Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.
I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.
HELLO, ELEPHANT! Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton (Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)
Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.
This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.
Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.
While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.
Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.
Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.
BABY SLOTH: Finger Puppet Book Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang (Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)
Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.
The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.
Written by Jacqueline Véissidand illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friendbegins with a quotation on its dedication page that captures the essence of the book: “What you seek is seeking you.” Written by the Persian poet Rumi, this profound statement hints at our deep connection to each other, even if we may not quite understand or see it yet. Through patience and quiet determination, we will certainly experience this truth.
From the first page, Brown’s illustrations are completely mesmerizing. The vastness of the “cold gray-blue sea” speaks to little Caspian’s loneliness and longing for a friend. The soft color palette and gentle lines indicating movement radiate outward. Everything in Caspian’s environment is casting out a light, past the great beyond of the sea. The lighthouse where he lives and even the sun are reaching out to seek love. Nearly every page is a double page spread helping readers connect with Caspian’s gentleness and faithfulness in “wondering, waiting, wishing for a friend.”
Though “no one arrives,” the little boy does not grow disheartened. Instead, he has a “new thought” and sends out to sea a message in a bottle. There’s an undeniable meditative quality in this process. We see Caspian emptying out his vase, rolling up his note to put inside, and placing the flower back in the vase-perhaps a gift to the receiver and a sign to us readers of his generous heart. In this step by step way, Veissid’s lyrical language slows us down, helping us feel safe and calm.
As days “sink into weeks [and] weeks into months,” Caspian’s hope never falters; his patience for a response gets rewarded. The little boy rows out to sea to meet his new companion, a bear who is just as eager as Caspian to make a new friend.
Caspian Finds a Friend is excellent for bedtime or anytime parents and caregivers are looking to settle little ones down. Themes of love, patience, friendship, and mindfulness will encourage readers (and listeners) to return to this story again and again. I find this book especially relevant for our current time as it shows us the power of our imagination to bring healing and comfort.
This may not be your typical Mother’s Day, but you can still make it special. So, wherever you are, please consider adding a good book to any celebration that you may be planning. Support moms while also helping independent bookstores around the country when you make your reading selections. Check out Indiebound.org,Bookshop.org today or call your local independent bookseller for curbside pickup available in many parts of the country.
What’s wonderful about this unassuming little die-cut board book is that it’s full of surprises that will entertain parents as well as children. Adorably illustrated throughout, the book has a circle cut-out on the cover focusing in on the sweetest little bear . Each page turn reveals how much he loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and the two of them together. All kinds of hands-on treats await youngsters because there are flaps to lift and pages to flip as well as a big gatefold illustration and sturdy, glossy pages. Little Bear’s parents pass him between them, Daddy picks him up like an airplane and is comforted by him when he’s sad. My favorite spread is the one where Little Bear rubs noses with his mommy because that’s something my son and I always used to do. Not only ideal for Mother’s Day, Mommy, Daddy, and Me! would make a great Father’s Day gift or story time interactive read.
Part of the New Books for Newborns series, this 16-page board book would make a great baby shower or Mother’s Day gift. Hand in Hand’s gentle, soothing verse coupled with its charming illustrations will capture the attention of infants and toddlers. Created with the littlest readers in mind, the story introduces children to a little girl heading out to the park with her mom and a floral decorated ball. “Me/You/We, two/Hand in hand/Through and through.” Mother and child spend time together in all kinds of play and tender moments depicted in scenes that reassure children of their mother’s love. The read aloud quality of the prose invites sweet story times for little ones just becoming acquainted with books.
This moving debut picture book with its spare yet lyrically written text explores the extent to which a mother will go in her efforts to conceive a child via IVF. Sherhant honestly shares the emotional and difficult journey she experienced using metaphors that are beautifully illustrated by Keller. The purple and blue palette is just the right combination of warmth and heart. While not an adoption story, I felt the same strong message of commitment and love as I felt when reading I’ve Loved You Since Forever and Born From the Heart. “I loved you before I met you. I felt you in my arms before I could hold you. But the road was long, and the way was hard.” In an author’s note at the end, Serhant explains how she wanted to write this book “for mothers and fathers who have had a similar road to parenthood.” I’m so glad she channeled her quest into a picture book that will mean so much to so many families who’ll be able to read this to their miracle children one day. I have a friend with her first child from IVF due this fall and, having watched her heartbreak then hope this past year and half, I know just how much this book will resonate with her.
I’m so glad children have a picture book that celebrates an alternative family arrangement in such a positive way. The main character, Carol Olivia Clementine, is six-years-old. “I live with Mama Rose right now,” she explains. While the young reader never learns the reason for the separation, or the relationship between Mama Rose and Carol, that never detracts from the story. Duncan’s upbeat prose, and carefully placed gentle repetition, “My mother and father live far away. I wish we lived together. I wish that they were here,” lets us know that Carol is aware of her situation, yet happy and cared for as if she were Mama Rose’s own child. Mama Rose treats Carol just like any mom would whether that’s teaching her how to tell time, making her eat all her veggies, sending her upstairs to clean up her messy bedroom or complimenting her on a job well done.
