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There’s a New Kid in Town

9780375855801_p0_v1_s260x420 Bad Astrid ($15.99, Random House, Ages 3-7) by Eileen Brennan is a charming book for young readers about an age old problem – bullying.

Astrid is a bad girl dog who wreaks havoc when she moves into a new neighborhood. The story is told by another child dog (that looks a bit like a beagle) who finds herself in Astrid’s destructive path. Astrid destroys gardens, sprays water on chalk drawings and is just all around grumpy, nasty and mean. One day the beagle makes a great big Eiffel Tower out of Popsicle sticks, but Astrid crashes into it with her bike. Naturally the beagle’s first reaction is anger, but soon she is able to see Astrid for who she really is. What she does will warm your child’s heart.

The book is written in rhyming prose and is rather catchy and cute. I love the cartoon-like illustrations by Regan Dunnick as they really capture the emotions of the dogs. It’s the message of this book that makes it most special – behind every trouble maker is an individual with some good qualities too. Reading this terrific book is a great way to start a conversation with your child about being bullied and about keeping an open mind to help find out the truth about another in need.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Aw Gee, Dad!

Untitled1With Father’s Day approaching, Debbie Glade reviews

I don’t come across many picture books about Dads, so I was especially happy to read this one. My Dad Thinks He’s Funny ($14.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 5- 8) is the ideal bedtime book for every child (and adult for that matter) who has a jokester for a dad.

Written by Australian author, Katrina Germein, this cute story told from the child’s point of view is all about the silly ways that Dad responds to his son. It will take you back to the days when your own dad or grandpa joked with you as a child. Perhaps these were the types of comments that made you roll your eyes, even though you loved hearing them.

“At bedtime when I ask Dad if I can stay up late he says, ‘Not tonight. But you can last night.'”

The book is written in simple prose, complemented nicely by the cartoon-like illustrations by Australian artist, Tom Jellett. This story will teach your kids a few plays on words and will make them feel proud to have a lighthearted comedian for a dad.

“When people say, ‘Would you like sugar? Dad says I’m sweet enough.'”

I hope My Dad Thinks He’s Funny inspires others to write more children’s books about dads! We sure could use some.

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A Big Bear And a Little Egg

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley (Peter Pauper Press, Inc., $16.99; ages 3 and up) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.


I fell in love with Hank Finds an Egg in no time flat. It is the sweet, endearing story of Hank, a bear, who finds an egg on the forest floor and wants to return it to its nest.  Capturing the sense a child’s desire to help, the story follows Hank as he tries to problem solve. How will he return the egg when the nest is up so high and he is so little? Hank carefully tends to the egg as he attempts to help. Even when his plans do not work, Hank perseveres and even makes new friends. The book presents a nostalgic feel that really conveys the innocence of the story and the inherent goodness in children (or in this case, bears).

Presented in 55 stop-motion pictures, the artwork is incredible. Rebecca Dudley has created a charming miniature world through delicate textures and various materials—clay, fabrics, wires, papers—and a great sense of lighting. (Notice how the time sequence is presented, as the day turns into night and back to day.) As the book is wordless, the story is relayed solely through the images, and this is done masterfully. My four-year old daughter was able to follow the plot and tell the story with very little assistance from me. This is a wonderful book with beautiful art and a lovely storyline.

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Light Up the Sky

ItsAFireflyNight_CVRWhat child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t love fireflies? After all, they are the first sign that summer has truly arrived. It’s a Firefly Night ($12.99, Blue Apple Books, Ages 3-6) is a beautiful picture book that celebrates every child’s rite of passage into the warmest season of the year.

The concise flowing, rhyming prose by Dianne Ochiltree offers the youngest readers insight into the story of a little girl and her dog who are out in the yard with a jar, chasing, capturing and releasing fireflies back into the air. Just reading the book will make you want to get out into the fresh air with your family. In the back of the book is a spread with factual information about fireflies. Did you know that fireflies are beetles?

“Flickering quicker,
they sparkle and shine.
I love catching fireflies,
but they are not mine.”

What makes this book standout are the vivid collage illustrations by Betsy Snyder. The colors are both deep and brilliant, depicting the most magical night sky you could ever imagine. It’s a Firefly Night is a great way to kickoff summer with your kids. Just be prepared to get out in the yard with them chasing those glittery sparklers as soon as they appear.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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A Truly Colorful Crayon Tale

51E7nP9Xi-L._SX225_Hitting shelves this June is The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books; $17.99; ages 3-8). Reviewer Rita Zobayan couldn’t peel herself away!

