THE NIGHT FLOWER: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus By Lara Hawthorne (Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
The Sonoran desert is busy with all sorts of activity. Lara Hawthorne’s 32-page nonfiction picture book, The Night Flower: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus invites the reader to explore this lively world. The book’s rhyming lines are upbeat and evocative: “Around the saguaro, in the shining moonlight, the desert is festive and thriving tonight.”
Facts bookend the text, deepening a reader’s understanding about the wonderful saguaro cactus’s spectacular bloom which occurs only one night each year. “During this short period, their strong scent and brilliant white petals attract rare pollinators, including bats, moths, and doves.” For a few hours in the morning, the pollen’s shared with day creatures such as birds and bees.
Kids will like the “Did you spot . . .?” section at the end which encourages them to connect the descriptions of ten animals back to the story. The colorfully illustrated saguaro life cycle and glossary are in kid-friendly language to engage even the youngest child. I enjoyed the fresh perspective on animals such as the grasshopper mouse, a “fierce, furry hunter” which is “known to stand on its hind legs and howl at night.”
Hawthorne’s watercolor images introduce whimsy and beauty. This glimpse at something rare is educational and fun. I may have missed the saguaro’s amazing bloom, but, if our travels take us to the desert, I’ll keep a lookout for the gorgeous rainbow grasshopper.
A Unicorn Named Sparkle’s First Christmas, Amy Young’s third book in this funny series, doesn’t disappoint. Cutie pie Sparkle continues to delight readers with silly antics offset by his true friendship with the little girl who loves him.
Lucy—perhaps like someone you know—believes the best thing about Christmas is “Lots and lots of PRESENTS!” And, of course, who better to give great presents than your BFF? However, even with Lucy’s insistent reminders, Sparkle doesn’t quite grasp the concept. It is, after all, his first Christmas.
Young’s illustrations capture the exciting buildup of holiday madness (cookies, ice skating, the mall) and, of course, a crazy-messy wonderful house. If you enjoy playful underscored by heartfelt friendship, this book’s for you.
This beautiful, extra-large, 12-page board book’s sparkling art invites readers to journey into wintery landscapes. Each scene has several lift-the-flap opportunities for little hands to discover hidden wonders.
Written in rhyme, the story takes the reader through a day in the forest. First, the little Christmas tree awakens to find the woods have turned from green to white. Creatures explore until the sky clouds over and snowflakes fall once more.
Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s digital illustrations in Little Christmas Treeconvey the best of snowy weather. Brightly colored berries and animals contrast well with the forest’s earth tones. Silver foil accents add a lovely effect. Young readers will delight in revisiting these tranquil sceneries.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE ELLIOT Written and illustrated by Mike Curato (Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
Merry Christmas, Little Elliotis a lovely addition to the seasonal standards with its fresh look at a familiar theme. You may know Little Elliot (an elephant with pastel spots) from previous books. In this holiday adventure, Elliot isn’t excited because he doesn’t have Christmas spirit.
So he sets off with Mouse to try and find this elusive thing. None of the typical wonders (The Nutcracker ballet, a spectacular tree, or sledding) incite Elliot until a mysterious envelope leads the two friends to discover what this time of year truly means.
Mike Curato’s classic art enhances and amplifies the story line. The beautiful book has an old-fashioned feel with a timeless message. Santa tells Elliot that he can’t give him the Christmas spirit, “You have to find that yourself.”
Be sure to look under the picture book’s dust jacket for a clever alternate cover image.
The above three books were reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
I’ll be honest. Pookie can do no wrong by me. Sandra Boynton is a personal fave so I’m biased when it comes to her books as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows.
On Christmas Eve, little Pookie pig is ready for a walk in the snow with Mama. When noses get frozen, it’s time to head inside because “There are garlands to make and lights to turn on and cookies to bake.” Family and friends will soon be arriving and Christmas songs will be sung. Boynton’s 18-page rhyming board board is festive and endearing and features all the trademark cuteness that make this a wonderful addition to the beloved go-to series. With eight books available, there’s definitely a great selection to keep your youngest ones entertained. And now, with Merry Christmas, Little Pookiein the mix, children can easily spend all year with Little Pookie!