Duncan tells us in the Author’s Note that her Aunt was raised with her by her mother and says “It is love that defines our relationships.” A family friend can serve as a mother, as can a guardian or another relative as was the case in Duncan’s household. Regardless of what brought Carol into Mama Rose’s home, Barlow’s charming and cheerful watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and gel pen illustrations feel hopeful. They depict a little girl who misses her parents—we see her make drawings of her parents and can spot a picture of them on Mama Rose’s wall—but who also accepts the love of Mama Rose. “Mama Rose is my home.”
“May loved to visit Grama every summer and watch the stars.” So begins this picture book that is definitely not just for Mother’s Day, though it does get its heart from the nurturing relationship of Grama and her granddaughter, May. “Then one cold day, May came to live with her.” From that the older reader can gather that May has lost her parents or perhaps Grama has just become her guardian for other reasons. Either way, she’s always there for May, to offer love, hugs and inspiration. What’s so sweet about this story is how the pair share the love of stars, birds and dreaming. Grama encourages May who, we learn from a succession of first day of school spreads over the years, has a passion for outer space. “May wanted to take off to the stars one day.” Winning at school fairs leads to a month at space camp where May’s dreams are finally realized. She’ll become the world’s youngest astronaut, but before she heads off anywhere, she must have a hug from Grama. What Nielander shows in her 40-page book’s text and illustrations is how important it is to reach for the stars while having someone on Earth who helps keep you grounded and confident. With that and a hug, who knows what else May might achieve in her life.
One Day in the Life of You and 59 Real Kids from Around the World
Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
This Is How I Do It by Matt Lamotheis a great activity book to open kids’ eyes to the lives of children around the world and get them thinking about their own. Following the success of his picture book, This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, Lamothe was inspired by how one teacher in particular in Fiji was using the book to have children document their lives. The result is this unique activity book that focuses on different aspects of 59 real children’s lives from countries as varied as America to Vietnam, Bangladesh to Uruguay.
This hands-on 56-page book not only documents almost 60 kids’ lives from around the globe, but it provides an opportunity for young readers to get introspective and fill in the blanks about their daily life (when not in a pandemic). There’s even a die-cut opening in the cover, an inviting feature for children to put in a picture of themselves or draw one. Kids will also find the cool looking postcards and stickers in the back matter appealing for use in their own artwork or on the postcards Lamothe’s designed. A bonus is a fold-out map both in color and labeled with all the countries covered in the book. There’s also a blank map kids can fill in with the names of the places where they’ve visited, lived or want to see in the future. Parents or teachers might want to share with kids/students the website www.thisishowwedoitbook.com where “great resources for communicating with other kids” can be found.
From the very beginning of the book, in the “This is me,” illustration, Lamothe welcomes readers into the book with the warm faces of four international children. This is followed by a spread of “Hello” labels featuring the greeting shown in different languages from China, Kenya, Ukraine, Israel, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Greece. Readers will see different types of housing, beautiful views from out the windows, as well as assorted clothing the kids wear, what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how they get around, where they learn, who their teachers are, how their food is cooked, and what they get up to in the evening.
I like that the examples given are never boring, sometimes unexpected, and always thought provoking. In “This is how I get around” children learn that Lurongdeji, from China, “lives with his mom and grandmother, who are both farmers. They use a modified motorcycle to get around.” The front is a motorcycle, but the back has been altered into an open truck bed for carrying crops, tools, animals or whatever! In a mouthwatering spread titled “This is a fruit or vegetable that grows near me,” I was surprised to see a picture of a red seaweed called dulse that is dried and eaten as a snack on the west coast of Ireland. My favorite illustration would have to be the one showing some favorite books read around the world with blank lines for kids to fill in with their favorite book, too. It’s nice that Lamothe ends the tour with bedtime and the places where some of the children in the story sleep at night. But this is anything but a bedtime book. It’s ideal for daytime reading and dreaming and will definitely give children stuck indoors a chance for interesting armchair travel.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here to read Dornel Cerro’s review of This Is How We Do It.
Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.
Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg.
The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters.
Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.
Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Huntis yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.”
The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.
An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find.
There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.
Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.
Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch.
As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family.
The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig.
Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.
Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.
A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsieexplores additional themes of love, family, and diversity.
The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundays—all except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path.
Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.
In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership.
Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.
Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunniesis a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.
Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.
In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”
A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.
Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis,Follow Me, Flo!is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.
From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.
Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.
Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)
When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).
Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.
Do you know what GORP stands for? Or that thimbleberries are a real thing? Or that you can plant a Three Sisters Garden using corn, beans, and squash which naturally help each other grow? Alison Farrell’spicture book,The Hike, shares many such fun and fascinating facts in this story of sisterhood among friends who share a deep love of the outdoors.
Since there is much flora and fauna to see, the hike starts off with a bang as friends Wren, El, and Hattie “run like maniacs.” But the plot slows down, too, so the girls can enjoy a bounty of thimbleberries (which I learned is NOT a make believe snack for Thumbelina or forest fairies) and a lesson on how to make leaf baskets (that this city girl would love to try making). Joining the group are Bean, the dog, and a curious little chipmunk who follows along and seems to play a hide and seek game with us readers, adding another level of entertainment and adventure to the story.
As the hikers face certain hardships on their journey their camaraderie grows stronger. We see values of kindness, perseverance, mindfulness, and respect as they help each other maneuver difficult terrain, find their way back to the trail, and stay present in their beautiful surroundings. The celebration at the top of the mountain also highlights everyone’s unique and important contribution to the group: Wren raises her flag, “El reads her poem, and Hattie releases feathers into the wind.”
