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Picture Book Review for Grandparents Day – Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar

 

MAMA SHAMSI AT THE BAZAAR

Written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani 

Illustrated by Maya Fidawi

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar cover Grandmother and grandaughter walking to bazaar

 

 

Written by mother-daughter duo Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar shares the loving bond between grandmother and granddaughter as they venture out to share a new experience together.

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int1 ready to go to bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Getting ready to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, Samira is afraid she’ll get lost in the crowd. Again and again, she tries to coax Mama Shams into letting her hide under the protection of her veil. “‘Let’s get in line, under your chador, you in front, me behind!’” But each time, Mama Shams responds with a resounding “Na, na, na” followed by an exaggerated explanation of how silly they might look to passersby. “‘I’d look like a fool with four legs below me just like a mule!” 

 

Mama Shamsi at the bazaar int2 Samira and Mama Shamsi near bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Textually, this lovely rhyming interchange between grandmother and granddaughter adds much humor and whimsy, while also providing a place for young readers of all backgrounds to stay grounded in the story as Mama Shamsi suggests the different types of animals she may be mistaken for if she acquiesces to Samira’s wish.

 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int3 Mama Shamsi tells Samira to use her eyes and ears
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Visually, their conversation introduces readers to the bustling capital of Iran, Tehran. Fidawi’s expressive illustrations are wonderfully and thoughtfully detailed from home to city life during the 1960s/’70s, reflecting the time period author Hassani grew up there. My personal favorites include the seated vendor on the street, prayer beads in hand, and chai brewing on a portable burner next to him, a grandmother on the balcony of a nearby apartment hanging clothes to dry, and another vendor selling my favorite Iranian street food: steamed beets. When they finally arrive at the bazaar, Samira feels assured that with Mama Shamsi by her side, she is safe to enjoy and explore her new world. 

For those seeking an intergenerational, diverse, sweet, and/or humorous story with a touch of social-emotional learning, this picture book ticks off all of the boxes. A recommended read for National Grandparents Day and year-round.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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An Interview with Rajani LaRocca, Author of Your One and Only Heart

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN PAIGE CONRAD

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Your One and Only Heart Cover

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:
A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca

In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?

Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.

I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.

 

DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!

RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.

In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int1 Your heart is Singular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?

RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.

There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!

 

DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?

RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.

 

DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?

RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.

Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.

And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.

When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int2 Your Heart is Muscular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: What’s up next for you?

RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!

Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!

My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.

And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.

 

 

Author Rajani LaRocca headshot
Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit ©Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

BUY THE BOOK: 

https://www.rajanilarocca.com/picture-books/your-one-and-only-heart/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

 

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Best Easter Books for Children

 

 

BEST EASTER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 Pick a Perfect Egg cover chicks bunnies easter eggsPICK A PERFECT EGG
Written by Patricia Toht
Illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

The popular duo, Patricia Toht and Jarvis continues their “Pick a” series with Pick a Perfect Egg. First, of course, you need an egg and the book starts, logically, with a chicken: “Pick a perfect egg with care— / choose a white one nestled there.” We feel the thought placed in each step by the mother and daughter until their eggs are ready for the big day. At that moment, I like how the story steps away and leads us to other kinds of eggs found during the egg hunt but then returns to the star of the show: their dyed eggs.

Toht’s rhyme is masterfully crafted with fun and lively sounds but also enough variation to add interest to the repetition. The illustrations by Jarvis have the soft edges of spring coupled with a cheerful color scheme. This is one of my favorite new Easter books because it showcases how much egg-coloring means to kids. I could read this book again and again.
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Hope is a Hop girl in garden with bunnyHOPE IS A HOP
Written by Katrina Moore

Illustrated by Melissa Iwai
(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7) 

In Katrina Moore’s picture book, Hope Is a Hop, Eva lovingly plants seeds and tends to her garden, but—intruder alert!—she’s not able to reap what she sowed. We learn what hope can be: “a hum and a song and a pat / a battle with a bunny / a worn-in straw hat.” The rhyming couplets capture what a garden means to a child and how things may not always be as they seem.

In a clever, layered plot, the bunny’s and family’s stories unfold. Melissa Iwai’s illustrations beautifully depict spring in all its glory; they work perfectly with the spare text, saying so much through the captivating art. An ideal book for a gardener, animal lover, or a family expecting a baby. Because of the darling, mischievous bunny, this book also works at Easter time.

 

Hot Cross Bunny cover of cross blue bunny and birdTHE HOT CROSS BUNNY
Written by Carys Bexington
Illustrated by Mark Chambers
(Happy Yak/Quarto; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

If you’re looking for an Easter book that’s delightfully different, Carys Bexington’s The Hot Cross Bunny hits the mark. Steve (a bunny) wants to win the annual Golden Egg Cup contest, but, sadly, he hasn’t grown a chocolate egg all year. With a little ingenuity—and a tossing aside of the instructions—he succeeds. Kind of. Well, maybe not. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Mark Chambers’s illustrations take the puns and funny rhyming lines to the next level. Steve the bunny’s expressions are delightful and his chocolate eggs are certainly eggsceptional. Be sure to continue on past what seems to be the last page to see why I want one of Steve’s eggs in my Easter basket this year!

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.WriteforSuccessEditing.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@WriteforSuccessEditing.com
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New Father’s Day Books for 2022

 

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

happy-father-s-day-handwritten-lettering-text-design-blue-circle-brush-stroke-background-holiday-card-vector-illustration-happy-117116369

 

 

Daddy Speaks Love coverDADDY SPEAKS LOVE
Written by Leah Henderson
Illustrated by
 E. B. Lewis 
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

“Inspired by six-year-old Gianna Floyd’s words about her father, George Floyd, in the wake of his murder, this picture book centers the loving relationship between fathers and children.” – Publishers Weekly

This picture book resonated with me having just recently lost my dad making it my first Father’s Day without him. The lyrical stanzas describing love, truth, comfort, learning, heroes, trust, and pride unfold at a perfect pace as we glimpse special moments and lessons learned passed down from father to child.