Art comes to life in the delightful new picture book. Duncan simply wants to color, but a stack of 12 letters in his school desk reveals that his crayons have feelings and opinions on not only his use of color, but also on their own relationships with each other. Poor Pink is tired of being relegated as only a “girls’ color” and demands usage! Green is quite content with its lot in life, but is worried about other crayons. Blue is appreciative, but exhausted from coloring oceans and skies. And, boy-oh-boy, will your child laugh out loud when Peach’s dilemma is revealed!

Humor, imagination, and a great sense of children’s language combine to make up the content of the letters, and each letter is cleverly illustrated in a child’s handwriting style. Here is Red Crayon’s communication to Duncan:

Hey Duncan,

It’s me, Red Crayon. We NEED to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring fire engines, apples, strawberries and EVERYTHING ELSE that’s RED. I even work on holidays! I have to color all the Santas at Christmas and all the hearts on Valentine’s Day! I NEED A REST!

                  Your overworked friend,

Red Crayon

Meanwhile, Yellow and Orange are feuding! Yellow states that Duncan needs to “tell Orange Crayon that I am the color of the sun…” and Orange fires back that Duncan should “please tell Mr. Tattletale that he IS NOT the color of the sun.” Both have coloring book evidence to prove their claims! What is Duncan to do?!

TheDaytheCrayonsQuit_interior_19The illustrations are spot on: you really believe that you’re looking at a child’s art. They creatively capture each of the crayons’ dilemmas—even Purple’s assertion that if Duncan doesn’t “start coloring inside the lines soon…I am going to COMPLETELY LOSE IT.”

The Day the Crayons Quit is a great read, and artist or not, children will delight in the humorous premise and colorful artwork.

For other Oliver Jeffers books, click here. Click the titles for our reviews of Stuck and This Moose Belongs to Me.

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Otis is Back and Puppy’s Got Him!

9780399254697HOtis And The Puppy ($17.99, Philomel, ages 3-7), by #1 New York Times Bestselling author/illustrator Loren Long, is going to win a lot of new fans who were not previously familiar with the engaging red farm tractor. The seeds of popularity were sown with two previous titles, Otis and Otis And The Tornado so it’s wonderful for children to have a new addition to this vibrant, lovingly rendered series.

After reading Otis And The Puppy I am fondly reminded of Benedict Blathwayt’s Little Red Train books featuring Duffy Driver. At age five, my son was obsessed with these tales of an anthropomorphic train whose exploits were both entertaining and upbeat. While Long’s artwork with its retro look is certainly different than Blathwayt’s, the themes the stories explore – friendship, loyalty, and perseverance – are the same which is why they resonate with readers.

With Otis books children not only get a benevolent tractor character but a whole bunch of other friendly farm animals to boot. We’re instantly drawn into the story with Otis playing hide-and-seek with his pals after the workday has ended. He discovers them in the most humorous positions guaranteed to get lots of giggles! But what happens one evening when the farmer introduces a new member to the group? A precious, affectionate puppy is welcomed by all. The trouble is that he’s put in a dog house on his own, away from his new friends, and he’s also afraid of the dark. Otis hears him whimpering and brings him into the barn so he can curl up and fall asleep in the comfort of the tractor’s seat.

One day during another round of hide-and-seek, the puppy wanders off into the woods as he follows a butterfly.  It soon gets dark and no one can find the puppy, not even the farmer.  Although the search is called off until morning, Otis feels he must fight his own fears and foray into the dark forest to find his friend. Of course, despite the darkness and nighttime noises all around, a determined red tractor is not going to give up.  It sure helps to have some headlights!  Otis counts … “one-putt, two-puff, three-puttedy four chuff” and is delighted when he tracks down his puppy pal.  And so are the readers who will feel empowered by Otis’s tale of courage and caring. What a beautiful way to end a busy child’s day – with thoughts of Otis and Puppy dashing around happily in their heads.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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This Christmas Tree Rocks Big Time!

61wu1SZqM9L._SS400_The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree  ($17.99, Random House, ages 5 -8), written by David Rubel and illustrated by Jim LaMarche, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

I’ll admit my eyes teared up while reading this poignant picture book by David Rubel with evocative illustrations by Jim LaMarche. What could easily have been a sappy story is actually a touching tale from which children will learn, “The best presents are the ones you don’t expect.” Readers first meet an elderly man called Henry, reflecting on his youthful self and how he got through hard times with a vivid imagination and a positive attitude.

