning of the story. They pick Delphine up and take her “out into the wild night air.” The double page spread (pages 18-19) that follows gracefully illustrates her healing. A full moon, stars shining in a dark sky, animals gathering at the watering hole, distant mountains sheltering the open grounds, the acacia trees-in times of sorrow, we find comfort in the simple rhythm of everyday life and in knowing that in the depths of despair, we are never alone.

But before the night is over, doom seems certain once more for the terrified servant girl when Delphine’s friends mistakenly return her to Princess Beatrice’s room. Princess Beatrice calls the guards and threatens to tell the queen of Delphine’s transgression.  Noticing a picture of the  princess’s late mother on the night stand, Delphine realizes they do have one painful fact in common. Delphine shares her song with Beatrice who is so moved by the servant’s voice she asks Delphine for forgiveness and convinces Queen Theodora to promote Delphine to a new position, the queen’s singer.

The seeming simplicity of the illustrations (done in watercolor and ink) and the quiet strength of the main character merge to show us the majesty of kindness, a powerful virtue that can transform pain into beauty.  This theme is what I love most about The Song of Delphine.

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

An Interview with Megan McDonald, author of Judy Moody & Stink Books for Kids

The Sweet Smell of Stink … Stink Moody, That is!
A Q & A With Megan McDonald

meganmcdonaldheadshot

I had the privilege of sitting down with popular and inimitable author, Megan McDonald, at the L.A. Times Festival of Books last month. She’s the brains (and humor) behind the successful Judy Moody and Stink Moody series. We met to discuss the 10 year anniversary of the STEM-oriented Stink Moody books being celebrated by her publisher, Candlewick Press.

Meet Megan McDonald

Good Reads With Ronna: If Judy’s an exaggerated version of you, who have you modeled Stink on, or is he a conglomerate of your sisters, or totally from your imagination?

Megan McDonald: Well it’s interesting because Judy and I have so much in common with our messy hair and all of our moods, but really in a way, Stink is the one who is close to my heart because he’s the youngest. And even though he’s a boy, and I had four older sisters, and a lot of the funny stories I tell are based on the stories growing up with all these sisters, I imagined a boy because I never had a brother. And then, because he’s the youngest, I know what it’s like to have that bossy big sister. You know, who sort of thinks she’s in charge and knows it all and wants to boss you around.

I empathize a lot with Stink. And making him be the shortest kid in the class; in the first book he’s very sensitive about his height, and he wants to grow, that was all coming from my empathy for Stink being the youngest.

GRWR: Is it difficult for you to switch from being in the head of Judy to being in the head of Stink? In other words, does keeping their individual perspectives get tricky when both characters are in a story?

StinkSharkSleepover.tiffMM: Yes. At the beginning it really was because even when I go to write other books, the voice of Judy will be in my head and start to take over. So with Stink, whatever the book is going to be about, like if he’s going on a shark sleepover or he’s going to save the planet Pluto, I sort of just immerse myself in that universe and learn about Pluto or go to the aquarium and watch the sharks and really try to set an atmosphere for Stink just to get my head out of the Judy thing. At the beginning it was really hard because even when Judy would come on stage, so to speak, in a chapter, she would start to take over and I had to keep reigning her in and letting Stink have his say.

GRWR: I thought you did a terrific job, especially in Stink and The Shark Sleepover because Judy is never domineering.

MM: At first I was going to have Stink go on the sleepover without his family. But then I thought it would be really fun to see Judy in the older sister role in a different capacity. So when the kids are kind of scared, and they want to know what’s behind the big KEEP OUT door, and they see the light under the crack, it’s the perfect thing. You wake up the older sister and say, “C’mon, we’ve got to go find out what’s behind the door!” Then she can go fall back to sleep leaving Stink to think about putting toothpaste in her sleeping bag or whatever.

GRWR: What are the qualities in Stink that you admire the most?