Be careful what you wish for is what I kept thinking as I read The Broken Ornament, a touching picture book about empathy, thoughtfulness and self-reliance. As the story opens “Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever.” When that means adding more ornaments on the tree, Jack’s mother warns him about the one he intends to hang. It shatters and his mom hastily retreats upstairs followed by his dad with a box of tissues. Clearly that ornament was meaningful to his mom. It’s only when a fairy named Tinsel emerges from the ornament shards that Jack gets the over-the-top Christmas experience he longed for. But something was missing. Was there a way to replace the broken ornament? Tinsel helps Jack learn the story behind the ornament’s importance and explains that only Jack has the power to come up with a solution. Once Jack puts his mind to it, he figures out a beautiful way to show his remorse over his action that, while not bringing back the old ornament, helps everyone have a joyful Christmas after all. Sometimes there’s magic in the small things. I absolutely loved DiTerlizzi’s spread of Tinsel’s magical creatures (Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer, nutcrackers) gathered in the snow outside the living room window looking in at the happy family. Santa’s got a spotlight on him as he holds a glowing Tinsel in his hand. Young readers will be thrilled to witness the positive outcome along with the Christmas cast of characters. Buy local and treat yourself to this beautiful book to share with your family this holiday season.
The above two books were reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Please click here for Part One of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup. Please click herefor Part Two of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup.
As a preschool teacher, I could not stop myself from becoming more excited with each page turn knowing that this excellent book is not only for fun and entertainment purposes, but it also provides the ideal opportunity for learning in a colorful and unique way. Each page features a number of colorful animals doing different activities while inviting the reader to join in a search-and-find mission by asking questions like, “Who is sleeping?” or Who is swimming backwards?” or “Who just went fishing?” etc. I can already imagine my students gleefully pretending to be each animal presented. Kids will find they can identify individually with any number of specific animals in the groups depicted.
A Pandemonium of Parrots is the perfect precursor to a zoo field trip or story time on any day of the week when your child is looking for a book about their favorite creatures. The helpful back-matter includes incredible facts about each type of animal group such as the fact that some beetles are strong enough to snap a pencil! Youngsters will not be disappointed with this fresh and interesting take on animal groups with illustrations by Hui Skipp that are richly colored, captivating and full of life.
Check out A Pandemonium of Parrots and enjoy the pretend play it is sure to inspire.
WALK THIS WORLD AT CHRISTMASTIME Written by Big Picture Press Illustrated by Debbie Powell (Big Picture Press; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
Walk This World at Christmastime, a twenty-four-page picture book, is an interesting and unusual addition to your holiday books. Set up as an advent calendar, the relatively sturdy lift-the-flap windows numbering one through twenty-five reveal images and accompanying text. Each page has additional flaps for curious fingers to discover, bringing the total of interactive windows to more than seventy. The left-hand page contains a four-line loosely rhyming poem and the concluding line “Where am I?” Beautiful background illustrations and clues beneath the flaps help readers solve this question (the answer is provided on the right-hand page).
A younger child will enjoy the many tactile experiences and the colorful, abundant pictures. Older kids will gain a deeper understanding of how different cultures celebrate Christmas around the world, learning our similarities such as “Candles at Christmas are a symbol of the triumph of light over darkness.” New ways to celebrate will be discovered as well: “The Gävle goat is a giant Swedish Yule goat made from straw.” Diversity in religious practices are explained: “In Lalibela, Ethiopia, Christian pilgrims dressed in white robes flock to the beautiful rock churches.” Interspersed historical tidbits inform, for example, that the first advent calendar was made in Germany in 1851.
Many pages have fun food facts. “The Chinese give gifts of apples on Christmas Eve,” “Enjoy a Lebanese Christmas feat of kibbeh pie—made from minced meat and bulgur—along with tabbouleh and honey cake.”
