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Children’s Book Review – Make More S’Mores

 

MAKE MORE S’MORES

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Ariel Landy

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Not only does this picture book have a yummy title,
but it’s recommended reading for National S’Mores Day
(well, any day really if you love a rhyming read-aloud).

 

Make_More_S'Mores_cover_raccoon_and_4_bears

 

Roscoe adores an irresistible, roasty, toasty s’more, and is just about to raccoon-down the one he’s cooked over “glowing coals,” when an uninvited grizzly bear shows up asking, “Is that for me?” What’s a hungry raccoon to do? Well, much to readers’ delight, Roscoe doesn’t hesitate to share in Make More S’Mores.

 

Make_More_S'mores_int1_Grizzly_grumbles

 

Now that our appetites have been whet, we’re treated to page after hilarious page of an upbeat rhyming tale that sees more unexpected visitors appear. Charming twin bear cubs to be exact. Of course, everyone cannot wait to eat the scrumptious s’mores Roscoe prepares over the campfire and so generously shares (the big takeaway from this terrific picture book).

It’s such fun to watch Grizzly Bear, clearly frustrated by the bear cubs’ presence. He’d be happier had no one else showed up. More snackers mean less for him and longer to wait!

 

Make_More_S'mores_int2_Ready_Roscoe_soon_declares

 

Roscoe, on the other hand, is preoccupied with catering to everyone else that he’s not had a bite! And when some crafty squirrels and soaring flames scupper his marshmallow roasting, it’s time to find a better stick.

Soon Mama Bear arrives on the scene and assists Roscoe to the delight of her twins and Roscoe. “Grizzly groans. ‘Another guest?’ But Roscoe does not seem distressed.” Poor Grizzly Bear! I love all the expressions Landy has given the animals. They run the gamut from disappointment to joy, from annoyance to contentedness. The lovely palette featuring sunset colors followed by rich blues and purples, all accented by Grizzly Bear’s graham cracker-colored fur is totally pleasing.

After the four VERY s’mored-up guests head to their dens, Roscoe snoozes in the hollow of a tree. A sweet and successful evening has come to a sleepy, s’moreful and snoreful end. What a satisfying, any-time-of-the-day story to share with your children. Roscoe’s modeling of sharing and making new friends is a rewarding one. One final note, look out for the squirrels’ antics in the closing spread. Happy eating and reading!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about Cathy here.
Find out more about Ariel here.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – A Bear, A Bee, and A Honey Tree

A BEAR, A BEE, AND A HONEY TREE

Written by Daniel Bernstrom

Illustrated by Brandon James Scott

(Hippo Park; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree cover bear gripping tree near angry bee

 

 

Daniel Bernstrom’s A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree, a rhythmic read-aloud that invites multiple reads, takes children on a journey with a hungry, fuzzy brown bear and a hive of angry bees.

The brown bear is first introduced yawning and stretching at the entrance to his cave, awakening from hibernation. Illustrator Brandon James Scott’s humorous and expressive digital art portrays the bear and his surroundings with glowing and warm woodsy colors. The illustrations, paired with Bernstrom’s engaging alliterative wordplay, motivated me to turn the page to spend more time with these characters.

 

A_Bear_a_Bee_a_Honey Tree int1 bee honey
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

The tree is filled with a honeycomb and lots and lots of busy worker honey bees doing what bees do best, passing the nectar to the house bee. Bernstrom’s words a bee, a busy bee, a honey bee next to the art visually showcase the bees focused on their work. That is until the brown fuzzy hungry bear discovers the gold and yellow bee hive up in the tree. And that’s where the playfulness of the words begins.

The bee eyes the brown bear who is staring up at the green foliage in the tree. The bee’s bulging black eyes and angry eyebrows show he is not happy when next he sees the bear’s bottom side hanging under those same leaves. The bear hangs from one branch and holds on to another while the bee’s angry eyes swirl around him. A busy bear and a busy bee. A cute little bird is intrigued watching the pair.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int2 hungry bear
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

When the bear’s paw is pushed into the hive, the bee is not happy. In fact, he is a very angry bee who lands on the bear’s nose, catching him with honey dripping from his lips. Bernstrom’s writing encourages each child to joyfully experience the words of the story.

