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Curl Up With A Cat

Reviewer Ronna Mandel’s face lit up after reading Up Cat by Hazel Hutchins with art by Fanny.

I love animals. All things cat, dog, bear and bunny interest me so naturally I gravitated towards Up Cat ($6.95, Annick Press/Firefly Books, ages 2-5) when it arrived at my doorstep earlier this year.

This charming board book, and its companion, Up Dog, are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers ready to learn new words and grasp new expressions. From the onset, little ones will be in for a treat when they meet the darling little gray feline and follow just what he gets UP to during the day. Whether it’s watching him wake up, hearing him speak up, seeing him tear and rip up, and make a pretty big mess, the activity never ends. Nor will the giggles.

The artwork is bright and cheerful. Fanny’s style is simple yet says so much that children will absolutely adore the cat and all his antics, naughty or not.  I’m betting there’ll be some serious snuggle time after a read through and like kitty, you might just want to “cover up, curl up and soak up the sun.”

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Just How Far Can a Little Girl Dream?

Ronna Mandel reviews Isabella, Girl On The Go

Let’s take a trip around the world and, best of all, no passports or visas are required. Join Isabella, a spunky young girl now starring in the second book of her series; Isabella: Girl On The Go ($16.99,  Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, ages  4 and up) by Jennifer Fosberry with pictures by Mike Litwin.

Kids first met Isabella in My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?, a New York Times‘ bestseller and now Fosberry’s decided to travel the globe letting Isabella’s imagination soar across oceans and continents.  We don’t need a boat or a plane, just an imagination like Isabella’s.  Her playful spirit kicks into overdrive as she keeps her dad company in the backyard. Her sandbox and surroundings are soon the Sphinx in Egypt where she’s an archaeologist searching for “the tombs of a king.”  She leaves behind pyramids for Paris to paint a picture of the Eiffel Tower and continues her journey to take in an empire (in China) and “the longest, strongest wall.”  Take Fosberry’s super story and mix in the wonderfully whimsical artwork from Litwin and you’ve got your ticket to ride.

What I like most about Isabella is her ability to turn a garden into a glorious city like Paris or anywhere else in the world for that matter!  All it takes is a dream, a supportive parent, the comforts of home and lots, and lots of love.

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An Interview With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Legendary Sports Figure Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Left to right: Ronna Mandel, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ronna's son Coleman.

“I can do more than stuff a ball through a hoop; My greatest asset is my mind.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I watched as one of America’s most beloved and celebrated athletes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, ducked his head under an archway and walked into the office where we met. He was coming to talk about his new children’s book What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African American Inventors, co-written with Raymond Obstfeld and illustrated by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford. The packed house he spoke to following our interview only served to cement my impression that Abdul-Jabbar, newly named U.S. Cultural Ambassador, is a popular force of good not only here in the states, but internationally as well. In minority communities, Abdul-Jabbar’s aim is to drive the point home about the power of an education. I have no doubt he’ll throw a skyhook on this shot.


It’s unusual for such a prominent sports figure to celebrate the prowess of a great mind versus that of a top athlete. Did you know any inventors as a kid?

No, I didn’t. For too many minority communities, their kids grow up thinking that the only way they can be successful is in the realm of sports or entertainment. Everything else is not even presented to them as a possibility. I wanted to have an effect on that situation. By doing this book and pointing out heroes and people who had to overcome a lot to get things done with their minds, I think that’s clearly opening up some windows for these kids to look out of and to see what’s possible.

What Color is My World teams 13-year-old twins Herbie and Ella with a very knowledgeable yet mysterious handyman to introduce kids to unsung black inventors. Did you want this to be a story about overcoming obstacles?

Yes. Because minority kids are not expected to reach certain heights. Talk to a young black kid that lives on the south side of Chicago, or Bedford Stuyvesant, and ask them who their heroes are. They’ll say, LeBron James or Jay-Z. I feel the need to affect that situation and give kids in minority communities an idea that they can achieve in areas they are not thinking about right now. The people I emphasize in this book are scientists and engineers.

You use Sir Isaac Newton’s quote “standing on the shoulders of giants” to inspire kids about building upon old ideas. How did you come up with this? 

Well, I read all the time. I came across it once and it just stayed with me, and I definitely got it. [Kids should] take other ideas that they can understand and apply them to new situations or find new uses for them.

What other factors prompted you to write this book?

The person I most admire is Lewis Latimer who I devoted an entire chapter to in my black history book. Doing that research I found out about other 19th century black inventors. Like Dr. Charles Drew. He came up with the idea of  blood banks, and spawned new discoveries that have saved millions of lives and made it possible for doctors to build on … people don’t really get how important those discoveries were.

When they were growing up, did you challenge your children?

I challenged my children to do whatever their education and their hearts told them to do. So I’ve only had one of my kids that played basketball, my older son. My middle son is just a couple months away from becoming a doctor. He’s going to be an orthopedic surgeon. Both my daughters, the fields they got into were literature. I did not try to coax them in any direction.

If you did not play basketball for a living what else would you have done? 