Walk This World at Christmastime concludes with an easy-to-follow world map depicting the book’s journey. A dotted line connects the countries and continents, uniting our world through our holiday celebrations.
✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness
Turn off the TV, power down the devices, and take the children to the museum … simply by opening up this visually impressive book! Colorful, intricately drawn animal life forms, will instantly grab children’s attention.
Beginning with its oversize format and a bronze-colored admittance ticket, the book’s design was intended to create (or recreate) a museum visit. Turn the pages and step into the “museum.” At the “Entrance,” the “curators,” Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, welcome children and invite them to “See for yourself how the tree of life evolved from the simple sea sponge into the diverse array of animals found on Earth today (p.1).”
A breath-taking two page spread of the “Tree of Animal Life” follows. The curators explain that this unusual tree illustrates ” … how organisms that appear to be very different have … evolved from one another over millions of years … (p. 5).” Children (and adults) will find it fascinating to follow the branches up from the stem (Invertebrates) to see the development of, and interrelationships between, animal life forms. For example, a lungfish and a cockatoo once shared the Vertebrate branch. The curators note that the further away from the stem a species is, the more the species has evolved in order to survive.
As children continue turning pages, they enter individual “galleries” (or book chapters) which are ” … arranged by shared characteristics and in evolutionary order to show how the animal kingdom… (p.1) ” developed over eons of time into invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The curators encourage their young visitors to ” … look for characteristic similarities and read the text to find out more about how the animals are comparable. (p.1).” Each gallery also sports a “habitat diorama” where children can learn about the ecosystem that supports those animals and how they have adapted to life in that environment. In examining the Arctic Tundra, children will learn that many of the mammals there, such as the polar bear, are predatory carnivores, requiring the protein found in meat to help fuel the energy these animals need to keep warm.
Broom’s narrative is engaging and flows smoothly. While age appropriate, it is not simplistic nor condescending. Scientific vocabulary (cnidarian, amphibian, phylum) is used throughout the book with the meanings gracefully woven into the narrative.
Two page spreads feature general information and characteristics about a group of animals. A “Key to the plate” presents information specific to the animals found in the accompanying illustration, numbered like a field guide. Scott makes excellent use of the book’s oversized format with a stunning full-paged spread of the Emperor Penguins and a diagram of the Nile Crocodile’s skeleton. Other spreads, such as the European frog, cover the bottom halves of two pages. This enables Scott to effectively and sequentially depict the frog’s five stages of development from frogspawn to adult. Her intricate pen and ink drawings, digitally colored, are reminiscent of work done by artists and naturalists like John James Audubon.
Additional material in the book includes a preface by Dr. Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum of London, England stressing the importance of biodiversity and a “Library” of several online resources.
Check out Big Picture Press to see several images from the book and Candlewick Press for information on the author and the illustrator and to order your copy. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, too.
So visit a “museum” that never closes-and keep children engaged for many hours. Animalium is a highly recommended middle grade nonfiction book for home, schools, and public libraries plus there’s never an admission fee.
Your child can visit ten countries from the comfort of home. Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day is a large-sized, lift-the-flap (more than 80 of them!) book that presents splendid art and joyous prose. Children and parents will discover clues for each country and an adventure on each page. Can you spot flags, foods, animals, and landmarks? Who is hiding behind the window and door flaps? What are they up to?
The adventure begins in New York City and continues in France, Russia, Brazil, and India to name a few of the locations. Although the narrative is sparse, it provides descriptive information about the countries.
Sunny streets and tilting towers, a waiter stops to mop his brow. From the water, gondoliers greet me with a friendly, “Ciao!”
Teaming streets and bhangra beat, rhythm moves me side to side. Brilliant saris can’t outshine the vibrant smile of the bride.
The true feat in Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Day is the artwork, and that’s really what Big Picture Press is all about. There are dozens of details on each page: simple portrayals of everyday life that celebrate our planet. Walk This World: A Celebration of Life in a Dayis truly a celebration.