I appreciate, too, Farrell’s gentle nod to poetry. In the opening page of the story, we see in El’s room a poster of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, and later El working on a poem during a break from the hike. This emphasis on the strong connection between the natural world and the written word brings us closer still to the wealth of wonders the outdoors offer. Even as the friends’ hike comes to an end in the early evening hours, they marvel at the constellations.
The Hikeis the kind of book readers can curl up with to enjoy all its lovely details (and there are many!). Farrell’s labels of the animals and plants on every page plus notes from Wren’s sketchbook in the back matter will inspire readers to visit the book again and again to see what they’ve missed. Rendered in gouache, ink, and pencil, the warm illustrations showcase varying shades of that unmistakable green of the Pacific Northwest.
Grab a sketchbook, a bag of GORP ( hiker lingo for trail mix), and your little one’s hand. Nature is calling.
If you like fairy tales, Muon Thị Văn’s new spin on Snow White will enchant you. Snow White and the dwarfs aren’t featured, rather the focus is on the Magic Mirror used by the Evil Queen. In The Most Terrible of All, the queen has been replaced by Smugg, a lovable monster. Smugg is certain he’s the most terrible beast in the land—his mirror tells him so. Until, one day, when he’s out-terribled by someone new, someone “a million times more terrible.” Not one to sit idly by, Smugg goes in search of this interloper. His quest takes him all the way . . . next door where a houseful of fiends are all potential contenders for the title of Most Terrible.
This ghoulish fractured fairy tale delighted me. Matt Myers’s art features lovely blues, greens, purples, and pinks giving the book a calm vibe even though the action’s quite exciting. His “ginormous sea serpent” is wonderfully scary and my favorite creature in the book.
Kids will enjoy this picture book because it’s a funny version of a story they already know. The monsters are charming and the ending is just perfect.
Goldilocks has gone ghoulish in Lynne Marie’s picture book, Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale. The Scare family—a monster dad, mummy mom, and vampire daughter—are enjoying a lovely night together preparing a midnight snack of sliced finger sandwiches and Alpha-Bat soup. But, of course, the soup is too hot; it boils Dad’s bolts, causes Mama to unravel, and gives Baby a fang-ache.
David Rodriguez Lorenzo illustrations are deathly cute. Details enliven each scenes. The page that enchants me is Moldilocks zombie-stumbling across the dining table with a fly escort. The three chairs are perfectly suited for each family member. Their décor is skeletal chic. A skull vase displays withering flowers, an old-fashioned TV’s rabbit ears appear to be femurs, and the standing lamp is a headless skeleton holding up its lampshade.
Pay attention to the opening pages because those lines will come back to haunt you with the book’s modern ending. When the Scares catch Moldilocks in their ghastly abode, Mama muses that her “nightmares have been answered”; I think Moldilocks would agree.
The winning team of Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt from Interstellar Cinderella are together again in Reading Beauty, another rhyming fractured fairy tale picture book. In this version, instead of the princess pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, Princess Lex lives in a book-loving kingdom and is cursed to go into a deathlike sleep from a paper cut. Therefore, all books are secreted away on her fifteenth birthday.
“Without its books, their world grew bleak, consumed by dark and gloom.” Luckily Lex’s cute puppy, Prince, has been trained to fetch her things to read. I like how this smart princess takes matters into her own hands, especially the funny scene where Lex fools the fairy.
The art pops from the page. A bright blend of classic fairy tale and futuristic wonder will delightfully transport readers into a modern world. You’ll have to pick up your own copy to discover the creative ending.
Acorn books, designed for early readers, brings five scary stories to children in this Mister Shivers series. Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories has 64 pages packed with full-color artwork while some other Acorn books have 48 pages. Either way, there’s something for every new reader seeking “relatable characters and experiences” written and illustrated by some of the best known names in children’s literature.
Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories opens with a letter from Mister Shivers about a mysterious box delivered to him in which he found items pertaining to each story and a promise to share the stories in the book. Like all the stories in this book, evocative, muted illustrations help reinforce the easy-to-read text of these fast paced short stories. That’s certainly the case in “Beneath the Bed” about a boy dared by kids at school to visit the local haunted house. Upon entering the house with his sister who he brought along for courage, the pair discover a sinister doll with glowing eyes under a bed in the attic bedroom.
“A Hair Down to My Stomach” as the title implies, is equal parts gross and unsettling, with just the type of visuals accompanying it to make it succeed. “The Statue” will have kids talking back to the book as they turn the pages and tell the mom in the story as her son tries to do, “Don’t buy the statue!” Of course, she does. What follows is the reason why Mr. Shivers’ mysterious box contained a piece of quilty. He never mentioned if it was smelly like the quilt in “The Statue.” All I know is the young boy should have listened to the statue’s owner when she warned the buyers not to remove the quilt. The same goes for Oliver in “A Dark and Stormy Night” who should have done as his parents’ wished and brought his toys inside. Instead, they were left out in the rain to be ruined by the elements. Toys don’t like being forgotten and seek their revenge when that happens. Poor Oliver! And as for the scraping sound in “The Noise at the Window,” I know this well. Only I’ve been fortunate to find a tree outside where I heard the clawing coming from a branch. The little girl in this tale wasn’t so fortunate!
