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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Two

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART TWO

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

The King of Kindergarten cvrTHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.

It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.

A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.

See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA

 

Truman book coverTRUMAN
Written by Jean Reidy
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.

There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donuta small donutand every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis)  who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.

This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.

Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.

Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11:  See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!

Pirates-Dont-Go-To-Kindergarten-cvrPIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!
Written by Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by Eda Kaban
(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.

When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class:  a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.

A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read more back-to-school book reviews here.

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Middle Grade Fiction – I’m OK by Patti Kim

I’M OK
Written by Patti Kim
(Atheneum BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

I'm OK book cover

 

In the middle grade novel I’m OK by Patti Kim, twelve-year-old Ok Lee’s world begins to fall apart when his father dies suddenly. Even though his mother works three jobs, they barely get by. To help out financially, Ok starts braiding girls’ hair at school and resolves to win the talent show’s $100 prize—though he doesn’t have a talent in mind.

The flawed characters in I’m Ok weave together realistically in a story about the imperfect lives of recent immigrants and middle schoolers. Ok’s unwitting sidekick is Mickey McDonald, a girl with the biggest hair and a personality to match. Her family’s also poor but she doesn’t care what other people think. Mickey adds a lively, funny element to a story that also depicts race and social class discrimination. Set at an indeterminate time, Americana details such as Enjoli perfume or the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “MacGyver” will resonate with older readers.

The ending feels genuine and opens the door to talking about why life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Ok is bound to his mother, and her decisions direct their future.

This was June’s book-of-the-month at Chevalier’s Books’ middle-grade book club in Los Angeles. I’m Ok was well liked by all. The animated discussion considered many interesting elements of this novel including nice story-writing details such as how the story is bookended by two similar yet quite different scenes.

 

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Middle Grade Cover Reveal + Giveaway – We Could Be Heroes

COVER REVEAL – WE COULD BE HEROES

Written by Margaret Finnegan

Publication Date: 2/25/20 from Atheneum

 

we could be heroes book cvr

We love people who share! If you want to help spread the cover reveal ❤, please link

 back to this page so that others can enter our exclusive We Can Be Heroes giveaway.

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We’re thrilled to share this exciting first look at the cover of Margaret Finnegan’s debut middle grade novel, We Could Be Heroes. We’re also delighted to offer an exclusive giveaway for a chance to win an autographed bound manuscript. Please see details below.

What I Love About The Cover:

After the cool title (who doesn’t love this Bowie song?) pulled me in, I found the cover’s rich color combination very appealing. And then there’s the boy, the girl and the dog—I’m curious where they are, how they are connected to one another and what point/scene in the book this particular illustration represents—so I asked Margaret. She said she didn’t want to give away too much, but did offer this: “In the cover, fourth graders Hank, Maisie and sweet pitbull Booler look down over their hometown of Meadowlark, Montana.” By the way, if you’re wondering who created the fabulous cover illustration, that would be artist Alexandra Bye.

About the Book:

When Hank Hudson accidentally sets his school on fire, Maisie Huang thinks she has finally found someone brave enough to help her rescue a neglected dog named Booler.

Together, the two outsiders will create a friendship born of difference, imagination, and a commitment to being the heroes of not only Booler’s story, but their own.

Release date 2/25/20 from Atheneum.
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Author Margaret Finnegan

Margaret Finnegan ©2019 Skye Moorhead

About the Author:

Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun, LA Times, Salon and other publications. When she is not writing she teaches writing to students at Cal State LA. And when she is not doing either of those things she is probably watching movies with her family, walking her new puppy, Walt, or baking really good chocolate cakes.

Keep Up With The Author:

Follow Margaret to be sure you’re first to know when WE COULD BE HEROES is available to pre-order in addition to other updates. In the meantime, be sure to add her novel to your Goodreads TBR list.

Author website: www.margaretfinnegan.com
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What a privilege it’s been, Margaret, to offer readers this chance to see your beautiful cover out in the kidlitosphere on Good Reads With Ronna. I can’t wait to get to know Hank and Maisie better!
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Exclusive Giveaway!

Margaret is excited to be able to offer one winner a signed and bound copy of her WE COULD BE HEROES manuscript courtesy of Atheneum! To enter this giveaway please leave a comment on this post. Get a bonus entry for following the blog @goodreadsronna on Twitter. Receive another bonus entry for following Margaret on Twitter as detailed above and then please be sure to let us know you have by mentioning that in your comment. NOTE: (Comments appear once moderated by GRWR.) This unique giveaway opportunity (for U.S.residents only) will end at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, June 27. The winner will be announced via Twitter on June 28. Good luck and thanks for stopping by the blog to celebrate Margaret’s cover reveal!

 

 

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Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

MUDDY: THE STORY OF BLUES LEGEND MUDDY WATERS
Written by Michael Mahin
Illustrated by Evan Turk
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters book cover

 

Don’t miss the biography of the man and his music in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters.

The story of blues legend Muddy Waters is told in prose which reads like one of his songs, filled with both sweetness and longing. Author Michael Mahin does a fine job of recreating for a young reader the life of Muddy Waters from his childhood days to one of the high points of his career, the creation of his first album.

All along the way through the book, beside those sweet and longing words of the author, are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away. They look like the blues! They look like Muddy Water’s story and some of his soul. Strong lines paint the bold story of the legend, and color reaches out to convey the emotion that Muddy was going through at different times in his life. Truly these are some of the most unique illustrations to appear in a picture book. The people in Muddy’s life reach high in church, bow low over a harmonica, every movement is full of energy. Muddy’s grandmother appears as a larger than life character. She takes up so much room in one memorable two-page spread that one cannot escape the dominant presence she must have had in Muddy’s life. There is some kind of motion everywhere, in the playing of music, in the form of Muddy’s grandmother as she hangs her laundry while dancing to Muddy’s music, and in the movement of Muddy himself as he plays and sings.

 

Int art from Muddy by Michael Mahin with art by Evan Turk

Interior spread from Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin with illustrations by Evan Turk, Atheneum BYR ©2017.

 

The often repeated words, “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” tell the story of a man who would not be dictated to by any boss but himself, and who successfully turned that persistence into a sound that the music world had never heard before, a precursor to rock and roll.  This is a story that shows a child that sometimes staying true to yourself is one of the hardest battles, but ultimately one of the best. Muddy never gave up on his music the way he heard it, never listening to naysayers. All of us have something like that call in our lives. Muddy teaches us through his experiences to listen to that call, be true to it and to never stop believing that one day it will enable each of us to add a new sound to the world. One passage accompanied by a striking depiction of Muddy singing reads like music:

He called up the sticky heat of a summer

night, the power of love, and the need

for connection in a world that was

so good at pulling people apart.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters is an incredibly powerful picture book in every respect and is highly recommended. At the bookstore where I work, this is a staff favorite because we all agree that it is one of the most extraordinary picture books we have seen this year. Muddy is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend as well as an inspirational and evocative experience of art so well matched to the man and his blues that you can almost hear the music playing.

This hardcover picture book will be available September 5, 2017 but can be pre-ordered now.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

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Christmas Books Roundup Part Two

CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP
PART TWO
By Cathy Ballou Mealey & Ronna Mandel

ChristmasBooksRoundup

 

MerryMerryHollyHollyMerry Merry Holly Holly (Cork and Fuzz)
Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Lisa McCue
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Merry Merry Holly Holly is a simple and sweet feel good story to share this holiday season. Usually found in level readers, Cork and Fuzz have entertained children for 10 years, but for their anniversary they’re starring in their first picture book. Cork the muskrat “had a head full of thoughts,” while Fuzz the possum “seems to have a head full of air.” Cork felt there was something special about this particular snowy day, only he couldn’t quite put his finger (or paw) on why. Lying under the canopy of a tree (or bare branches in some cases) was the ideal “little piece of quiet” that Cork needed to figure things out so this tale unfolds as the two friends go in search of a good tree. Along the way Fuzz finds a bell he thinks is a stone providing the impetus for some Merry Merry Holly Holly singing, sure to tempt little ones to join in. It’s obvious that Cork and Fuzz, like Frog and Toad or George and Martha, have the most marvelous give and take friendship. When Cork discovers why he felt the day was so special, your child will undoubtedly agree. McCue’s artwork sparkles and brings these two endearing characters to life with every turn of the page.

TheNightBeforeChristmasThe Night Before Christmas
Written by Clement C. Moore
lllustrated by David Ercolini
(Orchard Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly. Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly.

A Homemade Together ChristmasAHomemadeTogetherChristmascvr
by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

A delightful family of rosy-cheeked pigs decide to make Christmas gifts for one another rather than buy them. While Luca’s parents and sister Rosie get busy creating their presents, the youngest pig struggles to execute his ideas. Then on Christmas Eve his efforts finally inspire a just-right gift for this sweetly non-commercial family tale.

TheNightTheLightsWentOutonChristmasThe Night The Lights Went Out on Christmas
Written by Ellis Paul
Illustrated by Scott Brundage
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

A bright, funny look at how one family’s Christmas light display grew over time until their entire neighborhood was bathed in a dazzling neon glow. Based on a song by the author (included as a download) the crazy accumulation of blazing doo-dads finally reveals that the ultimate holiday display was right over their heads all along.

TheGingerbreadManLooseatChristmasThe Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas
Written by Laura Murray
Illustrated by Mike Lowery 
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

The third book in the Gingerbread Man series finds the charming cookie champ teaming up with his class to deliver simple holiday cheer to community helpers throughout the town. Bouncy rhyme and a theme of gratitude and thoughtfulness make this playful spiced supercookie story a tasty holiday treat.

 

 

 

Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt!EnzoandtheChristmastreeHunt
Written by Garth Stein
Illustrated by R.W. Alley
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Garth Stein’s Enzo will likely steal your heart as he did mine. Told from this adorable dog’s point of view with humor and insight, the story takes readers to a Christmas tree farm where Enzo’s owner, little Zoë, is in search of the perfect tree. Zoë gets lost, there’s a case of mistaken identities and ultimately Enzo (with help from a Newfoundland), saves the day. All the while the perfect tree’s right smack in front of them! Alley’s illustrations in “pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, gouache and acrylics” convey just the right ambiance of a cold snowy evening settling in so be sure to grab a cup of cocoa before sitting down to read this one.

 

The Reindeer WishTheReindeerWishjpg.172x250_q85
Written by Lori Evert 
Photographed by Per Breiehagen
(Random House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The third title in this family’s beautifully photographed “Wish” series, the young heroine clad in gorgeous Nordic garb raises an abandoned baby reindeer with tenderness and love. As the caribou grows, so does their friendship, until he is invited to join Santa’s North Pole team. A magical, visual fantasy warm with imagination.

 

Miracle on 133rd Streetmiracle-on-133rd-street-9780689878879_lg
Written by Sonia Manzano
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Miracle on 133rd Street introduces us to Papa and son, both called José, who must try to find a pizza oven, likely the only thing big enough for Mami’s roast. As father and son head downstairs in their apartment building, we meet a diverse cast of characters bursting with personality. It’s Christmas Eve and we get a brief glimpse of all the tennants’ lives before the pair depart 133rd Street and cross “over the Bronx River to Regular Ray’s Pizza.” The joy in this story stems from the way Manzano brings all the neighbors together with such love and warmth on a cold, cold evening to share the roast together. Priceman’s illustrations have a Matisse-like quality that makes the scenes jump off the page and into your living room, very much the same way Manzano’s characters make you want to move into that very apartment building or at least be there on Christmas Eve to be a part of the community and infectious camaraderie.

 

JingleBellsAMagicalCutPaperEditionJingle Bells: A Magical Cut-Paper Edition 
Written by James Lord Pierpont
Illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat
(Candlewick Press, $19.99, Ages 4-8)

An elegant interpretation of another holiday class song, this luxurious book sets the familiar lyrics in lush silhouetted landscapes of snow and sleigh. Highly detailed, thick cut paper pages, gold embossing, and an amazing pop-up finale pages make this an ideal gift book for adults as well as children.

 

 

 

LittleElfieOneLittle Elfie One
Written by Pamela Jane
Illustrated by Jane Manning
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Take a trip up North to Santa territory in this charming and engaging picture book. Filled with rhymes that progress up to 10 starting with Little Elfie One, eager for Santa’s arrival in one more day. Also included are mice, gingerbread men, carolers, polar bears, snowmen, stars, Santa’s helpers, reindeer and kittens. Using the nursery rhyme “Over in the Meadow” as inspiration, Jane’s cheerful choice of language coupled with Manning’s upbeat watercolor and ink illustrations (love the snowmens’ caps!), make Little Elfie One a pleasure to read aloud. Bring the excitement of Christmas with this book today.

 

TheChristmasMiracleofJonathanToomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Written by Susan Wojciechowski
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 6-9)

The 20th anniversary edition of this lyrical tale reminds us of a gentle grouch who keeps a sad secret until tenderly nudged into a new life by a young widow and her son. Lynch’s breathtaking early American paintings pair perfectly with the deep emotions of Wojciecowski’s sentimental tale, resonating with warmth and hope.

 

 

 

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A Roundup of Counting Books

 

A ROUNDUP OF COOL & CLEVER COUNTING BOOKS
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

 

Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again!
by Kveta Pacovská
(Minedition; $29.99, Ages 3 and up)

Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild
Written by Katie Cotton
Illustrated by Stephen Walton
(Candlewick Press; $22.00, Ages 1 and up)

Counting Crows
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Helping teach little kids to count can be a fun though often repetitive task, but there are quite a few books out that can make the standard 123s more interesting.

Here are three very different approaches to the standard counting exercise.NumberCircuscvr

Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again by Kveta Pacovská is a number activity book for little ones. On each page the number is given in many different formats, for example: 2, two, OO (2 circles to touch), (an illustration in the shape of 2), and often a flap with the number of objects as well. It has bright, bold colors and a play-with-me feel so that young children will enjoy running their little fingers over the numbers and counting the objects (not to mention opening the flap). It’s got 28 pages and is die cut throughout, definitely making this a great book for tactile learning of the number names and formation of writing each number digit.

Counting Lions: Portraits From the Wild CountingLionscvrby Katie Cotton is a beautiful book! It is worth every page turn just to see Stephen Walton’s gorgeous charcoal drawings of these majestic animals, but endangered animals. It takes a traditional approach of going through numbers 1-10, but the little bits of informative text along with the beautiful, realistic illustrations are wonderful. My almost three year-old loved the drawings as well as counting the various animals including lions, elephants, giraffes, pandas, tigers, chimpanzees, penguins, turtles, macaws, and zebras. I also found the extra back-matter about the animals and their extinction level very interesting. I highly recommend this book!

CountingCrowscvrCounting Crows by Kathi Appelt goes from 1-12. This picture book’s got a fun, rhythmic text that groups the crows into threes, making it a nice read and highly enjoyable for young ones. The dust jacket cover was also a hit because it has textures–fuzzy, soft stripes on the crows’ sweaters, a slightly raised and coarse feel for the tree, and a smooth and silky feel for the scarf and title letters. The black and white illustrations go well with the pop of red from the crows’ sweaters. Definitely worth several readings to teach counting!

It’s great to read so many neat approaches to teaching math and numeracy. I can’t wait to see what other math related books come out next!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch
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What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez
Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

what-about-mooseint.jpg

Tonight I attended a book launch by Los Angeles illustrator, Keika Yamaguchi, at the Casa Verdugo branch of the Glendale Public Library. I not only learned about her illustration process to create the artwork for What About Moose?, but I also got to watch the reactions of dozens of children in attendance. By their response, I knew the books would fly off the shelves. 

what-about-mooseint.jpg

Interior Artwork from What About Moose? Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, Atheneum BYR ©2015.

This recommended-for-read-aloud rhyming picture book introduces youngsters to Moose, Fox, Bear, Skunk, Frog, and Porcupine who intend to build a treehouse together, through teamwork. Moose, however, has other ideas and proclaims himself foreman. As he issues order upon order, Moose’s behavior does not endear him to his friends. In spite of this, there is humor to be found on every page both in the rhymes and illustrations. Kids’ll eat up the fact that Moose has taken to giving his “commands from a big megaphone.” His bossiness will not be lost on children as they sense the tension building between Moose and his pals as every so often one of them asks, “But what about you, Moose?” Soon your child will be asking the very same thing, quite eager to see how Moose will respond. In fact, he’s so busy ordering his friends around that he neglects to notice the treehouse built around him. It’s only once the roof is put on that Moose realizes the door is too tiny for him to fit through!!

what-about-mooseint.jpg

Interior Artwork from What About Moose? Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, Atheneum BYR ©2015.

Luckily for Moose, his friends are a caring bunch. They hatch a plan to help him get out of the house safely because how long can the animals bear to listen to Moose’s complaints as he “groaned and he grumbled. ‘It’s squishing my butt,'” to which Fox replies, “We’ll help you … if you keep your mouth shut!” That line, incidentally is one of my favorites although far from being the only one!

The constructive ending is more than satisfactory and will give parents an opportunity to talk about the benefits of teamwork. The illustrations are adorable and, though Moose was by far the favorite character judging by hands raised when that question was posed to the attendees, Bear was a close second. I must add that in Yamaguchi’s talk this evening she explained to the audience that she had to do a lot of research on how to build a tree house before she could approach the illustrations. Well, it appears she’s learned how!


– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Noggin by John Corey Whaley is reviewed by Mary Malhotra.

☆starred reviews – Publisher’s Weekly & Booklist

John Corey Whaley’s debut novel won the Printz and William Morris prizes in 2012. His latest YA novel, Noggin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2014, $17.99, Ages 14 and up), is a worthy follow up, with unique and lovable characters put into a situation that is intriguing, heartbreaking, and a little creepy.

Noggin is about a boy named Travis Coates who has just experienced a medical miracle. noggin-cvr.jpg Travis volunteered. He didn’t think it would work, and if it did, he didn’t think he’d come back for at least a hundred years, when everyone he knew and loved would be gone. It would be sad and lonely at first, but uncomplicated. Instead, just five years after ending his battle with leukemia by having his head cryogenically frozen, Travis finds himself in a hospital bed, alive and adjusting not only to the transplantation of a healthy body onto his old head, but also to the changes in his world.

In a way, the book picks up where John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars leaves off. Travis and the people who love him have experienced all the challenges and pain of losing a teenager to cancer. Travis wants to re-wind to before he got sick, physically and emotionally still sixteen and in high school, but the people he left behind — his parents, his girlfriend Cate, and Travis and Cate’s best friend Kyle — have gone through five years of letting go, growing up, and moving on, with varying degrees of success. Going to school (where the only thing that hasn’t changed is the presence of a hated math teacher) is difficult for Travis, but it’s even harder trying to reconnect with Kyle and Cate. Kyle has an awkward secret, and Cate avoids Travis entirely, which is not surprising considering she’s now engaged to someone else.

Noggin explores some hefty questions while somehow keeping a light and funny tone throughout. Flashbacks fill in the life old Travis had before he lost his head. New Travis deals with being a celebrity (or maybe a freak?), even at school where his only friend is a quirky, funny, and absolutely dependable kid named Hatton. Meanwhile, Travis thinks about the secret Kyle told him when he was dying. Should he let Kyle keep pretending it never happened? Travis wonders about the life and death of the boy whose body he is using and forms a support group of two with the only other surviving cryogenic regeneration patient.

But the Travis/Cate dilemma is the heart of the story. He wants her back. If love and loyalty are meant to be forever, is it healthy and normal to move on when your soulmate dies (sort of)? Or is it a betrayal? If Travis truly loves Cate, should he work to win her back, or stay out of the way of her newfound happiness?

I highly recommend this book. I immediately connected with Travis, and found myself wondering how my world might change if I checked out for five years. The Travis/Cate problem is one I love to hate — I don’t know how I would face it in real life! Most of all I appreciate Whaley’s realistic and hopeful take on how we manage to keep on living after experiencing loss.

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Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio gaston-9781442451025_lg and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Two little pups, as cute as can be, discover that family comes first, even when you must struggle to find your place in the litter. Kelly DiPucchio’s adorable GASTON (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 4-8), doesn’t look like his poodle sisters Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo and Ooh-La-La but he works hard to master mama’s lessons in sipping, yipping and walking with grace. During a stroll through the park, Gaston encounters Antoinette, who doesn’t quite fit in with her rough-and-tumble bulldog brothers Rocky, Ricky and Bruno. Trading places makes the canine families look right, but they just don’t feel right. Can the mixed-up pups reconcile how they appear with who they really are?

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Interior spread from Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, © 2014.

DiPucchio’s clever, zippy text makes this a delightful book about families, belonging, and being true to oneself. The silly names and playful phrases (nibble their kibble/proper or precious or pink) will guarantee giggles through multiple readings. Robinson’s delightful acrylic illustrations capture the bouncy theme perfectly, wrapping the text around the energetic action of the pups and enhancing their distinctive personalities. Springy greens, mustard yellows, and mauve taupes give a retro feel to a fresh and fun story.

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Interior spread from Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, © 2014.

GASTON received a starred review from Kirkus, which proclaimed it “A perfect read aloud that will leave them begging for more—an absolute delight.” I couldn’t agree more. Whether tough or tender, precious or brutish, young book lovers will fall head over heels for the charm of Gaston.

 

 –       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Not Always What They Seem

Debbie Glade reviews two little books by Jim Averbeck that teach us that things are not always what they seem…

EIExcept If  ($12.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages 2 and up) is an extremely creative little book (with a big idea) that begins with a simple egg. Will it become a baby bird? Perhaps, except if it becomes a baby snake, or perhaps something else. Author Jim Averbeck taps into the youngest readers’ imaginations and shows them that things are not always what they seem.

What I like about this story is that it opens up the youngest readers’ minds to different possibilities – a lesson they can utilize in many aspects of their lives. Also the big, colorful, illustrations are delightful and will put smiles from ear to ear on every reader’s face.

Oh No, Little Dragon($14.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages 2 and up) is a ONLDstory with a theme all children can relate to. Meet Little Dragon who, after taking a bath, can no longer breathe fire. No matter how hard he tries, he just cannot make fire come out of his mouth. Without fire, Little Dragon fears his mommy will no longer love him.  Hasn’t everyone experienced that fear at one time or another? In this toddler tale, as in Except If, things are not always what they seem. Here Little Dragon learns that no matter what mischief he may make, his mommy’s love will last come what may.

This picture book is ultra charming, colorful, captivating and has a heartwarming message, too. The simple illustrations are just as enchanting as the story, and in the end I found myself reading it again. And so will you!

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