MM: I guess I really admire his passion. You’ll notice there are not a lot of electronics and computers and things in the books … so from the very first book Stink is always reading the encyclopedia. I had a nephew who always did that. I don’t know if it was because it’s just what was around, but he’d pick up a volume of the encyclopedia and he’d disappear. It kind of started with that, with Stink picking up the S volume and he’d be reading about Skinks or Saturn or whatever the S word of the day was. And then I realized I never set out to make it about science, but I realized he really had the passion for all these things, whether it was animals, or Pluto, or sharks or saving the guinea pigs or whatever it is, and I love how this passion comes through.

GRWR: What do you do to find inspiration for your stories? Tell us about connecting with your inner child – how do you do it so convincingly?

MM: Well growing up with four sisters really helped. In the first book, especially in Judy Moody, I did tell actual stories. The famous story of the fake hand in the toilet, in the first Judy Moody book, is a real joke that I played on my sisters. And that really happened where they went to the White House and I stayed home. So it started out with the idea of using some of these funny stories of growing up with all these sisters, but Judy really took on a personality of her own. And Stink was his own person from that first book, so it’s sort of branching out more into my imagination. And people say to me, “But how do you go back? How do you remember all these things? It’s like you know, you remember everything from when you were eight years old!” I really don’t. I love the Mark Twain quote where he says, “I remember everything whether it happened or not.” That’s kind of how I feel. I remember certain things and feelings from childhood, but whether it happened or not, I can easily add imagination and embellish and make it into a funny story.

BigBadBlackoutcvr.jpgRonna: So in Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout, did that hurricane really happen?

MM: Ah, that’s interesting. I got the idea because I was on tour in the state of Virginia where Judy and Stink are from. I just happened to be there right after a hurricane, I think it was hurricane Isabella. So all these people, this was more in the early days of Judy Moody, were coming through my signing line and telling me we found Judy and Stink, we discovered Judy and Stink in the hurricane. I thought, “What, the books washed up?” And they would say no, all the lights went out, there was no electricity.” They couldn’t watch TV, they didn’t have computers, laptops, iPads. They had flashlights, or they lit a candle and they read books. The whole family would get out a Judy Moody or a Stink book and they’d read aloud by candlelight. That just gave me goosebumps. So many people told me this. They would talk about playing board games, going back to the things of my childhood. This really made an impression on me and I thought I would love to have Judy and Stink experience a blackout. You know, have a hurricane come, not a scary one, but the electricity’s out and they have to find ways to be entertained, I guess. You don’t have all the electronics if you take away the lights and the electricity.

So of course Grandmas Lou comes. She shows up with an entourage of all these animals with her and then the lights go out. What do you do? You roast marshmallows in the fireplace and you tell stories, right? That was really fun because I got to tell several stories within a story.

GRWR: What’s the most meaningful or hilarious response from a kid regarding your Stink books?

JudyMoodyMoodMartianMM: It’s funny you ask, because I was just Skyping the other day because Pizza Hut had a reading month and they chose Stink as their mascot for the month of March. One of the prizes, it was for teachers and their classroom, was to win Stink books and they got a Skype visit with the author. So I was just Skyping with the fourth grade classroom who won the prize. The teacher told me ahead of time that the kids all had prepared questions. It’s their questions. She didn’t weed them out or anything. They each had to come up to the camera and they got to ask a question.

One little boy came up and he asked, “What do you do when you’re angry?” I think he was thinking about Judy and all her moods and so he wanted to know how I handled being angry. I told him all about the newest Judy Moody book, Judy Moody Mood Martian and in that book Judy tries to stay in a good mood for one whole week, but it’s very difficult. So, when she feels a bad mood coming on she gets out her finger knitting. It’s knitting you can do without needles. And I’m there on Skype explaining finger knitting to the kids, showing them my fingers and how you can wrap yarn around them and everything. And that’s what Judy does. I said for me, I usually go walk the dog, or go take a swim, or just do something to help get that energy out, but finger knitting was a way Judy found she could channel some of those feelings. He said thank you and he went to walk away from the camera and said, “Well I guess now I have to go home and take up knitting.” (Laughter) It was very cute, sweet and very funny. He really took it to heart.

stinkandgreatguineaPigExpresscvr.jpgGRWR: Do you have a favorite Stink book or situation that remains outstanding in your mind after 10 years?