51WNx1OyuFL._SS400_It’s the Great Depression and young Henry’s folks are struggling to make ends meet, living in a cold shack and cutting down conifers to earn some money. The boy, though grateful for a roof over his head, dreams of “warm places in his mind,” to stave off winter’s chill. One day Henry’s dad takes him to Manhattan to set up shop alongside a construction site. Before long the two befriend Frank, a carpenter helping to build Rockefeller Center. After a successful day, the father/son pair leaves the unsold trees to Frank and his crew. These men, fortunate to have steady work, have figured out that the tree seller is down on his luck and hatch a plan. On Christmas morning they bring a surprise for Henry’s family that will have a lasting and meaningful effect on the boy. Henry vows to somehow give back in the future.

51eCQRICAzL._SS400_That chance arrives decades later when a tree he once planted gets selected to be the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The celebrated spruce, after bringing joy to countless people, will be milled for lumber to build a home for a family in need courtesy of Habitat for Humanity working with Tishman Speyer, the company that owns Rockefeller Center. End pages with a history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and info about Habitat for Humanity are included to round out the giving theme this holiday season.


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Emma Thompson Channels Beatrix Potter Beautifully

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit  ($20, Frederick Warne, ages 5 and up) written by Emma Thompson and illustrated by Eleanor Taylor is reviewed by Ronna Mandel. 

110 years on and Beatrix Potter’s characters are still bringing smiles to children around the world, this child included! Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has captured the voice, pace and perfect plotting of Potter’s mischievous rabbit in both the newly imagined picture book and the included CD recording. Taylor’s charming illustrations are an additional delight.

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit takes Peter – ever in search of something interesting to occupy his time and against the cautions of Benjamin Bunny – back into the off-limits world known as Mr. McGregor’s garden. What ensues is both a surprise and an adventure, as Peter ends up nodding out in a picnic basket and finds himself in the back of the McGregor’s cart, a wee bit far from home; in Scotland to be precise.

Fortunately cousin Finlay McBurney chances upon the lost lad and, in safe surroundings and no time at all, Peter’s up to his shenanigans in a radical way. Without spoiling the plot, suffice it to say that a radish hollowed out by Peter in a fit of hunger plays an important role in a shot put-like competition that will leave readers reeling. Not only was this a totally satisfying read, but a fun one bound to become a bedtime favorite.

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You Be You and I’ll Be Me

Debbie Glade tells us why Miss Mousie’s Blind Date  ($19.99, Tundra Books, Ages 3 and up) made her giggle and smile.

Who wouldn’t want to read a book with verse like this?

 “Matt LaBatt, the water rat,
was such a handsome fellow!
His fur was black. His eyes were red.
His teeth were lemon yellow.”

In the mood for a little romance and companionship, Miss Mousie tries to get the attention of a potential gentleman caller, only to be mortified when he calls her “fat.” She goes home embarrassed and in total despair. But a few days later she discover an anonymous invitation on her door from a mystery date. Feeling insecure, Miss Mousie gets all dressed up in a disguise. When she meets her mystery man, or rather mystery mole, what she discovers is not quite what she had expected and she sees herself in a whole new accepting light.

There are many children’s books that teach individuality, but Miss Mousie’s Blind Date does it in a wonderfully subtle and original way. The rhyming verse is so cleverly written by author, Tim Beiser, and the story is just plain cute. The charming illustrations by Rachel Berman are beautifully detailed and really animate the story.

What I love about this book is that it reminds us all that everyone feels insecure about themselves in one way or another, and it’s okay. It also gives us hope that there’s someone very special out there for each and every one of us.

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Roses and Noses, Oh How They Smell

Dangerously Ever After ($16.99, Dial Books, Ages 5 and up) by Dashka Slater is not your every day fairy tale. Sure there’s a prince, princess, a castle and a forest. But other than that, you’ve never heard this plot before. Princess Amanita is not your quintessential prissy princess, rather she mostly likes things that are dangerous – a pet scorpion, broken glass and a bicycle without brakes, to name a few.

One day, Prince Florian from a neighboring castle stops by and brings her roses. The princess loves the long, painful thorns that poke through her skin so much that she puts the roses in a vase with the stems sticking up and the flowers facing down. She asks the prince to please give her some seeds so she can grow more prickly roses. He brings her some seeds, but instead of roses, she finds the seeds have sprouted a bunch of sniffling, sneezing noses. (This part of the book gave me a huge chuckle as I am likely the most allergic person on the planet; one who sneezes throughout the day, every day of every year.) Well Princess Amanita is so disappointed with the useless noses that she sets out on an adventure to return them to the prince. But what she discovers is that these noses may be able to serve a useful purpose.