Peopled by a diverse group of fathers and children and narrated from a child’s point of view, this picture book beautifully explores the importance and influence of fatherhood, especially for those of color. Using the powerful refrain “Daddy speaks” throughout, the text addresses simple activities (bedtime stories) to impactful insights only elders who’ve been there can share. “Daddy speaks LEARNING when he says, “’Listen up. This world isn’t always fair. This world isn’t always kind. And this you’ll need to know.’” Lewis’s moving watercolor illustrations present a realistic portrait of the characters in a warm palette that complements Henderson’s meaningful prose. The book includes a must-read author note at the end.

MY HERO
Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

I love how author-illustrator Brian Biggs has taken the “dad as superhero” story and turned it on its head. They’ll also see a father very active in caring for his daughter. Despite that, it’s obvious to little Abigail (aka Awesome Girl) that her father is not really listening to her or believing her amazing adventures. His priority is getting her bathed, while Awesome Girl’s goal is to serve mankind, rescue her cat from a tree (even though it doesn’t need rescuing), and “Save the day!”

When Abigail remains in the tub and her father goes to make dinner, her need to fight for truth and justice is once again spurred into action. A purple octopus monster abducts Abigail’s dad and is threatening him for not believing in his daughter. Awesome Girl, with her fab feline sidekick, must rid the city of this menace.  And she does so in a cool, comic-book-style action sequence! In an adorable show of solidarity, Awesome Dad emerges safe and impressed following his daughter’s show of strength. Seeing is believing in this delightful story. The mixed-media art along with the hand lettering in My Hero brings energy and entertainment to this thoroughly satisfying read. Don’t miss the bonus treat hiding under the dust jacket!

Some Daddies coverSOME DADDIES
Written by Carol Gordon Ekster
Illustrated by Javiera Mac-lean Alvarez
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet a variety of daddies doing all sorts of daddy things with and for their children. The premise of Ekster’s picture book is simple: Dads are all different and approach their lives and childrearing in their own unique way. And just as no two dads are alike, no two kids are either.

For little ones, the fun part will be both the read-aloud aspect and hopefully seeing a father (or father-figure) between the pages they can relate to whether it’s a dad who goes to work dressed in a suit, in a uniform, or in pajamas working from bed. Some dads are sporty while others like to read (and ultimately nap!). I also enjoyed Mac-lean Alvarez’s vivid artwork depicting these same fathers throughout the story often interacting in scenes where the older reader or caregiver can point out details included such as a dad who missed catching his daughter and ends up in the doctor’s office. More a concept story than one with a plot, Some Daddies delivers in demonstrating that there is no one type of daddy, but since there is no one type of kid, that’s just fine.

Click here to find more Father’s Day book reviews.

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Best New Children’s Christmas Books for 2021

 

A ROUNDUP OF
THE BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2021

 

 

All of us at GoodReadsWithRonna.com wish you a warm and wonderful Christmas!

 

REVIEWS:

Jingle Bells Navidad coverJINGLE BELLS / NAVIDAD:
Bilingual Nursery Rhymes
(English & Spanish)
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $10.99, Ages 0-6)

This 16 page bilingual, lift-the-flaps board book is not only beautiful to look at (its cover features foil accents), it stars the sweet little chickies from the Emmy-nominated series. What a delightful way to celebrate the holidays than by sharing the “Jingle Bells” song with children in both English and Spanish. There are cute characters in vibrant colors to enjoy including Mama Hen, a purple spider, an adorable elephant, a frog, and a bunny. Kids can have fun lifting the assorted flaps to find additional words such as warmth/calor, joy/alegria and others all while improving their bilingual language skills. A larger formatted board book ($14.99) with an accordion design offers the opportunity to read “Jingle Bells” on one side entirely in English and the other in Spanish. Visit canticosworld.com for free resources, activities, and more. For a limited time, the Encantos app is available for free.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Merry Christmas Gus coverMERRY CHRISTMAS, GUS
Written and illustrated by Chris Chatterton
(Penguin Workshop; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Merry Christmas, Gus, is Chris Chatterton’s second book featuring the adorable grumpy hound dog, Gus. It seems there’s not much of anything that Gus likes about the holiday season until a puppy enters the picture, then, . . . maybe.

As in the first book, the art is LOL funny because of Gus’s gloomy expressions. My favorite part is the ending—sorry, you’ll have to read it yourself! The perfect gift for the not-really-into-it person on your holiday shopping list.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Toys' ChristmasTHE TOYS’ CHRISTMAS
Written by Claire Clément
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Let the cozy feeling of this sweet bedtime Christmas tale envelope your little ones as they drift contentedly off to sleep. I was enchanted by the premise of The Toys’ Christmas in which little Noah cannot fall asleep because his favorite stuffed animal FanFan is nowhere to be found. Enchanted by his going missing you might ask? No. I was enchanted by his devotion to Noah. FanFan, it seems, is on a secret mission along with all the other soft toys he meets up with on his long and special journey. Once a year the beloved toys travel to the North Pole. There they can “tell Santa what their child wants for Christmas. After all, they know their child best of all.” Well,  this just warmed my heart and I hope it does the same for your child. Rest assured FanFan returns to delight Noah who also is thrilled to have his Christmas wish come true. Coupled with Godbout’s gorgeous pastel and colored pencil illustrations in faded tones not unlike many of the much-loved toys after years of cuddling and washes, Clément’s gentle prose are sure to charm.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas Here I Come coverCHRISTMAS, HERE I COME!
Written by D. J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield
(Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 4-6)