Okay spine, start tingling because these five stories are guaranteed to make you keep the lights on.
Get ready to be caught under the spell of Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch, a terrific debut middle grade graphic novel.
Tween readers will be charmed by the main character Moth Hush, who at 13 learns she is part witch with special powers, something she had only dreamed of up until that point. Living above her single mom Calendula’s second hand store, Moth has never felt the warm and fuzzies from her classmates in her Massachusetts hometown of Founder’s Bluff nor in the community at large. She soon learns there’s a good reason why and goes exploring back in time via her mother’s diary.
In 1692 a group of women suspected of being witches, her grandmother Sarah being one of them, was run out of town. They were indeed witches but good ones and many townspeople secretly went to them to avail of magic to help them. When ousted, Sarah led the women to a timeless land she created called Hecate, but Calendula refused to live there. She returned to Founder’s Bluff to live a normal non-witch life for herself having fallen in love with a human. Sadly, Sarah cast a spell to make this man have no memory of Calendula. Pregnant, the brokenhearted, Calendula raised Moth alone with no magic.
In school Moth befriends another fish-out-of-water named Charlie who is new to Founder’s Bluff. Little does Moth know that there’s a connection between her family and Charlie’s that could test their friendship. I got a kick out of the magical cat, Mr. Laszlo, the spirit of Keeper’s Secondhand Store who had taken Calendula in and, when he passed away, left the store to her. The talking feline’s speech is peppered with Yiddish and in my head I heard Billy Crystal doing the dialogue.
Steinkellner must have had such fun writing and illustrating this story which reads quickly and nicely ties all the loose threads together at the end. The artwork wonderfully and convincingly conveys the moments when Moth experiences the power of magic. I especially liked the historical scenes and when Moth visits Hecate, but to be honest, all the illustrations brought the story alive. The novel is filled with humor, sarcasm, action, fantasy, pride and most of all, love as evidenced by Moth’s efforts to navigate the magical world of her grandmother and the real world in which Calendula has chosen to raise her. She’s new to the witch world and she’s far from perfect, making her The Okay Witch we care about and want to see happy and at home with her mom.
Graphic novel fans will quickly be swept up into Moth’s witchy world of time travel, timelessness, tween curiosity and relationships as Moth tries to learn more about herself. Will the way in which her family’s life intersects with that of Founder’s Bluff be a reason to stay or retreat to Hecate? The fun’s in the finding out in this enchanting, recommended read that’s definitely not just for Halloween.
You don’t need to have read Book#1 in order to enjoy Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor (Book #2), a chapter book series about a friendly zombie called Ghoulia and the dead and not-so-dead inhabitants of Crumbling Manor. Billed as Clue meets LittleShop of Horrors, this full-color illustrated book is sure to get young readers in a Halloween mood.
The story opens with Ghoulia feeling bored. When cranky cousin Dilbert arrives unexpectedly, Ghoulia looks for her Auntie Departed to explain why this relative she’d never even heard of got invited to Crumbling Manor. But her Chatterbox-Ivy-obsessed aunt is nowhere to be found. Ghoulia thinks it’s odd when more friends turn up, each with an invitation to a surprise dinner the young vampire knows nothing about.
As Ghoulia and her pals search Crumbling Manor for Auntie Departed, a friend Theresa also goes missing. Something weird is happening so the remaining guests split up to find those who’ve disappeared while trying to help Ghoulia figure out who sent the invitations.
This delightful chapter book will hook confident young readers ages 6 to 8 who still love beautifully illustrated stories that aren’t scary yet have an air of mystery about them. I’m not sure kids will recognize famous individuals such as Hitchcock and Poe in framed pictures on Crumbling Manor’s walls, but they’re certainly a treat for adult readers. In fact every illustration is a treat and worthy of a thorough scanning to see what special things Cantini has hung up on the walls or placed in each room. Her prose and pictures provide the perfect foreshadowing for kids quick to pick up clues. At the end there are bonus activities including how to write an invitation and fill out an envelope, how to start a garden and how to make Dilbert’s special pumpkin juice (minus the spiders’ eggs)! Watch out for Ghoulia and the Ghost With No Name (Book #3) coming soon!
Described by Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author, as “Young Frankenstein meets The Princess Bride in the most hysterically hilarious book I’ve read in years,” and I could not agree more. I smiled my whole way through The Curse of the Werepenguin, a clever, funny and original story within a story. I read it over two days and could not wait to see how author Allan Woodrow would end it. As I suspected, it’s TO BE CONTINUED so now I have to find out where he takes this wild and feathery tale of an orphan boy named Bolt.
Meet Humboldt Wattle (aka Bolt), a twelve-year-old boy abandoned as a baby at The Oak Wilt Home for Unwanted Boys. There’s little about him that makes him stand out except a large bird-shaped birthmark on his neck. When suddenly his life changes overnight, Bolt’s unusual marking will take on tremendous significance in his life. He’s been summoned to the distant land of Brugaria by a wealthy baron who no one wishes to disobey. Could this mean the family he’s been hoping for is finally ready to reunite with him?
The catch is that Baron Chordata is not only a cruel person feared by most inhabitants of Brugaria, he looks like he’s the same age as Bolt. On top of that, he dresses in tuxedos even at home, and consumes massive quantities of fish, every kind imaginable, including live goldfish. Woodraw’s descriptions of eating seafood have to be some of the funniest and disgusting ones I’ve ever read and I lapped up every slimy, slithery sentence. I also may never look at fish sticks the same way again!
In a trance from his first experience playing video games, Bolt unknowingly agrees to a request by Baron Chordata. This eventually leads to his being bitten on the neck. The result? Bolt turns partially into half boy, half penguin or werepenguin, so maybe a quarter … Anyway, after three days the full effect of the transformation will be complete. When the full moon shines, which is every night in Brugaria, the change in Bolt occurs. His feet turn webbed and orange, he sprouts wild tufts of hair, wings, an enormous nose and has cravings for seafood. Then he, along with all the other werepenguins including the baron, bark, wreak havoc and steal fish whenever possible.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Bolt, a girl named Annika who tried to rob and kidnap him because she’s “the world’s great bandit,” becomes an ally (or not) in trying to help Bolt escape the baron’s wicked clutches and rid himself of the werepenguin curse. The curse is not the only thing Bolt’s dealing with. He’s got this wacky, whale-loving cult leader named Günter determined to destroy him. Günter’s weapon of choice, a loaf of French bread! Plus Bolt’s learned that the werepenguins, led by power and fish hungry werepenguin-in-chief, Baron Chordata, are orchestrating a takeover of Brugaria the same day the curse on Bolt goes into full force. Someone has to do something and Bolt realizes it’s him. What that something is, he’s not totally sure, but still …
You’ll LOL at the Cloris Leachman-like “lowly housekeeper” called Frau Farfenugen, a greenish, warty and miserable woman who is not what she seems, Blazenda, a fortune-telling witch whose cackles drive Bolt crazy, but who may hold the key (or tooth) to Bolt’s freedom, and a cast of colorful characters, some of whom scream and faint whenever the name Baron Chordata is said aloud, that will entertain you and have you sitting on the edge of your seat or wherever it is that you read fantastic books.
Ultimately, Bolt has to decide what real family is. Is it Annika and her bandit dad and his buddies or is it the rook of penguins that, we learn in the novel’s prologue, should never be split up? I’m not going to spoil it by telling you, but I will say that joining Bolt on his journey is something you’ll love doing. So start cooking some fish sticks, grab a baguette and get reading!
I made sure I read this book when my husband was home because I’m a big chicken. When I did read Ghost, I realized the stories are not only fantastic ghost stories for Halloween, but also ones to commit to memory to share around a campfire. You could also bring the book along but you many not want the hauntingly illustrated, white embossed cover to get dirty. “Contributors to this chilling collection include authors Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin, and illustrators Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley,” and Kit Turley, and they’ve done a fantastic job of scaring me although, as I said above, I do scare easily.
As I settled down to read each of the thirteen eerie tales, an owl hooted from my back yard adding to spooky feeling the stories exude. The tales, brief but powerfully creepy, are ideal for tweens who love to feel the hair on their necks stand up. The subjects range from a girl getting a tap tap tap from her mirror and then being imprisoned in it by her evil reflection, to two boys going ice fishing who disregard a shopkeeper’s advice to avoid the north of Point Whitney. The reason—it’s haunted by the ghost of Max Whitney, the former owner of the bait and tackle shop. Do the boys catch a lot of fish? Yep. Do they return safely home to share their experience? I’m not telling. There’s another one that takes place by a pond. Suffice it to say that, unlike the main character in this tale, a boy named Samuel who hears his drowned sister call out to him and follows her cries, I would never go out of my house in the middle of the night with a lantern by myself. The artwork throughout Ghost has a spare quality about it with a very limited palette which is appropriate for the collection. And though created digitally, all the illustrations resemble wood block prints and imbue every tale with as frightening an effect as the words themselves.
The tale that particularly resonated with me was about a girl who finally gets a room of her own away from her younger sister. Now alone in her new bedroom, the girl is terrified of the ghostly night noises but thinks if she just huddles under the covers and keeps her eyes tightly closed, everything will be okay. And it is, but how long can she keep her eyes shut? Did I mention that as a child I had my dad install a lock on my bedroom closet door? I will not easily forget the story of the young boy, Michael Alvey deep sea diving to a WWII sub wreck in search of the bodies of his deceased parents. They died just after their last communication was, “Please! Help! They’re coming.” When I found out who “they” were, I was shocked and readers will be, too. I caution young readers to avoid basements, elevators, hiking or making a trip after midnight to a cemetery right after reading Ghost.
Some stories unhinged me more than others, “The Descent” being one of them. That’s not to say they weren’t all good because they were, but certain stories played off of my deepest fears more than others. That being said, it might be best to read this book with a cat curled up on your lap or with a big dog nearby during the day!
TOMORROW MOST LIKELY Written by Dave Eggers Illustrated by Lane Smith (Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Written by celebrated author Dave Eggers and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lane Smith, Tomorrow Most Likely is a heartfelt (and not-so-quiet) bedtime story that brings affirmation and comfort to young audiences. By juxtaposing the small and the grand, the familiar and the odd, what is and what can be, author and illustrator provide confidence to a little boy facing the big, wide world.
As the boy learns of all the things that will “most likely” happen tomorrow, we readers see how discoveries both big and small will help him embrace the day. “Tomorrow most likely there will be a sky. And chances are it will be blue. Tomorrow most likely there will be a squirrel. And chances are his name is Stu.” Eggers rhymes, repeats key phrases, and describes the day through the familiar, child-centered concept of color. Smith’s vibrant illustrations–rendered in oil paint, pen and ink, paper collage, and digitally–create a bustling neighborhood of towering skyscrapers and confounding traffic signs. But like Eggers, Smith quiets the big city noise with familiarity. The shapes inherent in traffic signs provide a wonderful secondary “lesson” to the story.
Yet another layer is the hidden “lesson” of learning to be present. Watching a big plane “flying high and white and fast and far” is a treat the boy can treasure, if only he’s able to see it the moment before it vanishes into the clouds. He can befriend a little “bright bug, green and red” and discover it’s feeling lonely (because it’s missing Stu).
Though tomorrow will “most likely” be a predictable day, it’s also “most likely” that the unlikely will happen. “Something won’t rhyme.” The little boy will “see something strange. [He’ll] hear something odd.” No doubt uncertainty will be part of his day but, this too can be approached through learning and fun. If the little boy follows his curiosity, he’ll recognize that the strange, far away figure at the end of the street is actually his eccentric and funny friend.
What appears to be one thing can, in fact, be something entirely different. Separated friends, Stu and “bright bug,” will be reunited; a simple rock off the ground can look like a brain, and a cloud can transform into an ice cream treat. The only limit to what can be is the boy’s imagination. His contribution to the world is his interpretation and unique spin on everything he encounters. Tomorrow matters because of his presence in it.
What a loving and empowering way to send off to bed little kids dreaming of what tomorrow will (“most likely”) bring.
WE ARE THE CHANGE: WORDS OF INSPIRATION FROM CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS With an Introduction by Harry Belafonte (Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Middle-grade nonfiction book, We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders, beautifully weaves together quotations with evocative imagery. Harry Belafonte’s* powerful introduction encourages future leaders to remember that “in citizenship [resides] a profound majesty, an individual dignity, and a lifelong responsibility of each man and woman to one another.”
Sixteen award-winning illustrators have selected and depicted quotes from leaders past and present. Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement “universal human rights begin in small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map” is expanded by artist Molly Idle: “lines drawn on maps to divide us into nations, states, and towns are only imaginary.”
Sonia Sotomayor hopes we fix a broken system rather than fight it. Illustrator John Parra adds that “we can accomplish much by reframing our goals of working toward what we believe in, instead of what we are against.”
Raúl the Third’s moving image accompanies Dolores Huerta’s wish that “[people’s] differences should not turn into hatred.”
Khalil Gibran believes “[our children’s] souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” Artist Innosanto Nagara reminds us “the choices we make today must protect our children’s rights.”
Additional spirited civil rights quotations paired with original artwork by Selina Alko, Alina Chau, Emily Hughes, Molly Idle, Juana Medina, Innosanto Nagara, Christopher Silas Neal, Brian Pinkney, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, Dan Santat, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet make this a must-read for tweens.
We Are the Change is a call to action and an opportunity for thoughtful conversation.
*“Harry Belafonte is a Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1986 and is now the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.”
Internationally best-selling author Brett Blumenthal’s newest book, 52 Small Changes for the Family is the third in her series that helps you make a small change each week. This time she teams up with Danielle Shea Tan, a functional nutritionist, certified holistic health coach, and corporate wellness consultant focused on family health.
Since it takes an average of sixty-six days to learn a new habit, no wonder breaking out of ruts can be challenging. Making small changes over the course of a year is a simpler and more realistic way to improve our family’s health and happiness. Four categories—sharp mind, healthy spirit, resilient body, and deep connections—are interspersed to keep things interesting. Increased thoughtfulness in any of these areas is sure to have positive benefits.
I like that each week’s chapter opens with a quote and that a diverse range of topics are covered. Ones which resonate with me include “Toss Plastics” (such an important issue), “Enjoy Healthy Fats” (algae oil, who knew??), and “Have Real Conversations” (a reminder to talk daily with every member of your family about topics that matter).
The book’s weekly program can be adapted to whatever best fits your lifestyle. It all comes down to the relationships we maintain with ourselves and our world. The quote in the “Be a Good Friend” chapter sums it up: “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).
Why wait until the new year? Start June with 52 Small Changes for the Family. It’s a book you’ll keep on hand with pages flagged and lines highlighted. It also makes a wonderful gift.
My Two Moms and Me, a sleek new 22-page board book, looks like it’s as much for the adults reading it as it is for the little ones listening and that makes turning every page a treat. It’s nice to find a board book depicting same-sex families for the littlest family members, their friends and relatives. Whether children have one mom, two moms or even no moms involved in parenting, it’s important they can see themselves and the life they live reflected on the pages of all kinds of books. Joosten, who has also written My Two Dads and Me, describes all the daily activities any family would do from the perspective of the child. The humorous tone of the language adds to the book’s appeal: “At breakfast, we each have a glass of juice. They both like orange, but I’m more of an apple person, myself.” I love that! The families change on every page which works well so readers meet many different kinds of families, some with one child, some with two, some with boys, girls or both, some biracial, some with babies and some with toddlers. Coupled with the cool, contemporary clothing illustrations by fashion illustrator Zenou, My Two Moms and Me is a worthy choice this Mother’s Day.
If you’re looking for a charming picture book with simple and slightly retro-looking pen and ink style illustrations in shades of coral and black, pick up a copy of Mom and Me, Me and Mom. Similar to My Two Moms and Me above in that a child narrates the story in an almost tongue-in-cheek style, this book captures a mother-daughter relationship and emphasizes its uniqueness. What’s also adorable is that the child conveys what she contributes to the dynamic whether that be helping her mom’s mood or keeping her secrets safe. My two favorite spreads are: in a museum where the mom is studying a modern art paining while the little girl is staring at the water cooler: “I show you how to see things differently.” And then outdoors: “I follow your lead,” which depicts both mom and daughter reading. This one particularly resonated with me having raised avid readers. I have a feeling there’s a quality or activity that Tanco’s chosen to highlight that will also resonate with most mothers.
Superhero Mom, an enjoyable follow up to last year’s Superhero Dad, introduces readers to a little girl who reveres her mom and it’s easy to see why. “She does so many things at once. She zooms from here to there—mending … mixing … making … taming tangles in my hair.” We all know someone like that, a mom with energy enough for two. There are lots of super powers on display, all shared in well-metered rhyme, demonstrating why Mom qualifies as a superhero. They’re totally relatable, too. She carries so much stuff ✓, she appears out of nowhere to kiss away tears ✓, she finds missing toys and, last, but not least, “Every mom’s a SUPERHERO and so is every GIRL!” The art is bold and bright and full of superhero-type energy so I recommend this as an ideal read aloud for any story time since moms are superheroes all year round!
CLICKHEREFOR A LINK TO LAST YEAR’S MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP
THE LANGUAGE OF SPELLS Written by Garret Weyr Illustrated by Katie Harnett (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews
In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”
All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.
The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’sslow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?
IT’S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR SO… IT’S TIME FOR OUR BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018 PART 1
It’s back-to-school time around the country so we’ve prepared our annual back-to-school books roundup to get kids in that mindset. Where we live some kids returned to school as early as two weeks ago. My son begins his senior year of high school today while other children don’t go back until after Labor Day Here’s to a new year of reading and learning! And watch this space for Part 2.
The Itsy Bitsy School Bus, a sturdy, 16-page board book, takes little ones back-to-school using the beloved nursery rhyme we all know by heart. The rhythm and rhyme of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” provides an engaging way into the story that should help allay any first day jitters. “The itty bitsy school bus was ready for the day. Backpack was full with lunch and book, hooray! This sweet and friendly looking school bus experiences the daily routine much like any child would, from drop off, meeting the teacher, finding new friends and ending the day by heading home again. It’s easy to learn the words and the cheerful illustrations clue children into exactly what’s happening in every spread. Tuck a copy into your child’s backpack or give it to them the night before their first day and read it aloud together. Download the educator guide here.
I wish I’d had Dear Substitute when my son first started school. Its message of how change can be positive is a timeless one that applies year round. The story is written in epistolary style poems by the narrator, a young girl clearly anxious about her substitute teacher, Miss Pelly, covering for the primary teacher, Mrs. Giordano. It’s obvious from the letters that Miss Pelly does things differently than the main character is used to. Maybe she laughs too much and is perhaps even nervous herself, but of course an anxious child might not recognize that. The student writes her first letter and addresses it Dear Substitute where she expresses her surprise at having someone other than Mrs. Giordano. Following that is one to Attendance where she explains Miss Pelly’s poor pronunciation of her classmates’ names. She’s perturbed that her homework isn’t collected after missing shooting baskets to complete it. The class doesn’t visit the library, the class turtle’s tank isn’t getting cleaned and rules aren’t followed. Worst of all is being told not to swap food. The scolding hurts despite its good intention being at the heart of it. This 40-page picture book will definitely resonate with readers who like routine. They’ll also enjoy how Scanlon and Vernick (who’ve teamed up to write before), cleverly turn this student’s reluctance into willingness through Miss Pelly’s choice of books at story time. Soon the girl is embracing poetry and feeling a lot happier. By realizing that there’s more to the substitute teacher than she initially thought, she’s taken a major step toward accepting change. Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka’s watercolor illustrations are delightful accompaniments to the text. There’s a youthful buoyancy to the looseness and bright colors of the artwork that make it easy on the eye while not distracting from the letters. I can see this book being a popular read-aloud in classrooms and libraries for years to come. Download an educator guide here.
Ahoy mateys! I mean welcome aboard. Mike Ornstein’s treasure of a tale, Kindergarten Bus, will ease the fears of many a small child. This fun idea for a picture book—a pirate bus driver who tries the tough guy approach on his busload of Kindergartners, “There’ll be no blubbering’ on me bus!” —includes spot on pirate-speak and a relatable storyline. It’s not only the first day of school for these “little scoundrels”, but it’s also the pirate’s first day as driver. I got such a kick out of the humorous prose as well as the wonderfuly imagined illustrations by Kevin M. Barry. The kids have to walk up the plank to board the Jolly Roger Bus Co. bus with its porthole windows and wooden siding like on a pirate ship. The big difference? This vessel vehicle’s heading to school carrying precious cargo rather than heading out to pillage and plunder! But when the pirate’s sidekick Polly the parrot flies off out “the winder!”, the tough guy becomes immobilized and can no longer drive the bus without her. The tables are soon turned and it’s the crew of kids who pep talk the pirate out of his fears. Parents or teachers can point out in these spreads that one little girl’s shirt that had previously been obscured by her arm is now revealed and says I Got This! And blimey, Polly’s returned just in time for the now empowered pirate driver to transport all his “little scallywags” to kindergarten! Why does a pirate drive a schools you may ask? Well matey, ye’ll just have to find out for ye self! An author’s note offers grown-ups helpful, realistic tips on preparing kids for starting something new.