This book is sure to entertain because:

  1. Despite the fact that the book is about a princess, the story is extremely creative, original and humorous.
  2. The main character, Princess Amanita, is independent and daring, unlike so many princesses in so many fairy tales.
  3. The princess looks at every day things in ways much different than most of us look at them, teaching the reader new creative ways of thinking.
  4. Though a very unique plot, the story is still enchanting the way a fairy tale should be.
  5. The illustrations by Valeria Docampo are excellent, vibrant and very detailed.

A while back I reviewed another story about a princess – Seriously, Cinderella is So Annoying, that I also loved because it was unique and funny just like this book, yet in a different way. Any story that surprises and delights the reader is worth a look, and Dangerously Ever After is one of those stories.

Note: If your child is an early reader, this book is a bit sophisticated and longer than most picture books, so it is best that you read it together.

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Living With Autism

Ronna Mandel  reviews a new picture book that allows parents to start a conversation about autism with their children.

With current statistics at 1 out of 88 children having autism, chances are that either you have a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or know one.  Therefore it makes good sense that we should learn as much as we can to help educate our children.

There’s a saying in the autism community that if you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism because no two children are affected the same way. Keep this in mind when reading David’s World: A Picture Book  About Living With  Autism ($16.95, Sky Pony Press, ages 5-8) by Dagmar H. Mueller with illustrations by Verena Ballhaus and translated by Kim Gardner.

David’s World brings us into the home of a family with one autistic child, David, and told from the perspective of his brother. I was immediately touched by the economy of words in a book that manages to speak volumes about such a serious subject. Every word the author has chosen works, quite powerfully in parts, in this wonderful new 28 page picture book. That David speaks another language, the language of autism is carefully conveyed in page after page and will open not only your child’s eyes but yours as well.

“Sometimes I don’t like David. He’s so different.” This is often a major struggle for siblings of children on the spectrum and it is handled so sensitively and appropriately. “He doesn’t laugh when we laugh, and he doesn’t cry when he’s sad.” But David is his brother and our narrator is going to do everything possible with the help of his parents to understand his brother’s world.

Sometimes David gets angry, sometimes David is sad, and most of the time, according to the narrator, he and David don’t like the same things. And while David likes to play piano and can play amazingly well, by ear, David’s brother plays soccer. However, from time to time he’ll “plop down on the carpet and listen …”  What I found particularly encouraging was that Mueller chose to focus on David’s strengths such as his musical gift and his innate ability to relate to animals such as a neighbor’s dog. This is extremely vital when explaining autism to children. Because it is a spectrum, there are varying degrees of how it impacts a child’s abilities.  Children need to appreciate the whole person and what special qualities every individual has, autistic or not.

Ballhaus’s illustrations are a blend of surreal and spot on when she depicts David with a brick walled body; overwhelmed by assorted annoying noises such as a mixer and a vaccuum; soaring free like a bird at the keys of a piano. There’s also a Matisse-like feel to the colors selected making the illustrations feel positive and complementary to the text.

I highly recommend this original picture book for all that it says and all that it does not have to say.

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Great and Noble Knighttime Reading

Ronna Mandel reviews King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 4-7) written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel.

Meet Henry Alfred Grummorson, the newly turned six-year-old descendant of King Arthur of Round Table (and I’m not talking pizza) fame. On his birthday Henry seeks to follow in his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s footsteps and find adventure around every corner. Alas, the first bit of excitement he encounters is a smoke-rings blowing Dragon, not the fire-breathing one he so desperately hoped to battle.

Here parents can channel their best British accent when reading the bold print aloud: “BEHOLD, VILE WORM! I, HENRY ALFRED GRUMMORSON, A KNIGHT OF KING ARTHUR’S BLOOD, DO HEREBY CHALLENGE YOU TO A FIGHT TO THE UTTERMOST!” Henry’s demand to fight comes to naught when the docile Dragon suggests he look for the Cyclops, high in the mountains. The young lad, eager to uphold the family name, goes in search of the Cyclops who, like the Dragon, is more interested in playing, this time in a staring match. After that it’s onto a chess-playing Griffin and a less-than-lethal Leviathan, all wanting just one thing, friendship.

Will Henry discover that making friends beats doing battle? Kraegel conveys this and other important messages including: perseverance pays off, friends come in all shapes and sizes, appearing when we least expect them and stereotyping gets it all wrong every time because as the book shows, big does not necessarily mean one’s bad or a bully.

Illustration copyright Ⓒ 2012 by Kenneth Kraegel

Kraegel deftly blends his beautiful water color and ink illustrations with his well-timed text as readers follow along on Henry’s quest. Youngsters will want to join in repeating Henry’s loud declarations. Maybe even trying out their own Monty Pythonesque voice because the dialogue really calls for having fun with this story. My only recommendation is that parents first try this picture book out in the daytime (before knighttime) what with all Henry’s shouting and exclaiming, it might not be conducive to lulling your littlest ones to sleep!