MM: Oh gosh! So many favorites. One that I really love is, it was probably the most difficult to write, is the one about Stink where he rescues all the guinea pigs, Stink and The Great Guinea Pig Express. I had read about these guinea pig rescues that had happened. And there was a woman in the Bay Area who heard about these guinea pigs in a lab that were being mistreated. They shut down the lab and she brought all these guinea pigs home. And she thought. what am I going to do with 101 guinea pigs? She got a bus from the Humane Society, then went online, found homes for these guinea pigs all over the country, loaded them up in her car and went on a guinea pig rescue tour, giving away the guinea pigs to good homes. When I read this I was so inspired that I had this inspire Stink. He finds out about these guinea pigs at the pet store and with the help of the woman from the pet store, they get a bus, outfit it and they go all over Virginia and  find homes for all of these animals. So it was a really fun one because it has such heart. You just want these guinea pigs to be well and be safe and find good homes; also it’s hilarious because you can just imagine being on this little van or bus with 101 squealing little guinea pigs and all of the antics that would go with it.

GRWR: That’s super. I just love how you come up with things like squeals on wheels and you have asteriod and then the blasteroid. Does it come easily or do you spend a ton of time thinking those up?

MM: I love to play with language, and I grew up with a lot of nonsense poetry and even at the dinner table my mom and dad we would have pun contests. I’ve always loved that word play and that language play. Sometimes it just comes naturally when ryhming or something will pop in my head. Other times it’ll just be almost be like a gift. I’ll be doing some research or something and exactly the thing I was looking for just sort of lands in my lap. So when that happens those are really special moments for a writer.

GRWR: If you were asked to create a “me” collage, like in Judy’s first book, what would you include in it?

MM: Oh, gosh, um. Well, I don’t have the Barbie Doll heads and scabs I collected as a kid, but I do have a lot of collections. Judy and I are both collectors. So I collect things like erasers, sock monkeys and mood rings, so some of the Judy Moody things you’re probably familiar with  go in my collage.

GRWR: BAND-AIDS®?

MM: Yes, of course. I have a killer BAND-AIDS® collection including bacon strips.

GRWR: Oh I like the bacon strip ones!

MM: Now of course people know that I collect them they send me all these funny ones. Pirate ones, sock monkeys and all sorts of neat ones.  Yes, definitely the BAND-AIDS®, and a grouchy pencil or two. And other than that, probably just things, you know from my own life, pictures of me with my sisters when we were little. We have a lot of those black and whites from when you used to go in photo booths and make funny faces. You know, that sort of thing. But a lot of the things in Judy’s world are things from my own childhood, too.

GRWR: What can we expect to see Stink getting up to in his next book?

MM:  Okay, well the next book is Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold. It’s bringing Riley Rottenberger to the forefront. She’s sort of the Stink nemesis of it. He gets to Saturday Science Club and Riley Rottenberger is there and it turns out in this club that they were going to learn how to grow slime mold. So they each take home their little samples of slime mold and it begins to grow. And it’s really gross and slimy. Stink starts to imagine that this slime mold, you know you only feed it like one Cheerio or one oat flake, but he starts to imagine that’s it going to take over his room and begin to take over the whole house and the whole planet. So that’s a fun one. There’s a lot of science in it where you can learn about the actual slime mold which is an amoeba. It’s a one celled organism. But it’s also very science fiction-y. It opens with Stink and Judy going to a drive-in with their parents -they’ve re-opened an old drive-in, and the Blob movie is playing. That kind of gets Stink’s imagination going, so the comics will feature, you know how there are comics after each chapter, some of the more fantastic, science-fiction-y aspects of the book.

GRWR: Is it done? Or if not, when is it due out?

