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
Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.
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.”
Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.
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’s slow-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?
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
IT’S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR SO…
IT’S TIME FOR OUR
BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018
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
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Sanja Rescek
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)
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.
Written by Liz Garton Scanlon + Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
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.
Written by Mike Ornstein
Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 0-4)
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.
MAE’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Kate Berube
(Abrams Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
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 School to share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MY UNBELIEVABLE SCHOOL…
Written by Davide Cali
Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud
(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 6-9)
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!
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.
• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
BEST BOOKS FOR MOTHER’S DAY 2018
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? With our recommendations for the best new Mother’s Day books around! And, whatever you may do, wherever you may go, take some time to read together with your children at home, in a park, on a train, at a bookstore or in a library. Books make memorable gifts and, with an added personal message, will be cherished for years to come.
A Heart Just Like My Mother’s
Written by Lela Nargi
Illustrated by Valeria Cis
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)
In A Heart Just Like My Mother’s, when Anna, who loves and admires her mother is inspired to help a homeless man by saving up her Tzedakah money, she realizes she and her mom share something in common—a big heart. This lovely picture book is a wonderful way to explain the Jewish tradition of performing an act Tzedakah which Nargi defines not so much as charity but doing the right thing by helping others. But it’s also the story of a little girl who starts out thinking she could never be as creative, funny or caring as her mother until she realizes what she has to offer. By collecting Tzedakah money and providing food for the homeless man, Anna’s selfless act of kindness brings her closer to her mother and proves to herself that she too has qualities worth being proud of. I love Cis’s illustrations too. There’s a warm, folksy feeling about them that adds to the positive vibe that emanates from the pages making A Heart Just Like My Mother’s such an enjoyable read.
Forever or a Day
Written and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
With its starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby will make a thoughtful gift this holiday for those seeking something at once out of the ordinary as well as heartwarming. It conveys its beautiful message with spare yet evocative text and in just 20 pages. At first I thought it was a picture book about the future, but then it dawned on me that it’s about being present and spending time together with loved ones and making meaningful moments now. Adults and children may experience different reactions when reading the book but that’s to be expected. Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times–bestselling illustrator of Finding Winnie, says it best: “Sarah Jacoby’s ethereal exploration of time rushes like a passing train, shimmers like a setting sun and allows us, just for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of standing still.” Prepare to be moved by the compelling art that complements the lyrical language of Forever or a Day.
I’ve Loved You Since Forever
Written by Hoda Kotb
Illustrated by Suzie Mason
(HarperCollins BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
Precious pairings of mothers and and animal babies from bluebirds and bunnies to otters and owls fill the pages of Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s debut picture book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Kotb adopted her daughter, Haley Joy, in February 2017 and her happiness at becoming a mother is infectious and evident throughout this delightful picture book. Gentle rhyme, a repeated refrain (there was you … and there was me), a rewarding wrap up and exuberant illustrations all work wonderfully together. I’d pick up I’ve Loved You Since Forever for any new parent on your holiday list. In addition to Kotb’s lovely language, there’s a sense of warmth and closeness from the special bond of parenthood depicted in Mason’s tender scenarios. Whether or not you’re an adoptive parent, I’m sure these lines will resonate with you as they did with me: Before otters swam together/and rivers reached the sea/there was you and there was me/waiting for the day our stars would cross/and you and I turned into we. Awww!
American Mom: A Celebration of Motherhood in Pop Culture
by Meredith Hale
(Sterling Publishing; $19.95)
In 176 color pages and 12 clever chapters, author Hale deftly delves into the world of motherhood from various perspectives that readers will find fascinating. The introduction says the book “explores the changing role of motherhood through the images and shared cultural moments that have captured it best: magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, television shows, movies, songs, and other pop culture ephemera.” Choose a chapter at a time because this comprehensive and enlightening book is meant to be savored slowly (like a 1950s TV mom’s best casserole) and cannot be read in one or even two sittings. I love the breadth of the material that’s been included and am partial to the earlier chapters that cover motherhood in the eras before I was born including The Nineteenth Century, The Pre-War Years, World War I, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, The 1950s (although note that American Mom does go all the way to present day 21st century). I learned, for example, that between “1885 and 1905, there were around eleven thousand magazines and periodicals published in the United States—and about 88 percent of the subscribers were women,” that Betty Crocker was a fictional character, that Eleanor Roosevelt “broadened the role” of first lady and that on I Love Lucy they couldn’t say the word pregnant on the show! Through Hale’s insightful lens on motherhood, we’re taken on an entertaining jaunt through fashion, food, first ladies, feminism, photography, film and literature that pays tribute to the ever changing role of mothers in American life and touches on aspects of this expansive topic in ways that will interest every reader, male or female.
If you’re looking for a fun, original board book for Mother’s Day, look no further than
From Mother to Mother
Written and illustrated by Emilie Vast
Translated from French by Julia Cormier
(Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3)
Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a mother’s mother’s mother’s mother who in turn gave birth to a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I gave birth to you … my very own child. A mother’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for dads!
Read our Mother’s Day recommendations from 2017 here.
Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Love, Mama here.
BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS 2018
A ROUNDUP – PART ONE
Check out the variety of Valentine’s Day books that are available this year to share with your kids. Whether you’re seeking something traditional or offbeat, sentimental or silly, we’ve got you covered! Make tracks to your nearest independent bookseller and pick up several copies using our list below. Nothing goes better with a bouquet than a book!
This is NOT a Valentine
Written by Carter Higgins
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Chronicle Books; $14.99, Ages 4-8)
This may NOT be your mother’s Valentine’s Day book but it is your children’s! Higgins has taken the typical holiday book and turned it on its head as only an author who is also a school librarian can. Prepare for quirky yet charming in this nothing hearts or pink or gushy debut picture book. This is NOT a Valentine celebrates friendship and the kind of love worth getting excited over when you find a friend which whom you have so much in common or adore simply because of who they are and how they make you feel. With kid-centric, feel good artwork that starts with the title page and takes readers through a school day, Cummins’ illustrations demonstrate how the two friends enjoy each other’s company. And while this book may not be a Valentine, it sure feels like one. And that’s okay, even without glitter, cursive writing or dainty lace.
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Loren Long
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Love comes in many shapes and sizes, and is anywhere and everywhere. De la Peña’s Love lyrically and gently conveys the many ways that love manifests itself. Long’s soothing and superb illustrations add to the reassuring nature of this story. Sure to provide comfort to children experiencing growing pains, doubts and fears, this much lauded story also honors the buoyant bonds of family and friends with loud and quiet moments of steadfast love and devotion. Love can be “the smell of crashing waves, and a train whistling blindly in the distance …” or it can be found “in the arms of a loved one who bends to your ear and whispers, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s love.'” It’s tenderness, touching and togetherness rolled into one powerful picture book. Love is filled with ample white space to contemplate the radiant artwork while soaking up the the words slowly and then beginning all over again. Stunning spreads show upbeat slices of life such as a dad and daughter dancing on a trailer home rooftop and youngsters playing with a policeman in the mist of “summer sprinklers.” There are also moments of discord such as a couple fighting and disaster shown on a TV broadcast. “One day you find your family nervously huddled around the TV, but when you ask what happened, they answer with silence and shift between you and the screen.” Reading Love is a visceral experience that will move adults reading the story aloud to squeeze their children a little tighter and plant extra kisses on their cheeks. Four letters say so much.
I Give You My Heart
Written by Pimm van Hest
Illustrated by Sassafras De Bruyn
(Clavis Publishing USA; $32.95, Ages 6 and up)
In van Hest’s I Give You My Heart, young Yuto’s instincts take him to an old shop where the elderly owner gives him a box, a gift that will positively influence him throughout his life. At first the special box won’t open, but when it does, a seed grows from inside which one day Yuto must plant. Eventually, as the tree grows, so does Yuto who finds the tree plays an important role in his life—a solid, steady force offering him comfort and stability that he wants to share with his wife, children, and when the time comes, another young child just like Yuto was when he was gifted the box. This beautiful, poetic picture book demonstrates another aspect of love as depicted in the circle of life and nature. Don’t miss this stunning 56 page gift book full of wonderfully impressive laser cutouts in addition to all the other moving illustrations.
What the World Needs Now is Love
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt
(Penguin Workshop; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)
Those of us of a certain age will remember way back in 1965 when the song, What the World Needs Now is Love reached Billboard’s Top 10 and was playing on radios everywhere. The controversial Vietnam War was raging, protestors were picketing and Civil Rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery. And the more things change the more they stay the same. In a brief intro to this song turned inclusive and encouraging picture book, composer Bacharach says, “When Hal David and I wrote this song in 1965, it was an observation on what was going on in the world, and we thought it was an important statement to make. Now, decades later, the song’s meaning has become much more powerful. We’re so glad we wrote this song, and are delighted that you can now enjoy it as a book.” Originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, this song made an indelible impression in my brain because it’s so upbeat and yet so simple. It’s pulled together by McDevitt’s hand-lettered song lyrics and vibrantly illustrated diverse images of children from all walks of life, playing or simply hanging out together. Show you care this Valentine’s Day by giving loved ones a copy of this small (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″) 32-page book that’s as colorful as it is charming and packaged with a red ribbon enclosure.
Love The World
Written and illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 3-6)
The one place that love should start, emphasizes Parr’s rhyming text in Love The World, is within ourselves. This meaningful message from Parr seems to jump out from every vibrant and boldly illustrated page that also shout Parr from near and far. Children continue to embrace his signature colorful style and positive outlook and it’s easy to see why. If you love yourself then you can easily share that love with friends, family, those in need. And let’s not forget our planet and everything on it. The repetition of “Love Yourself. Love the World!” throughout the book serves to reinforce Parr’s inspiring central idea that we’re all worth the effort. “Everything and everyone deserves love,” says the copy on the back jacket cover and it’s so true, only it doesn’t end when the book closes. Youngsters will feel energized and enthusiastic after hearing the rhythmic words and will be motivated to spread sone love and kindness around.
Bagel in Love
Written by Natasha Wing
Illustrated by Helen Dardik
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)
Finding love (and winning a dance contest no one thought he could win) is the sweetest revenge for Bagel who’s got the moves but no dance partner when Bagel in Love first opens. In fact, he can’t get a break. He’s peachy keen on entering the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest, but it seems Poppy, Pretzel, Croissant, Doughnut and Cake all think he’s not cut out to compete like Fred Éclair. And they let him know it in pun-laden prose good for giggles and grins. Wing’s wordplay is wonderful as is Dardik’s delightful digital artwork that animates the downer desserts with pinks, purples teals and tons more colors that pop off the page. Some of my favorite lines include, “Matzo flat out told him no,” and “Call me flaky,” said Croissant. “But those moves are totally stale.” When a toe-tapping cupcake comes along and steals bagel’s heart, the two carbs gel, making the best Éclair and Cherryse moves this side of Hollywood. A sparkly cover and final spread are “just icing on the cake” for kids who love a story with a happy ending.
I Love You for Miles and Miles
Written by Alison Goldberg
Illustrated by Mike Yamada
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 2-6)
As I read Goldberg’s debut picture book, I Love You for Miles and Miles, I kept thinking how much my children would have enjoyed this story when they were little. They could not get enough of truck, train, excavator and emergency vehicle books and this one fits that bill in every way with a bonus of love tied to each one depicted. The super cool mama bear, talking to her child, conveys the extent of her love with comparisons to big rigs “Stretching side to side, Hauling loads of every shape and size.” And it doesn’t stop there! Her love is faster than a fire truck and higher than the highest plane. No matter where these various tough, strong and resilient modes of transport go, this mama bear’s love goes there too. Yamada’s illustrations are cheerful and bright, always bringing the focus onto the mother and her child. This book is ideal for bedtime reading and, while bursting with love, is not just for Valentine’s Day but all year long.
Check out a review of Love, Mama
Check out our Part Two of our New Books for Valentine’s Day Roundup
Check out a previous Valentine’s Day Roundup