The bear’s eyes are now the ones that bulge when the bee does what he needs to in protecting his honeycomb. The bee has brought in his colony. A million buzzing bees are drawn with angry faces swarming the bear who unwillingly succumbs by falling out of the tree. The hilarious chase ends at sundown when the bees return to their hive and somewhere a hungry bear returns to his cave.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int3 a fretful bee
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

This is a delightful picture book that, even with its spare text, teaches kids about bee and bear behavior with fun rhymes and rich, captivating illustrations that work together so well. Kids will ask to hear A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree over and over, a sure sign to keep the book close at hand.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – Bearnard Writes a Book

 

 

BEARNARD WRITES A BOOK

Written by Deborah Underwood

Illustrated by Misa Saburi

(Henry Holt & Co. BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Bearnard Writes a Book cover

 

 

Seeing just the title alone of Deborah Underwood’s latest picture book, Bearnard Writes a Book, of course, I knew I had to read it. After all, I write books too! Perhaps Bearnard would share some valuable information about how to go about this often overwhelming process.  And I was right.

Bearnard offers to write a story for his goose friend Gertie. He promptly gets a paper and pencil and sits down to think  . . .  and think  . . .  and think. Soon, there are crumpled-up pieces of paper lying at his feet from all his unsuccessful attempts. Gertie, of course, asks if the story is ready and Bearnard admits he doesn’t know how to write a story. She suggests maybe he needs some help which gives him the idea to ask the Queen of Storybook Land for assistance.

 

Bearnard Writes a Book int1
Interior spread from Bearnard Writes a Book written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Misa Saburi, Henry Holt & Co. BYR ©2022.

 

Off they go and when Bearnard and Gertie arrive at the Storybook Land gate, the sentry gives them a map to follow, the Ultimate Walking Guide for Storybook Land. First stop is the Library (get inspired by reading), followed by Character City (choose your characters), Setting Village (choose your setting) Problem Plaza (choose a problem for your character to have), and The Writers’ Room (write your story then rewrite it to make it even better). In this final location, Bearnard does succeed in writing a story  . . .  but it’s not a very exciting one. He decides to take a thinking walk around Storybook Land and when he does, new and exciting ideas come to him. Returning to the Writers’ Room, he revises the story and produces an exciting story, much to the joy of Gertie, who decides to try her hand at poetry since while she was in the library, she read some poems written by her great-great-great grandgoose in a book entitled Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. The final picture shows the two good friends writing away. What a sweet ending!   

Underwood simplifies the creative writing process—which is not simple as anyone who has attempted it knows—in an entertaining book. Misa Saburi’s colorful illustrations jump off the page with excitement, showing just how thrilling it can be to create one’s own story. The expressions are spot on in Bearnard’s face as he goes through each step in the writing process. And I loved that in all of the illustrations where Bearnard is working on his story he is doing so the old-fashioned way with pencil and lots of paper. Kudos for going back to the basics. No computers here!

 

Bearnard Writes a Book int1
Interior spread from Bearnard Writes a Book written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Misa Saburi, Henry Holt & Co. BYR ©2022.

 

This picture book would make an excellent classroom introduction for children just beginning to learn how to write stories and even though this picture book is targeted for ages 4–8, all writers, young or old, would enjoy the boost that this book gives. Budding authors rejoice, this one’s for you! And, if you enjoy this, be sure to check out the companion book by Deborah Underwood and Misa Saburi, Bearnard’s Book.

  • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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Deborah Marcero Presents Ursa’s Light

URSA’S LIGHT
Written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero
(Peter Pauper Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

cover image from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero

★ Starred Review – Booklist

 

As a preschool teacher, it is not lost on me when a child has a BIG idea, but may need some help executing the plan. Ursa’s Light, the debut picture book by author and illustrator Deborah Marcero, is about a young bear, Ursa, who has BIG ideas that often leave her peers and parents scratching their heads in wonder.

Ursa the bear knows that she is meant to FLY. She studies animals and planes in flight, intent on finding a solution, often encouraged by her baby brother. Just when she is about to give up, we discover that she was indeed meant to fly, but there is more than one way to SOAR.

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero
Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

One of my favorite moments in the story is when Ursa’s failed attempts at flying make her doubt herself, and her baby brother is wearing a shirt that reads ‘believe.’ What a beautiful moment, and something I strive to teach my kids, when one of us is down, someone else can help lift us UP.

What is so brilliant about Ursa the bear, is that she isn’t attempting to outshine anyone; instead, she is allowing her unique inner light to pour out, inspiring not only her baby brother, but everyone around her.