First-day-of-school-itis is that bug that children get in their heads that nothing will go right or be easy for them when they start school. Author illustrator Kate Berube introduces readers to Mae who, despite her parents’ efforts, declares “I’m not going.” Somehow her mom’s convinced her to walk to school during which time Mae’s fears grow. She ponders on “all the things that could go wrong.” She worries no one will like her, that she’ll be the only student who cannot write or that she’ll miss her mother. When Mae’s mom arrives at school, Mae is nowhere to be found. The nervous girl has climbed a tree and settled in. Her mom calls out and once again Mae declares, “I’m not going.” It’s a good thing the branch is sturdy because Mae is soon joined by Rosie who shares the same fears Mae does. The two commiserate over cookies and before long are joined by Ms. Pearl, clearly the teacher. This tall, wise lady confides in the girls that she’s not going either. I loved that part and thought it was such a clever approach. Just like Mae and Rosie, the teacher shares all her ‘what ifs’ and bonds with the youngsters. Mae is thankful she and Rosie are not alone in their feelings. Rosie points out how already they like each other so that’s one less concern to deal with. Plus, Ms. Pearl assures them, “And you don’t have to be worried about making mistakes when you’re reading and writing. School is for learning new things.” Ms. Pearl has a warm way of relating to her students and by climbing the tree she shows she’s ready to meet kids at their level, immediately lowering their anxiety levels. Now they can all get down and get ready to start their first day. Berube’s artwork is a charming accompaniment to her prose. There’s a nice mix of illustrations with some pages leaving lots of white so the text stands out while others, with less words on the page, place emphasis on the pictures like the one when the girls see Ms. Pearl climbing the tree to join them. I recommend Mae’s First Day of Schoolto share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.
Successful collaborators Cali and Chaud have paired up again, this time to tell The Truth About My Unbelievable School…, a fabulous laugh out loud story filled with as many grin producing moments of text and illustrations. Both the writing and art invite careful study because there’s smooch more than meets the eye. I know this not just because I felt this way, but I watched the reaction of a seven-year-old to whom I loaned the book in a doctor’s waiting room. Yes, I bring kidlit along with me when I’m out on my errands. Anyway, after slowly reading and studying each page, the boy immediately returned to the beginning and started all over again after pausing momentarily to proclaim, “Wild!”
Henry is chosen to give his new classmate a tour of their school only this school is like no other. All the while a little dog tags along adding a secondary character to keep tabs on. The students pass by the school pet, some type of ginormous jellyfish whose tank takes up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. The music teacher is an Elvis wannabe and my favorite, the art teacher, is right out of a Picasso painting with one eye above the other. Parents will get an extra kick out of the page if reading with children. The math instructor resembles Einstein and purple tentacled sea monster appears to be wreaking havoc in another room. Surprises lurk behind every door. The janitor’s an Oz-like character and the Principal’s levitating as the students enter her room. The playground treehouse is not to be missed nor is the swamp creature swim coach. What else could there possibly be in such an unusual school where lagoons and dark, winding stairwells are the norm? Kids will want a day at this unbelievable school to see for themselves!
TINY INFINITIES Written by J. H. Diehl (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
– A Junior Library Guild Selection –
In Tiny Infinities, the debut middle grade novel by J. H. Diehl, the summer when Alice turns thirteen, her family’s structure disintegrates. Her mother has become a bedridden recluse, her father moves out, and Alice’s two brothers are temporarily placed with their aunt. Alice willfully stays at the family home, erecting the Renaissance tent her parents met in, resolving to sleep in the backyard until her father returns. Due to finances, cell phones, internet, and camps are cut. Earning money babysitting is bittersweet—Alice’s parents are too distracted to pay much attention. Alice discovers each family has complications. Piper, the young girl she watches, has an undiagnosed loss of speech and possibly hearing.
This quiet story considers deep issues including how one family member’s illness or injury affects everyone. Because of her parents’ split and her mother’s inability to recover, Alice loses touch with close friends rather than explain.
Swimming keeps Alice centered; she’s determined to get her name on her swim team’s record board. A friendship with the new girl, Harriet, develops. Harriet’s keen observations while somewhat off-putting are also perceptive: she advises Alice to switch to backstroke. While this is another change, Alice eventually realizes that she likes swimming backwards without seeing where she’s going; it gives her confidence in her ability to maneuver the pool, and life. Alice and her friends learn from one another how to find their way—realizing it is their way to find.
Tiny Infinities is an honest coming-of-age middle-grade novel. Alice understands for the first time that there is “no line between hot and cold, or warm and cool, love and not love. Tiny infinities [are] always going to be there.”
Fireflies play a clever role in the novel throughout. Beneath the book’s beautiful glimmering jacket is a stunning smooth casewrap adorned with fireflies. The brightly contrasting endpapers offer a pop of color.