If you’re looking for a gift to bring to family, friends or neighbors before Christmas or on the day itself, look no further than Christmas, Here I Come!, one of the multiple books in the best-selling series. This paperback is packed with humorous and sentimental poems revolving around the holiday from choosing trees to jokes about fruitcake, from the joyful mess of wrapping paper to Santas around the world. There are even stickers at the end for further entertainment. One of my favorites is called “Peace on Earth” about two neighbors competing for the most lights on their homes until circuits blew. Another is “My Christmas Sweater” about the hilarity and comfiness of the traditional ugly sweater. There’s also a recurring Dear Santa Claus letter from a character called Bobby which many youngsters will find relatable. Stansfield’s art evokes the holiday spirit, capturing the abundant experiences detailed in Steinberg’s poetry.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Joy to the World coverJOY TO THE WORLD!:
Christmas Around the Globe
Written by Kate DePalma
Illustrated by Sophie Fatus
(Barefoot Books; $17.99, Ages 4-10)

Joy to the World!, with its gold embossed lettering and accents on the cover, makes a great Christmas gift for families, friends, and anyone curious about the holiday traditions in 13 countries spanning from Argentina to Serbia. Peopled with diverse children and their families celebrating in special ways, this colorful picture book not only entertains but educates too.

Kids will see how in the Philippines Simbang Gabi lasts for nine days including daily worship. “We come every day, and they say if you do/Whatever you wish on day nine will come true.” Stars shimmer across this particular two-page spread, and beautifully bordered art (throughout the book and unique to that country) in a cheerful jewel-toned palette emanates joy and community. In Ethiopia, where people celebrate Genna on January 7, families gather around the mesob (a basket-like table) and feed one another “a large bit of food by hand.” I love that so many celebrations revolve around food in addition to family and faith rituals. Older readers will find even more helpful information in the back matter which expands on the brief rhyming info for each country that was depicted in earlier pages. This welcoming, upbeat picture book full of happy families brings world celebrations to your fingertips in a most delightful way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Star Tree coverTHE STAR TREE
Written and  illustrated by Gisela Cölle

Translated by Rosemary Lanning (first published in Switzerland)
(NorthSouth Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For a quiet story this busy holiday season, consider Gisela Cölle’s, The Star Tree. A mustachioed old man missed days of yore, far from sprawling urban life. No one even glances at the sky above anymore as they hurry through their busy days.

Cölle’s illustrations echo the rustic simplicity of the text. This timeless classic demonstrates that sometimes less can be more, and by taking that first step, a community can be brought together. You’ll feel inspired to cut out some stars too!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Carla and the Christmas Cornbread coverCARLA AND THE CHRISTMAS CORNBREAD
Written by Carla Hall with Kristen Hartke
Illustrated by Cherise Harris
(Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I find food-themed picture books hard to resist. Do you? Carla and the Christmas Cornbread happily took me back to the ’70s for a story based on author, chef, and TV food personality Carla Hall’s early childhood memories.

Heading to her grandparents, with Mom driving, her older sister Kim sitting in the passenger seat, and Carla in the back seat beside a slew of gifts, she enjoyed the ride “watching the lights twinkle on the houses as we whiz by.” Carla was excited to see her grandparents and eat the scrumptious cornbread her grandma made. Spending time over Christmas at their home was clearly a highlight for her. From cooking cornbread together with Granny, hearing her grandpa “Doc” share stories about his time in France when he once ate snails, to searching the Christmas tree for the Black Santa ornament that looks just like her, these tender moments convey the warmth of family that meant so much to this young girl. Harris’s joyful art, full of attention to detail and a feeling for the era, complements this lovely story.

But when just before bedtime she bit into the cookie that was meant for Santa, Carla worried that she’d get in trouble. Certain that Santa would put her on his naughty list, Carla was relieved when Grandma, who heard Carla confess, suggested they make Santa “a special Christmas cornbread.” Despite caring reassurance from Doc that Santa probably got tired of all the cookies, Carla still felt sad. But all ends well when Christmas morning brings more than cheer for her and readers invested in seeing a happy outcome for Carla. Make sure to read to the very last page where a surprise illustration shows Santa nibbling on a tasty treat! Bonus: A cornbread recipe is included.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Just Be Claus coverJUST BE CLAUS: A Christmas Story
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Kim Barnes
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

This adorably illustrated picture book answers the question, what was Santa Claus like as a little boy? With a “round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly,” Clausie is different and “unusual” from the very start. His hearty “ho ho ho” laugh, creative flair for making “thingamajigs” with Grannie in his super secret workshop, and tendency to help the rival hockey team score make him stand out and “feel out of place.” He expresses his desire to be like the other kids, but Grannie assures him:  “You’re creative, thoughtful, and generous … Don’t try to be like anyone else. Just be YOU.” A snowstorm shuts the whole town down, blocking the train from delivering its large load of gifts. Clausie’s clever act of kindness not only saves Christmas Day but also helps him embrace his own unique, tender-heartedness. Wrapping this sweet holiday book are themes of empathy, love, and self-acceptance that can be explored any time of the year. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Owl coverTHE CHRISTMAS OWL: Based on the True Story
of a Little Owl Named Rockefeller 

Written by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer
Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Animal lovers will enjoy this heartwarming picture book, The Christmas Owl, by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer. Based on a true story of a tiny owl trapped in a tree cut down and brought to the city, the story is seen through the eyes of Little Owl who wonders what happened and where she’s been taken. Throughout, she asks herself, Is this Christmas? By the end, she’s able to explain to her forest friends what the holiday’s all about.