MM: Yes, my part is done. Peter [H. Reynolds] is working on the drawings right now. It comes out, I think, spring of next year, 2016.

GRWR: Okay, and what about Judy’s book, the one you mentioned earlier?

MM: That one is out. That came out last fall and is called Judy Moody and the Mood Martian. It’s still in hardback; it should come out in paperback this summer.

GRWR: What contemporary kids books are you reading now?

MM: Well, right now I’m reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s book called Echo. And I almost couldn’t even come to Los Angeles because I only have 20 pages to go, and I’m like I can’t carry this thick 600 page book … that I just have to finish now.. It’s in 3 different time periods, 3 different stories, and I just have to know how they all weave together. It’s a fascisnating historical novel.

I’m a huge Katherine Paterson fan so I went back and I’m filling in all the holes in my Katherine Paterson collection because I discovered there are books of hers I’ve never read. Some of the ones that are set in Japan that were some of her early ones.  And Come Sing, Jimmy Jo. So I’m going back and reareading some of those. But The Great Gilly Hopkins is probably one of my most all time favorite children’s books – for children.

GRWR: Wow! Good to know.

MM: And from my childhood, Harriet the Spy, of course.

GRWR:  Of course, of course. Which reminded me, you used an expression which tells me that you and I are of the same generation, the Screamin’ Mimi’s Café, where they go for the ice cream, but I don’t know if kids of this generation know it. I don’t even know where it comes from, but I grew up knowing about screamin’ mimis.

MM: I know and it’s funny because I have a real Screamin’ Mimi’s in my town. In Sebastopol,  there’s an ice cream shop called Screamin’ Mimi’s but that’s not her name or anything. She also is of my generation and knew it [the expression]…

… I was so drawn just by the name Screamin’ Mimi’s. And then in the early days I asked her if I could use the name of the shop in the book since it was going to be an ice cream shop. She said sure but don’t use any of the flavors I make because I might want to trademark them. Well now, the poor woman, kids come from all over the country and go to Screamin’ Mimi’s and they ask for the flavors that are in the book that I just made up! She said, “Oh I wish I would have let you use my flavors!”  Now she makes the actual flavors for special occasions that are flavors from the Judy Moody books.

 ###

Right, who’s ready for a big scoop right now?
A huge thanks to Megan McDonald for generously giving of her time during such a busy book fair day, and to Candlewick Press for giving Good Reads With Ronna the wonderful opportunity to chat with Megan McDonald.

Don’t forget to visit the websites:

Judy Moody
Stink Moody
Megan McDonald
Candlewick Press

Interview by Ronna Mandel with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for her huge help.

 

 

 

Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor

HOOT OWL: MASTER OF DISGUISE

Written by Sean Taylor

Illustrated by Jean Jullien

(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Hoot-Owl-cvr.jpgI love larger-than-life characters who never let defeat get in their way. I think of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series; there’s also the self-proclaimed genius Wile E. Coyote whose only success is consistently failing to catch his adversary. No matter how many times they fail or get rejected, these characters’ shameless ineptitude has us laughing clearly at, not with, them.

Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise uses this larger-than-life character trait in the loveable Hoot Owl who invites us to laugh right along with him. Hoot Owl’s flair for overly dramatizing his predatory skills consistently botches his ability to catch any real dinner. Even before the dedication page, we feel the suspenseful tone build up in the warning posted on page 1:  “Watch out!  I am Hoot Owl!  I am hungry. And here I come!” In his first picture book for children, Jullien, of course, eases the hearts of even the youngest reader. Hoot Owl’s egg shaped head and wide eyes peeking from the bottom corner of the page assure us no animals (illustrated or otherwise) were harmed in the making of this book.