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero
Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

I fell in love with the energy and emotion of the illustrations which Marcero’s website describes best here: “When the pencil is done… I ink the lines in and add color with all the media I had used all along : woodblock cuts, watercolor, gouache, ink wash, etc. But instead of meshing everything together on paper with scissors and glue, I taught myself how to collage them in Photoshop. Ursa’s face is that same woodblock cut as my very first piece above, and all the textures and colors I integrate are things that I come up with using brushes and inks and watercolors on my drawing table.” I hope it’s obvious how much I adore this book and can’t wait to bring in Ursa’s Light for my preschoolers! I have a feeling they are going to want me to help them fly too!

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero
Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant, our newest reviewer. To learn more about Ozma, please click here.

 

 

 

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Kuma-Kuma Chan by Kazue Takahashi

Beloved Japanese Children’s Book
Makes Its English Debut

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi
(Museyon Press, 2014; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”

Kuma-Kuma-Chan-cvr.jpgJapanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.

Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.

Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.

Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.

A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.

Visit  Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.

Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.

May you always have fun and do well.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki

BREAKING NEWS: BEAR ALERT

 

BreakingNewsBearAlert book coverYou don’t have to wait long to find the action in Breaking News: Bear Alert, written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2014; $17.95, Ages 4-8). It starts on the front cover.

A boy and his teddy bear are watching Our Furry Planet on television. When the host of the show accidentally awakens two hibernating bears, a breaking news report shows up on the screen. Soon the bears are having a grand time, catching a ride on a truck, eating porridge at Teddy’s Diner, and having their turn in a photo booth outside of Bare Necessities Food Mart. Their escapades are caught by the sky cam, but the bears manage to elude the police and animal control officers. While the authorities are preoccupied with the bears’ shenanigans, two sticky-fingered criminals are up to no good. When the crooks rob Paddington’s department store, they’re caught on sky cam. They might have pulled off their caper had they not run right into the bears and their ice cream cones.

BREAKING NEWS Bears nab burglars. Skycam 3 shows police closing in to make the arrest.

The bears get a heroes’ sendoff and go back to their den to hibernate.

What an original and funny story idea! Breaking News: Bear Alert is so cleverly told (don’t you just love the names of the stores?!), and Biedrzycki’s illustrations, done in Adobe Photoshop, made me feel as if I were watching a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This is a picture book that is sure to grab, and keep, the attention of even the most reluctant reader. In other words, there’ll be no hibernating in your home with this book around.

Read an interview with the author/illustrator, David Biedrzycki here.

  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
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Forever by Emma Dodd

Forever, by Emma Dodd (Templar/Candlewick Press, $12.99, Ages 2-5) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Emma Dodd's FOREVER
Add Forever by Emma Dodd to your holiday gift list! From Templar/Candlewick Press, 2013.

Perfect for reading and snuggling at bedtime, this is a sweet and simple book for parent and child to share and enjoy. In a vast white Arctic wilderness, this engaging bear pair plays, cuddles, swims and sleeps side by side.  The quiet, comforting text assures little bear that his parent will always be there to encourage, reassure, and guide him.  Spare but captivating prose perfectly carries the story forward through the book.

The illustrations are both muted and show-stopping, so lovely that you must pause and appreciate the scale and setting on each page. We see the bears close and cuddling, but also venturing through their snowy home beneath the Northern Lights, under swirling snowflakes, or paddling through a brilliant silver sea. Foil softly enhances the scenes as sparkling stars, moon, snow and water, adding an extra dimension of depth and interest.

Artwork from Forever by Emma Dodd, copyright 2013
Interior artwork from Forever by Emma Dodd, copyright 2013, Templar/Candlewick Press.

The sweet-faced little cub absorbs the calm and steady wisdom of his parent throughout the tale, whether happy, blue, worried or hopeful.  Ending with the enduring promise that (“No matter what may come as we journey on together…know that deep within my heart, I will love you…forever.”) this tale will be a warm and lovely bedtime favorite.

– 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.  Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Hanukkah Picture Book Roundup

The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Ends Tonight

I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Bear cover art by Mike Wohnoutka
Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.

According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.

I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.

Click here for a Hanukkah Bear maze activity.

Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah artwork by Julie Fortenberry
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family.  The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah.  The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that  makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.

 

Eight is Great artwork by Hideko Takahashi
Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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