While the illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki bring the story to life, be sure to look in the back matter too. Actual photos of the owl are beyond cute and its release is so joyful. Peek under the dust jacket for a different cover image!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Merry Witchmas CoverMERRY WITCHMAS
Written by Petrell Marie Özbay and Tess La Bella
Illustrated by Sonya Abby
(Boyds Mill Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Don’t let the word witch in the title fool you. Merry Witchmas isn’t about Halloween although you could start sharing it in October. It’s actually about a sweet witch named Ginger who adores all things Christmas. Whether that’s “a flying sleigh, a red-nosed reindeer” or the toys. But most importantly Ginger wishes for a visit from Santa. You see she lives in the “Invisible Forest” that wasn’t on Santa’s radar. Regardless, she always behaved thoughtfully to make it onto Santa’s “Nice List.” This year she’s decided to take things one step further and write to Santa so perhaps he’d believe she existed. She’d even include a map!

Ginger’s magic delivers the letter directly to Santa who checked his lists, then double-checked them. No witch named Ginger appeared. Since he didn’t believe in witches, he’d actually never sought them out. Yet if children could believe in Santa, why couldn’t witches exist too he wonders. That’s when the magic happens. Using Ginger’s map, Santa heads to the young witch’s magical land and at last, the two finally meet bringing Christmas joy to both. Kids will want to look at the fun details Abby’s included in her pleasing artwork that exudes warmth and humor. My favorite touch is Jingles the kitty cat reaching for Christmas cookies along with the holiday decorations in her home. With all the Christmas feels, this picture book is a fresh new take on the holiday and not giving up on your dreams.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Santa in the City coverSANTA IN THE CITY
Written by Tiffany D. Jackson
Illustrated by Reggie Brown
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews –Booklist, School Library Journal

Deja is super excited for Christmas but her classmates’ distrust about Santa ever visiting them in the city sends her on a downward spiral of doubt. “‘How does Santa get inside our house if we don’t have a chimney? …where [will Santa] park his sleigh?’” Deja asks question after question to her mom who, along with extended family and neighborhood friends, patiently answers each one. Answers provide a little relief, as evidenced through her refrain “‘Oh’ … Makes sense,” but Deja needs more proof. Cheerful illustrations of a diverse, vibrant urban setting full of the Christmas spirit emphasize the point: the very thing Deja is looking for is already around her beautiful neighborhood. A surprise on Christmas morning secures her heart that “magic really does find a way,” just like Mom has said all along. 

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Grumpy Monkey OhNo Christmas coverGRUMPY MONKEY OH, NO! CHRISTMAS
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Studio; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Beloved character Jim Panzee is back again, this time for the holidays, grumpier than ever. The weather has been “grizzly, drizzly” all week, his morning banana green, plus he accidentally stumbles into a puddle of mud. On top of everything else, his jungle friends insist he absolutely must be excited about the upcoming Christmas season. One by one, they take turns telling him how he “should” do one thing or another in order to properly celebrate:  write a card for Mom, wrap presents, “reflect quietly.” But to grumpy, miserable Jim “EVERYTHING STINKS!”–that is, until his gentle gorilla friend, Norman, helps Jim see things in a different perspective. Conversations about kindness and gratitude ease his burden and give strong reason to celebrate. Readers young and old will fall in love once more with Jim Panzee’s crankiness, expressed so perfectly by Lang’s fun and hilarious illustrations. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

A Simple Christmas on the Farm coverA SIMPLE CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM 
Written by Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrated by Lisa Hunt
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-8)

For those looking for a traditional, Christian-themed Christmas story, A Simple Christmas on the Farm is a great choice. Eager to start the festivities, a little girl living on the farm is reminded by her parents that they’re going to celebrate by “keeping things simple this year” with a focus on modest decorations, homemade gifts, and giving more than receiving. This spirit of simplicity is heightened all the more when the girl is inspired to host Christmas in their little red barn. Traveling into town with a tray of homemade cookies, she and her mother spread the word about their party, inviting everyone in the community. In the meantime, they prepare gifts and crafts for their guests. Step-by-step directions for these crafts are included in the backmatter. When everyone joins in on the special day, laughter, cheer, and a wonderful feast surround their large table, making this simple but big-hearted Christmas the best one ever.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Mitzvah coverTHE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH
Written by Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha
(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 4-9)

If you’re looking for a feel-good story that hits all the right notes, The Christmas Mitzvah is it. Inspired by a true story, this touching picture book opens with “Al Rosen was a Jewish man who loved Christmas. It wasn’t his holiday. He had Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. But what could be bad about peace on earth and goodwill to humanity?” I immediately cared about this man with the great attitude and big personality. Then I read on to learn that Al Rosen decided to use the Christmas holiday as a chance to deliver mitzvahs (good deeds) for people in his community. From that evening in 1969 Rosen offered to help out so workers could leave their jobs to be home with their families. No matter what the task, he took it on, doing so for over three decades. What a big heart he had! At first, it was Rosen, sometimes with his son, Jonathan. Then when Jonathan finished medical school, married, and had children of his own, everyone pitched in when possible, performing mitzvahs every Christmas.

What’s most impressive is the variety of work Al Rosen did, though he didn’t necessarily excel at it. He started by stepping in at Shorty’s local newsstand. After that word spread of Rosen’s good deeds. Requests came in and soon he was pumping gas and parking cars, tending bar, and taking tolls. Al Rosen’s mitzvahs saw no bounds. He and Jonathan even inspired Christian and Muslim friends who “did their jobs on the Jewish High Holidays.” In fact Rosen’s kind spirit led to people of various faiths helping others out on their holidays, paying it forward in the best possible way. When Al grew too old and finally had to call it quits, his mitzvahs left lasting memories and goodwill in his city. Agatha’s bold artwork adds vibrancy and humorous touches to the story. Rosen’s diverse community is celebrated in scene after scene conveying the camaraderie created by his mitzvahs. Gottesfeld’s included back matter so readers can learn more about the man behind the good deeds as well as the Hanukkah holiday. I hope young readers’ biggest takeaway from The Christmas Mitzvah is that you don’t have to be Jewish to do good deeds and spread kindness.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas is Coming Cover CHRISTMAS IS COMING: Traditions from Around the World
Written by Monika Utnik-Strugala 
Illustrated by Ewa Poklewska-Koziello
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
(NorthSouth Books; $25, Ages 4 and up)

An international collection of legends and traditions can be found in Monika Utnik-Strugala’s nonfiction book, Christmas Is Coming!: Traditions from Around the World. This book satisfies many of your holiday questions. Of course, you’ll find info about Santa, but there’s much more. Such as how Swedish towns have candlelit processions on December 13, or how the Japanese have adopted Christmas but celebrate it with reindeer and pandas! In Mexico, Spain, and Columbia, the Day of the Holy Innocents (on December 28) is like our April Fool’s Day. Favorite sections of mine include food, decorations, plants, and finding good luck for the new year.

Full-color art by the talented Ewa Poklewska-Koziello adorns each page, enlivening people and their celebrations. While suitable for elementary-age kids who want to learn about more than just the US December 25 Santa Claus, older kids will have plenty to read. Overall, this lovely book promotes inclusivity and is one you’ll refer to repeatedly as a remembrance or to learn something new.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Good Dogs in Bad Sweaters coverGOOD DOGS IN BAD SWEATERS
Written by Rachel Wenitsky and David Sidorov
Illustrated by Tor Freeman
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

I am so glad I stuck with this energy-filled illustrated middle-grade book despite the introduction of multiple dog names making it hard at first to keep track. However, after the initial few pages, there was no denying the humor and personality of all the doggy characters, and I was pulled right in. The primary ones in this, the third book in the series revolving around Good Dogs daycare, are Hugo and his younger sister Waffles, King and his older sister Cleo, Lulu, and her new teacup pig pal, Buttercup. Another dog, Napoleon, seems to have matured in this book according to comments from the other dogs, but while appearing in various chapters and bringing a funny therapist’s perspective to various situations, he doesn’t have a chapter devoted to his p.o.v. Secondary characters who may have had heftier roles in the previous two books are Nuts the squirrel and Pickle the cat. Kids may note that each dog has a different font which is a nice touch. Not having read the previous books, I never once felt like that mattered since the storyline was pretty straightforward and engaging.

In addition to the dog pals knowing each other, we also get to know their human owners which adds more opportunity for amusing dialogue and antics. There are tons of butt sniffing, ball throwing, and peeing jokes that feel appropriate for this age group. The main plot point is that sweet puppy Waffles, about to celebrate her first Christmas, is hoping that Santadoodle will bring her something special except Hugo knows that won’t happen. What’s a loving big bro supposed to do? Make baby sister’s wish come true, of course! And if that means getting all the Good Dogs involved in his quest, so be it.

The shenanigans the crew get up to as they try to get their paws on Waffles’ gift had me smiling throughout. That’s on top of the bits about the ugly (but comfy) Christmas sweaters, Lulu being an Instagram influencer, and how the dogs deal with their families—the dynamics of which should resonate with readers. Several sub-plots concerning agility competitions to career choices are at once comical and heartwarming, reflecting the zany sensibilities of the book’s authors Wenitsky and Sidorov. A bonus for me is that the book includes many references to Hanukkah since several of the dogs come from Jewish or mixed-faith families. Mix that up with Tor Freeman’s fabulous, whimsical, and extremely satisfying illustrations and you’ll see why this marriage of talents works so well. Add this middle-grade book (some may call it an older chapter book) to your TBR lists for some charming canine comedy this holiday season.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

See last year’s roundup here.

Additional recommended Christmas reads this year include:

The Little Owl & The Big Tree: A Christmas Story by Jonah Winter & Jeanette Winter
Jan Brett’s The Nutcracker 
Santa Jaws by Bridget Heos
What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas by Refe & Susan Tuma

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Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Saving Sorya

 

SAVING SORYA:

Chang and the Sun Bear

by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung

Illustrated by Jeet Zdung

(Dial BYR; $23.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Saving Sorya cover

 

 

★ Starred reviews – KirkusSchool Library Journal

 

Striking artwork and a timely topic support the compelling story of one girl’s dogged determination to reintroduce a rescued sun bear to its native habitat.

 

 

The author of Saving Sorya, a renowned Vietnamese conservationist, uses the wonderfully creative graphic novel format to present a fictionalized account of events that inspired her career choice.

After witnessing a horrific instance of animal abuse, young Chang decides to become a conservationist. She works hard to learn the many skills she’ll need for this profession including: how to identify and draw forest flora and fauna and wilderness survival skills. Chang faces many challenges due to her youth and societal attitudes towards gender and how conservationists are viewed by traditional medicinal practitioners, who need animals for some preparations. Her efforts and determination pay off when she lands volunteer positions with a rescue center and learns how to take care of wild animals. Eventually, Chang is assigned the responsibility of rehabilitating Sorya, a young sun bear, and returning her to the wild.

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Interior art from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Together, Chang and Sorya journey through the Vietnamese forests in search of a home for Sorya. In addition to training a frightened animal how to survive on her own, Chang faces challenges created by man-made problems which have impacted the environment: clearing forests for agriculture, logging, construction, and poaching exotic animals to create traditional Vietnamese medicines. Finally, Chang finds a place:

“And when the forest began to fill with the sounds of wildlife … that’s when I knew Sorya could live there.”

Sorya meets and bonds with another sun bear, and finally Chang, sure that Sorya will not only survive but thrive, is able to leave her.

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Interior spread from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Illustrator Jeet Zdung’s breathtaking illustrations, in the tradition of classical Vietnamese art, capture the forest and the creatures that inhabit it. Eye-popping colors of exotic animals, painstaking details, varying hues, and shadowing create the lushness of the forest with breathtaking beauty.

Chang’s extraordinary field notebook, in which she records her observations, is a STEM teacher’s dream. Zdung uses pages from the notebook to tell the story. Chang details her discoveries as well as some of the equipment and personal things she has brought with her.

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Saving Sorya int1
Interior art from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Zdung’s interest in manga art is evident in some illustrations and how the characters are portrayed, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary art styles. Black-and-white illustrations in manga style blur otherwise disturbing images of abuse and death. But Chang’s persistence determination, and passion, distract from the few disturbing images in the story … and give us hope.

Find out more about author and conservationist Trang Nguyen here and illustrator Jeet Zdung here

I highly recommended Saving Sorya which is sure to inspire many children to find out what they can do to protect the environment and save wild animals.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Picture Book Review – Someone Builds the Dream

 

SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM

Written by Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated by Loren Long

(Dial Books for Young Readers; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

 

Lisa Wheeler’s latest picture book, Someone Builds the Dream, uses rhythmic lines to pay homage to the tradespeople who make things happen. For example, behind an architect are the workers who “guide the saws, plane the logs” because “someone needs to pound the nails.”

 

SomeoneBuildstheDream int1
Interior spread from Someone Builds the Dream written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Loren Long, Dial BYR ©2021.

 

The structure reveals how tasks are accomplished while recognizing the workforces who labor possibly underappreciated or even unknown. Wheeler’s clever lines fit together like a well-oiled machine. Scenes finish with, “Someone has to build the dream,” drumming that message home, creating anticipation for the next repetition of this phrase.

 

SomeoneBuildstheDream int2
Interior spread from Someone Builds the Dream written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Loren Long, Dial BYR ©2021.

 

 

The acrylics and colored pencil illustrations by Loren Long proudly show a diverse array of people. “Frontline” job positions are supported by those who “set the text, run the press, and load the reams” (for authors) or “tighten bolts, steer the crane, drive machines” (for the scientist creating cleaner energy sources). Long’s art provides a timeless feel and beautifully captures workers in action, bringing the story alive with movement.

 

 

SomeoneBuildstheDream int3
Interior spread from Someone Builds the Dream written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Loren Long, Dial BYR ©2021.

 

This book succeeds on many fronts and would be a welcome addition to homes, schools, and libraries. We see that no one can do it alone and understand the importance of appreciating everyone on the team. Be sure to peek beneath the book jacket for a second cover image. Truly a five-star book in all regards.

 

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Middle-Grade Novel Review – The Elephant in the Room

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

By Holly Goldberg Sloan

(Dial Books; 17.99 Ages 10-14)

 

The Elephant in the Room cvr

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

In The Elephant in the Room, when middle-schooler, Sila Tekin’s mother is stuck in Turkey trying to get her immigration paperwork in order, the loneliness is almost unbearable for her and her father, Alp. Sila’s newly withdrawn demeanor prompts her school to pair her with autistic classmate Mateo Lopez in a special program that has the kids spending time together at the end of each school day. The point is to help both kids socialize more and, after a slow, silent start, they eventually begin getting to know each other.

Life changes dramatically for Sila and Mateo when Alp is hired to fix an old truck owned by widower, Gio, who lives on a non-working farm on the outskirts of town. Sila and Gio seem to form an immediate bond, even before they discover that Gio’s late wife was Sila’s beloved second-grade teacher. When an odd string of coincidences leads to Gio rescuing a young elephant named Veda from a failing circus, Sila and Mateo wind up with the most awesome summer job ever—caring for Veda. Sila connects to the young pachyderm on a deep level, realizing that, like her, Veda must really miss her mother. A reunion of either mother-daughter pair feels out of reach, but with a team of caring friends—maybe it’s not.

Author Holly Goldberg Sloan has another deeply heartfelt hit on her hands. Again employing the multi-POV device she uses so brilliantly, she lets readers see and feel the unfolding of these extraordinary events through various characters’ eyes. Veda’s POV is used sparingly but impactfully, and even the supporting animal characters—a flock of undisciplined flamingos, a ravenous bear, and a loyal dog—whose POVs we’re not privy to, are well-drawn, quirky, and fun.

Both kids are battling quiet storms within, which makes them interesting and empathetic. Gio is wonderfully complex. His desire to rediscover meaning in life, coupled with voluminous lottery winnings, propel him to take on caring for Veda, somehow feeling it’s something he has to do. His connection with Sila seems similarly fated, and their special bond serves as the glue for all of the characters. A story of hope, longing, love, and action, The Elephant in the Room will show middle-grade readers that things—people, animals, situations—are not always what they seem and that they’re not always as powerless over circumstances as they sometimes feel.

 

Click here to read Ronna’s review of Karol’s debut YA novel, Cursed.

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part One

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART ONE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.

 

flight school book cvrFLIGHT SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.

There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.

Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.

Bunny's Book Club Goes to School coverBUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL
Written by Annie Silvestro
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.

Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.

Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.

With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.

Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.

If I Built a School coverIF I BUILT A SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.

Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.

This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”

I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!

See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.

 

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Ten Children’s Books for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

TEN+ TERRIFIC MOON-THEMED CHILDREN’S BOOKS
TO CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE APOLLO 11 MOON LANDING

 

 

 

Future Astronaut Book CoverFUTURE ASTRONAUT
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Cartwheel Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

With its catchy opening line of Ground Control to Major Baby, a play on popular David Bowie lyrics, Future Astronaut is off and running! You want cute? This is cute! Twenty-four pages playfully pit Alexander’s prose plus Black’s whimsical side by side illustrations of what it takes to be an astronaut against whether or not baby has what it takes to join NASA. Note its logo emblazoned on several uniforms worn by the adults. Healthy hearts, good eyes, and strong teeth are needed. Check! Baby’s passed that test. Astronauts swim and so does baby. Looks like baby’s on track so far! What about two astronauts working together as they float in orbit? Astronauts live and work in small spaces. On the opposite page are two friends playing inside cardboard boxes. Small spaces are Baby’s favorite places! My favorite illustrations show first an astronaut eating from her plastic dehydrated food packs while baby clearly enjoys playing with plastic too, though not as neatly! But cleverly, once space travel involves leaving home to visit “far-off places,” baby’s not quite ready to take the next step and Alexander wraps things up beautifully with a blissful baby ready to travel as far as dreamland.

Look There's a Rocket! Book CoverLOOK, THERE’S A ROCKET!
Text by Nosy Crow
Illustrated by Esther Aarts

(Nosy Crow; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Another fun interactive book in Aarts’s “Look, There’s a … ” series of board books, this one’s ideal for little hands of Moon and Mars minded toddlers. Ten sturdy die cut pages let youngsters peek through the holes to see what’s next while answering easy questions in the rhyming text. Look, there’s a star and some planets outside. / Can you see three comets? / What a bumpy ride! Here’s a chance to introduce space travel in a colorful way that rocketeers will find hard to put down.

Moon's First Friends Book CoverMOON’S FIRST FRIENDS
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Moon has always held such a fascination for mankind. What is it like up there? Is the Moon affecting our mood in addition to our tides? How long will it take to get there? But Hill’s picture book, Moon’s First Friends, turns that curiosity on its head by presenting a story told from the Moon’s point of view.

This Moon, friendly and a bit lonely, is watching Earth and its inhabitants evolve. From dinosaurs to caveman, from bicycle riders to hot air balloonists, from early rocket engineers to the Apollo 11 crew, the Moon sees everything, hoping, waiting … until one day in July it happens. Earth men blast off into space towards the Moon. Hill’s lyrical language here capture’s not only Moon’s joy, but everyone on Earth’s too. “At thirty stories high and weighing six million pounds, the rocket rose into the air amid an explosion of flames.” Several days later the mission makes it to the Moon. Then the most amazing thing occurs in Moon’s lifetime (and it’s my favorite part of the story), men emerge from the module and walk on Moon’s surface. Nothing would ever be the same after that visit. Young readers will share the delight felt by the Moon as expressed through welcome gifts of rocks and moon dust offered to the visitors. The astronauts bestow a token of their friendship as well by leaving a plaque that reads: HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON / JULY 1969, A.D. / WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. They then plant an American flag and zoom back to Earth. The Moon is now confident others will follow suit.

Paganelli’s artwork is charming and cheerful, breathing life into the Moon and all the events leading up to July. Readers can find a selected bibliography in the front of the book as well as back matter about the Apollo 11 voyage plus a couple of photos. Another cool thing that’s been included is a scannable QR code so kids can listen to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s historic first words on the Moon!

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOONAliana Reaches for the Moon book cvr
Written by Laura Roettiger
Illustrated by Ariel Boroff
(Eifrig Publishing; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

Add Aliana Reaches for the Moon to your assortment of Moon books because, while this one’s not about that historic time in July 1969, it is about the Moon’s influence on one clever young girl.

Aliana is creative and observant, great qualities for an aspiring scientist. She tells Gustavo, her little brother, that she’s planning something secret to present him on his upcoming birthday. A calendar in the illustration that accompanies her dialogue shows that there will be a full moon on May 26, Gustavo’s big day. What is Aliana up to that involves making such a mess at home? Thankfully, her parents don’t complain because they know that whatever she’s creating will be worth it. Inspired by great women of science before her, Aliana wants to invent something unique for Gustavo but that  requires a lot of reading and preparation so she takes out a ton of library books to begin researching.

When the full moon arrives at last, Aliana shares the glowing result of her experiment. Behold an amazing “magical birthday cake!” And all it took was the ingenuity of gathering up five (Gustavo’s turning five years old) vases and glasses, filling them with marbles, coins, pieces of quartz and topping them “with a crystal from her collection … ” and waiting for the full moon to shine. Roettiger’s story shows readers what’s involved in inventing with the goal of motivating children to experiment themselves. By using the moon as her source, Aliana has harnessed the lunar light to bring her invention to life. Boroff’s jewel toned illustrations complement Roettiger’s prose as they convey the joy and satisfaction transforming a dream into reality can bring. An author’s note at the end explains the moon cycles for budding inventors.

I am Neil Armstrong book coverI AM NEIL ARMSTRONG
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

The fifteenth book in Meltzer’s best-selling “Ordinary People Change the World” series is like Armstrong himself, it doesn’t fail to deliver. Kids as well as adults will learn so much from the 40 pages of Armstrong’s biography. I didn’t know that even as a young child, the future first man on the Moon exhibited astronaut-worthy traits such as patience, bravery, and intelligence (he loved to read). He was obsessed with airplanes too. He worked hard from an early age to earn money for flying lessons, earning his pilot’s license even before his driver’s license!

After joining the navy and “flying in seventy-eight missions during the Korean War,” Armstrong went on to become a test pilot after college. He eventually heeded President Kennedy’s challenge of “… landing a man on the Moon” and applied to NASA and was accepted into their astronaut program. The rest as they say is history, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. A double gate-fold in the center of the book shows the Apollo 11 astronauts’ glorious view of the Moon and Eliopoulos’s other cartoon-style artwork playfully depicts the space journey with the Eagle ultimately landing on the Moon’s surface. Parents can remind children to keep an eye out for a picture of Meltzer hidden somewhere in this and all his other books in the series. I love how both astronaut John Glenn and mathematician Katherine Johnson are also featured in one of the illustrations because their contributions to our successful space exploration deserve recognition. As a humble individual, Armstrong always credited the entire team that helped put a man on the Moon.

When Armstrong took his first steps, “One-fifth of the world’s population was watching on TV.” Children love to learn facts like that which are not easily forgotten. I am Neil Armstrong provides age appropriate and always interesting information conveyed in a kid-friendly fashion that demonstrates how one man’s determination and humility changed the world forever. Meltzer mentions what Armstrong’s family said after he passed away: “Next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Back matter includes a time line of the space race and several color photos including ones of the Apollo 11 crew.