Especially appealing in this character driven story are the similes Hoot Owl uses to describe his supposed deftness at flying through the “darkness of midnight…as quick as a shooting star…like a wolf in the air…like a knife.”  On his first attempt to catch dinner, Hoot Owl boasts of the “sharp beak” that will soon “gobbl[e] that rabbit up!” But Hoot Owl isn’t just any old owl; he is an owl of great mental prowess too. Before he closes in for the kill, he states:  “Everyone knows owls are wise. But as well as being wise, I am a master of disguise.” And so our hero disguises himself as a (not-so-convincing) carrot. The bunny’s calm smile confirms our suspicions that Hoot Owl is more likely to win an Academy Award for Best Performance Before Dinnertime than to actually catch anything to eat.  The adorably bespectacled “juicy little lamb” and mellow “trembling” pigeon are next on our predator’s supposed hit list, highlighting once more the comic disconnect between Taylor’s sensational diction and Jullien’s heartwarming illustrations.

Hoot-Owl.int1.jpg

HOOT OWL: MASTER OF DISGUISE Written by Sean Taylor and Illustrated by Jean Jullien, Candlewick Press ©2015.

That Hoot Owl shares with us he’s in on this comedy, too, is what I find most endearing about his character.  “The shadowy night stretches away forever, as black as burnt toast,” he says using a simile so forced you know deep down he’s laughing at his own incompetence. Adults and children will be pleased and surprised at the dinner our hero finally does  catch—then back again into the “enormousness of the night” Hoot Owl glides stealthily, warning us of his return….which readers of all ages will, without a doubt, impatiently await.

 

 

 

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Worst in Show by William Bee

Worst in Show
Written by William Bee
Illustrated by Kate Hindley
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, ages 3-7)

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Worst-in-Show-cvr.jpgIn our anything goes reality show culture, we see time and again contestants competing in ridiculous events, each more outrageous than the next. So it makes sense every so often to stop and ask: what prize are they trying to win anyway? Light-hearted and humorous, Worst in Show highlights this question through soft language and muted colors, gently challenging readers of all ages to rethink the very standards we’ve come to accept as “successful.”

Little Albert, proud owner of a pet monster named Sidney sets off to prove to the world his monster is the “best pet monster in the world.” Entering Sidney in a live televised show, “THE BEST PET MONSTER IN THE WORLD COMPETITION,” Albert realizes Sidney has some pretty stiff competition.

For starters in Round 1 of the competition, “Hairiest Warts,” we see the other monsters proudly displaying their large, bumpy double-decker warts. Particularly enviable is the monster who shows off his armpit collection. “But Sidney, who has a bath every other day with lots of soap and bubbles, hasn’t got any warts–just a few freckles.” Albert’s confidence, by page 11, has withered into a worrisome expression, adorably accented by his gigantic eyeglasses.

As the rounds continue, Sidney’s chances of winning seem farther and farther away and Albert’s expression appear all the more anxious. By Round 3, “Most Parasites,” Sidney’s superior hygiene, once again, proves to be a disadvantage. While the other monsters’ parasites crowd the stage, Sidney’s meager two decide to pack their vacation things up and leave, as they were “just staying for a few days.” It’s a good thing too because on the next round, “Smelliest Fart” (my personal favorite), the stage is polluted with the other monsters’ simultaneous “smelly,” “stinky,” “stenchy,” and “rotten” fart fumes. Using the “Fart Buster 2000,” only a professional in a hazmat suit, like a company rep from Servpro, can vacuum up the smelly mess–like it never even happened. Oh, but happen it does. By the last round, “Hottest Breath,” the other monsters’ fiery flames nearly burn down the television studio.

WorstInShow.int.2

Interior artwork from Worst in Show by William Bee with illustrations by Kate Hindley, Candlewick Press, ©2015.

Throughout the competition, Sidney’s smile never wavers, and Albert’s common sense finally overrides his embarrassment and despair. He asks himself at the end of each round, “who wants a” gross, filthy, fire-breathing, trouble-making pet monster anyway? As we open the folds of the penultimate page, a beautiful four page spread, we see Sidney receiving a trophy for performing the “WORST IN SHOW.” Albert knows good-smelling, clean, and gentle Sidney is the real winner here, as is this picture book for valuing the importance of individuality.

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: