Some kids returned to school in August. Have yours? Maybe your children are getting ready to begin the new school year after Labor Day. In other words there’s still time to read about and buy the latest books covering the entire school experience. Today’s titles range from first days and school staff to pet pandemonium. Don’t forget to also check out our Back-to-School Roundup Part 1.
NO FROGS IN SCHOOL
Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-7)
What do you do when you love pets so much that you can’t imagine going to school without one? That’s Bartholomew Bott’s dilemma in No Frogs in School. Monday meant frogs much to his teacher’s dismay. Tuesday turned out to be super for bringing in his salamander. Once again, Mr. Patanoose, was not amused and banned all amphibians from being brought to school. It worked out to bring Horace the hamster to school on Wednesday, but once on campus things didn’t go so well. Mr. P added rodents to the banned list. On Thursday Sylvia the snake had a turn and scared some classmates. Naturally no reptiles were allowed after that fiasco! In fact for Friday’s show and tell, the teacher specified that kids could bring in anything “But no more of YOUR pets.” That’s when Bartholomew had a brilliant idea. He’d bring in Rivka the rabbit who could be EVERYONE’S pet! And that made all the kids and even Mr. P happy. Kids can be so literal and LaFaye has taken this childlike characteristic and woven it into a cute and colorful tale. I give Bartholomew a lot of credit for persevering to get his beloved creatures to accompany him to school. When that didn’t work, he found an even better solution, a class pet to please all.
LaFaye’s created a clever story about a clever youngster that will appeal to pet-loving kids everywhere. This year ’round read is infused with subtle humor that is complemented beautifully by the illustrations. From the kitty in the fish bowl to a sandwich eating duck, the first spread by Ceulemans gives readers a great idea what fun the multiple media artwork has in store. I laughed upon finding a sock puppet peeking through the classroom door in the second spread that I’d somehow missed during my initial reading. I appreciated all the attention to little details whether that is a student about to eat a shovelful of dirt or Bott’s slippers. Pick up a copy today and enjoy!
FAIRY’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Bridget Heos
Illustrated by Sara Not
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
In Fairy’s First Day of School, the action starts off before the title page with a speech bubble “Wake up,” as a lady bug calls out to a sleeping fairy. Over breakfast Mama fairy explains how things will go on the first day of school which in this case means the entire routine we all know so well—swan school bus, teacher greeting, classmates meeting, circle time, show and tell, centers, recess, lunch, nap time, story time, and home—but with wings and fairy things!
This delightful twist on what children should expect on their first day works so well with the fairy angle. All the tiny things are gem-toned and appealingly illustrated. And all the activities are ideal for winged little ones such as art center, tooth center and spells center. Just remember your wand for cleaning up any messes made. It’s so much fun playing hide-and-seek behind toadstools, dining on “a petal-and-dewdrop sandwich” and eating one human-sized sprinkle for dessert. Just imagine having story time in a bird’s nest and you’ll understand how charming and enchanting this fairy-take on the first day of school is. Not’s whimsical illustrations combined with Heos’ magical language and fun premise make one reading simply not enough.
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Ellen Shi
(Wordsong; $17.95, Ages 5-8)
The first thing I noticed when I read the contents page of School People, an interesting new collection of school-themed poems, is how many different jobs there are. Fifteen fabulous poems run the gamut from bus driver and crossing guard to teacher, principal and librarian and lots more important professionals in-between. I especially like that the nurse, custodian and lunch lady are also included. Even the building itself has been included. “School’s Story” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, the first poem in the anthology, is a warm and welcoming one beginning with “I am waiting – come on in! / Welcome to this house of brick. / Enter whispers, whistles, signs, / footsteps, fossils, notebook lines.”
While I was never a P.E. enthusiast as a student, I have to admit Charles Ghigna’s “Coach” felt upbeat and its ending, “life is a gym / come- / have a ball”, is terrific. So is the accompanying artwork by Ellen Shi. In it she’s presented the instructor with students from what would likely be the ball’s perspective, down low and looking up, with students’ faces fixed on the coach, replete with whistle in her mouth, hands gesturing, all under an afternoon sky. Hopkins shares the magic a librarian brings to their position, the one person I credit with turning me into a reader when I had all but given up on books as a second grader.
Notable poet names you’ll recognize, as Hopkins often includes many of them in other collections, are Ann Whitford Paul, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Renée LaTulippe plus others new to me such as Robyn Hood Black, Michele Krueger, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Darren Sardelli, and Irene Latham. Shi’s illustrations, done digitally, are cheerful, energetic and cover a range of emotions from the sadness of an ill child at the nurse to dramatic student performers in theater class. School People, an ideal read aloud, is a fitting tribute to the variety of important individuals whose roles throughout a typical school day help shape our children’s learning experience.
HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG
Written and illustrated by Jen Betton
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Written by Holly Thompson
Illustrated by Jen Betton
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?
Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.
Betton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time
The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Written by Marcus Ewert & illustrated by Lisa Brown
(Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Reviewer Cathy Ballou Mealey just can’t keep mummy about this picture book!
A loyal and loving feline searches for his devoted owner, a young Egyptian queen in Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown’s clever picture book MUMMY CAT. The catch? He’s just woken from a hundred year’s sleep after having been mummified and entombed in a beautifully decorated pyramid.
For young readers, the tale works on the simplest level as the pet seeks to reunite with his owner. The determined, inquisitive cat is appealing and adorable despite his elaborate linen wrappings. The tomb is bright and colorful, filled with interesting artifacts, a swirling moth, and cute little mice. Even a few spiders and cobwebs are so delightfully depicted that timid listeners will have nothing to fear.
As he wanders though the pyramid, the cat gazes fondly at painted murals showing his past life with the queen, Hapshupset. Indeed, the murals tell a more complex story within the story about a jealous, scheming sibling that complicated the young queen’s life. This aspect of the book will hold enormous appeal for older readers. Looking beyond the captivating mural images, we slowly decode the devious actions of Hapshupset’s sister and her evil lion-monkey.
An author’s note explains mummies, cats, queens and hieroglyphics for readers who want to know more, and seventeen hieroglyphs hidden within the illustrations are spelled out in more detail.
Ewert’s rhyming text is short yet descriptive, moving the story forward at a steady pace. Deep within this maze of stone, a creature wakes up, all alone . . .Spanning the full scope of this once-a-century event, Ewert leads us from the sun setting over hot desert sands into the tomb, through the night, and closing as the sun is beginning to rise. The spare but rich narrative leaves plenty of opportunity for Brown’s engaging, creative illustrations to flourish and add poignant, tender touches.
Just as Egyptian priests tucked magical amulets and symbolic treasures into a mummy’s linens, Ewert and Brown have slipped countless sweet delights into the pages of MUMMY CAT. Turn the pages slowly and savor them one by one. I’m certain you will also be en-wrap-tured by its many charms!
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of MUMMY CAT from my library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Enter our exciting picture books giveaway today!
Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.
NANA IN THE CITY by Lauren Castillo (available in bookstores September 2, 2014) $16.99, Ages 4-8 Now a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book!!
Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)
This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”
With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”
Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.
CREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection
Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually …
Dear red squirrel:
Does that fur on your ears help you hear better?
children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.
No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.
There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of. Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.
SMALL BLUE AND THE DEEP DARK NIGHT by Jon Davis (available in bookstores now) $16.99, Ages 4-8
Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.
But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”
I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure. And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Edgar’s Second Word, a picture book written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Oh how sweet sister-to-be Hazel longs to welcome her baby brother! She’s drawn pictures and posters, chosen special bedtime stories, and practiced reading to her stuffed bunny, Rodrigo. But as Hazel finds in Audrey Vernick’s newest picture book, Edgar’s Second Word, babies don’t always want to go along with the plan.
Hazel and Edgar’s mother dutifully notes all of Edgar’s firsts in his baby book, while Hazel waits patiently for Edgar to do more than grunt and point. His first word, NO, is celebrated and then quickly deplored as it becomes Edgar’s go-to response to all opportunities for entertainment.
Burris’ artwork is spot-on cheerful and bright for her young audience. Warm yellow tones and lovely lilac hues are nicely accented with springtime greens. Nothing is too perfect or precise, and delightfully captures Hazel’s springy curls, bubbly bath, and cozy bed. The detail contrast with plaids, polka-dots and zig zags adds lovely textural interest to every spread.
Interior artwork from Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Priscilla Burris, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Readers will know from the title that Edgar does eek out a second word by the book’s end. But the surprise is that there is also a third word that wraps the story to a harmonious and clever close. Edgar’s Second Word is a fresh, appealing story accenting the positive aspects of sibling relationships while underscoring the virtues of patience and persistence.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
– Where Obtained: I received a review copy from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.