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Snow White and Rose Red, the Brothers Grimm Way

Rita Zobayan reviews Snow White and Rose Red: A Pop-Up Fairytale ($19.99, Tango Books; ages 5-7), by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Rachel Cloyne.

Long before Snow White sang with forest critters and took up with seven gentlemen of diminutive stature, the Brothers Grimm had written the original version of her story that is still prevalent in Europe today. Snow White and Rose Red is the traditional tale that does include a dwarf and a prince, but tells a deeper story of kindness in the face of ingratitude and of bravery in the face of danger.

Sisters Snow White and Rose Red live with their mother near a forest. They often venture into the forest and fields to gather food. When a talking bear visits them on a cold winter’s night, their simple lives are changed forever. Suddenly they are beset by a wicked dwarf, who often needs their help and yet shows them nothing but contempt.

There they found a Dwarf with an old wrinkled face and a long snow-white beard. The end of his beard was caught underneath a fallen tree…He glared at the girls with red fiery eyes and exclaimed, “Why do you stand there? Are you going to help me?”…

As soon as the Dwarf was freed he snatched his sack filled with gold, threw it over his shoulder and marched off, grumbling and crying, “Stupid people! To cut off a piece of my beautiful beard. Plague take you!”

Patient and kind, the sisters help the ungrateful dwarf three times. In each instance, we see young women who are capable, clever and confident. They do not turn from danger. They rely on their wits to help another, even when he, in turn, insults them and ultimately attempts to bargain their lives for his freedom.

Marvelously illustrated by Rachel Cloyne, this book features shades of black, white and red. Each page has 3-D pop-ups that are beautifully drawn. The artwork is striking in its detail, and captures the darkness of the time period and of the tale. It is truly a spectacular book for Halloween or any other time of year.

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The Power of Positive Thinking

Debbie Glade shares a book that helps children look on the bright side of life.

The Energy Bus for Kids: A Story About Staying Positive and Overcoming Challenges ($16.95, Wiley, Ages 4 and up) by Jon Gordon is an adaptation of the fable known as The Energy Bus. The story is about a boy named George who tells his bus driver about the bad day he’s had at school. The bus driver becomes George’s mentor and teaches him to believe in himself and to practice positive thinking to become stronger and happier. She tells him to:

  1. Create a positive vision
  2. Fuel your ride with positive energy
  3. No bullies allowed
  4. Love your passengers
  5. Enjoy the ride

George applies the rules to the best of his ability, but do they solve his problems? You’ll soon find out.

What’s great about this book is that it encourages children from a young age to practice positive thinking. Thinking positively (aka ‘seeing the glass half full’) creates a productive energy that can help children solve their problems, be kinder to others and just be happier overall. The bottom line is that we all make a choice to have the attitude we possess, so why not make it a positive one?

In addition to the great message, readers will enjoy the bold, colorful cartoon-like illustrations by Korey Scott that complement the story nicely and make it easier for young children to follow along. I think all elementary schools should have books like this to teach kids something that in life is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic – and that, of course, is the power of positive thinking.

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Misplaced, But not Forgotten

Debbie Glade is today’s reviewer.

As soon as I saw the title of this book, Lost and Found ($16.95, Peachtree Publishers, Ages 4-8) by Grammy Award winner, Bill Harley, I knew I had to read it. It seems I spend half my time looking for my glasses, cell phone or my husband’s wallet. I need a Lost and Found Box in my own house!

Meet Justin, a boy who has lost his favorite hat. It was handmade by his grandma, and he has to find it before she comes to the house and asks where it is (sound familiar?). The only problem is that to look through the Lost and Found at Justin’s school, he’s got to deal with grumpy old Mr. Rumkowsky, who has been there since Justin’s own mom went to that school. Justin finally gets the courage up to go to the Lost and Found, and what he discovers is very different than what he expected.

What you and your kids will love about this book are all the treasures Justin finds in the great big Lost and Found Box, which are spectacularly illustrated by Adam Gustavson. You’ll also appreciate the surprise ending, and children will learn the valuable lesson that sometimes people are not who we think they are.

We can all relate to the frustration of losing something important to us and the joy of finding it. Every child and parent on this earth can relate to and appreciate the story and marvelous illustrations in Lost and Found. Now if we could only find as many things as we lose.

Hurry! There’s still time to enter the Lost and Found Contest. You have until September 26, 2012 to enter. Read about it here.

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