I probably would have ended up as a history teacher or if I hadn’t gone into teaching, maybe law or something like that.

What would you say to a child, your own children even, to encourage their individual potential in this ever-changing world?

I would just tell them that they have to do well in school They acquire things there they cannot get anywhere else. The only thing I made my kids do was learn the martial arts.

I think this book will resonate with many kids, especially those who perhaps have more brains than brawn.

There’s so much pressure on children in schools and in schoolyards. We can’t all be great athletes. In black communities kids that get good grades get beaten up. They get singled out. The kids who are not good academically resent them, resent the teachers’ pets. I was just lucky that I had size and that my dad taught me how to box. I got good grades and I was a good athlete, which was kind of unusual, so I got left alone.

Visit Abdul-Jabbar’s official website at for up-to-date information.

WHAT COLOR IS MY WORLD? THE LOST HISTORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN INVENTORS. Text copyright © 2011 by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Interview by Ronna Mandel


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Too Shy For Show-and-Tell

Sam is a young, shy giraffe who loves trucks, dogs, and chocolate cake, but none of his classmates know this about Sam. In Beth Bracken’s Too Shy for Show-and-Tell, ($22.65, Picture Window Books, Little Boost series, ages 4 and up) Sam’s fear of speaking in front of his classmates makes him feign illness to try and get out of going to school on Show-and-Tell day. But, Sam’s mom sends him to school despite the real butterflies knotting up poor Sam’s stomach. When his classmates begin presenting their show-and-tell items, Sam notices that everyone gets applause. Even Otto, who says “weaf” instead of “leaf” gets applause from his peers. When it is Sam’s turn, he summons his courage and shares a little bit about himself with his classmates for the first time, and everyone claps.

Too Shy for Show-and-Tell is a perfect read for a child who struggles with shyness or anxiety about speaking at, or even attending school.  Jennifer Bell’s illustrations movingly depict sweet, but shy, Sam who wants nothing more than for his classmates to know him. Coupled with Bracken’s well-written story about overcoming one’s greatest fear, Bell’s softly sketched portrayals of Sam’s facial expressions and body language show just how much his shyness affects him. The story has heart and purpose and would be an excellent addition to any collection.

Reviewer Karen B. Estrada has 9 years of experience as an English educator teaching students ranging from 6th grade to adult learners. She got her start teaching as a participant of the JET Program, during which she spent 3 years living and teaching in a rural Japanese town of 5000 people.  Since then, Karen has continued to teach English and Writing Skills at various levels in diverse settings such as Harlem, New York City, suburban New Jersey, and semi-rural Maryland. She holds a BA in English from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and an MA in Teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University. Karen is currently taking a short break from teaching as she awaits the arrival of her first child due in late April.

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As Far as Your Imagination Will Take You

Pretend ($15.99, Philomel/Penguin Group USA, ages 3 and up) is a book that shows children their adventures are limited only by their imaginations.  Author/illustrator, Jennifer Plecas, tells the story of a boy who plays “pretend” with his dad, and together they embark upon a great ocean and island adventure. I enjoyed this book because it encourages creativity and lays a good foundation for teaching kids about the process of coming up with ideas to write stories – something they will have to do throughout their educational years. The illustrations are colorful and cute, and I like the playful font too. Simply said, it’s a cute book, and it will likely inspire your little ones to come up with wild, new  adventure stories of their own. So get on board parents and give the gift of imagination to your children by reading to them then watch as their ideas flourish.

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Life is a Garden

If you thought it was no longer possible to come across a totally original children’s book, then you haven’t read Grandpa Green ($16.99, Roaring Brook Press, ages 5 and up). The story is told through the voice of a great-grandson of a talented gardener. The gardener’s life unfolds through imagery of the many topiaries he created in his garden. From childhood experiences to war, marriage, children and old age, this is a most creative way to illustrate a man’s life.  You’ll find yourself looking at the pictures for a long time.

The book is written and illustrated by talented Caldecott Honor Medalist, Lane Smith (of bestselling It’s a Book fame). Grandparents everywhere will certainly enjoy reading this imaginative picture book to their grandchildren.

– Review by Debbie Glade

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Rainbows and Dots: Simple, Happy Things for Young Readers

The Rainbow Book ($9.99 Accord Publishing, *ages 6 and up) by Kate Ohrl is a beautiful, uncomplicated and unique book. Die cutouts of snowflake-like shapes feature different vivid colors of the rainbow, against a black background. The colors of bottom pages can be seen through the top pages, creating a lovely rainbow. One sentence on each page describes how each color “feels.” The book is designed to not only teach children about colors, but also stirs up their creativity. Simply said, The Rainbow Book makes me .

* Please note that this book is not recommended to children under 3 due to a potential choking hazard.

Dot ($14.99, Farrar, Straus Giroux/MacMillan Children’s Publishing, ages 3 and up) by Patricia Intriago is another simple, yet wonderful book that slightly brings to mind the prose of Dick and Jane. It’s basically all about dots, their emotions, senses and actions. There’s something to be said about the simplicity of this book. It’s cute and clever – perfect for those who are just learning to read.

Books reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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