Moonstruck! Poems About Our Moon bk cvrMOONSTRUCK! POEMS ABOUT OUR MOON
Edited by Roger Stevens
Illustrated by Ed Boxall
(Otter-Barry Books; $16.99, Ages 7 and up)

Moonstruck!’s over 50 fab poems not only help children reflect on the momentous occasion from 50 years ago, but also touch upon so many different aspects of the moon orbit, landing as well as the mystery and majesty of the Moon itself. “The Lonely Side of The Moon” by Laura Mucha is about Michael Collins’ radio silence when he was separated from Armstrong and Aldrin for 48 minutes while Doda Smith’s “Dear Mr. Astronaut” features a child requesting some moon dust to add to his amazing collection of things. James Carter’s concrete poem, “The Moon Speaks!” is told from the moon’s perspective and B.J. Lee’s rhyming “Moon Marks” considers how long a dozen spacemen’s footprints will remain, frozen in time.

Classic poems from Emily Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson join new ones from Catherine Benson and Celia Warren and many more. Not only is this an awe-inspiring anthology of moon-themed poetry from internationally known poets, it’s got interesting facts when they can add to the appreciation of a particular poem’s topic. Boxall’s beautiful black and white linocuts add another delightful dimension to what’s already an out of this world anthology. Keep this one on hand for National Poetry month!

Rocket to the Moon! Book CoverROCKET TO THE MOON!
Big Ideas That Changed the World #1
by Don Brown
(Amulet; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

If you love graphic novels, don’t miss picking up a copy of Brown’s Rocket to the Moon! because it’s an excellent way to experience the trajectory of space exploration in cartoon format. It’s also the first in what promises to be a super new series, “Big Ideas That Changed the World.” This fast yet engaging read taught me more than a thing or two about the history of rockets with its attention to detail both through the text and the illustrations. Celebrating “the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately remade the world” the novel uses a narrator drawn from real life named Rodman Law to share the ups and downs of rocketry. We’re pulled into the story by this American daredevil’s attempt to launch a homemade rocket in the early 20th century.

Contrasting the entertaining introduction to the subject matter, Law takes us back in time to first century China where gunpowder was invented then fast forwards many centuries to explain how the British used rockets to bombard Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, hence Francis Scott Key’s lyrics in our national anthem, “… And the rockets’ red glare … ” We also find out how Jules Verne’s prescient science fiction novel, From the Earth to the Moon, influenced rocket scientists from Russia, Germany and the U.S. and how his vision translated into actual technology used during WWII. When the war ended, several German scientists surrendered to American authorities. Not long after, the space race began when the Soviets launched the first satellite and America, not be outshone by the Soviets, created NASA and the quest for U.S. travel beyond Earth began.

Brown goes above and beyond in recounting and depicting in his illustrations exactly how the competition played out which is what I’m sure tweens will enjoy. From sending dogs, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees into space (with some humorous and sad asides) to the ins and outs of peeing and pooping in a spacesuit, Brown doesn’t hesitate to illuminate us. But he manages to perfectly balance the funny facts with the serious ones including failed launches and devastating disasters resulting in death. About a month before President Kennedy announced the plan to land a man on the Moon, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space on the first manned trip. So, with the clock ticking, NASA’s planning began. We see and read about how many missions prior to Apollo 11 led the way for America’s historic achievement but it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication, smarts, teamwork, billions of dollars and eight years to get a man to the Moon. Yet Brown poignantly shows us how also, after all that had been accomplished, the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan in 1972, which is when Brown’s novel ends. Throughout the book, Brown’s artwork seamlessly succeeds at pushing the narrative forward and only adds to the emotional connection readers will feel with the subject matter. Ten pages at the end offer a helpful timeline, info about Rodman Law, Notes, a Bibliography and an Author’s Note. Needless to say, I devoured all 136 pages of Rocket to the Moon! It was carefully researched and presented in such an exciting format making it an invaluable and must-read graphic novel for middle grade kids.

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon book cvrCOUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON
Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
(Peachtree Publishers; $22.95, Ages 10 and up)

The title of this middle grade nonfiction book, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, refers to the amount of time it would take to land a man on the moon starting from May 25, 1961, the day President Kennedy first made his historic challenge. This clever date-driven concept, presented in winning free verse by Slade, combines with Gonzalez’s dramatic illustrations to give a well-rounded account of that critical time in our nation’s history. Black and white as well as color photos add to the energy that emanates from Countdown.

Readers will find they soar through the book as Slade deftly describes the missions from Apollo 1 through Apollo 11 including the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts, Grissom, Chaffee and White. The sacrifice made by those three courageous men on January 27, 1967 was not in vain and resulted in life-saving improvements in subsequent missions. Following the fire Apollo 2 is grounded and “NASA decides there will never be a mission called Apollo 3.” Apollo 4 and 5 are unmanned and successful. “The dream is still alive.” Following that triumph, Apollo 6 fails and fears about the future loom large. Soon Apollo 7 is manned for space travel and will circle Earth. The crew even make TV appearances then return home jubilant. “It’s time for Apollo to head to the Moon!” Tweens may recognize the names of the Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. They become the first humans to fly above Earth orbit and to reach lunar orbit. I cannot imagine how it felt when they could see the Moon!

Slade intersperses actual astronaut dialogue which heightens the impact of these mind-blowing moments. She gets into more technical detail than I will here, but suffice it to say kids will learn the lingo and understand who and what’s involved in getting a mission off the ground. Apollo 9 and 10 are also monumental achievements, with their advanced space technology put into action with a space walk, a lunar and command module separation and re-connection, and flying the lunar module just miles from the Moon surface. Look out Moon, here we come! Of course Apollo 11 is given no short shrift but I’m out of space (no pun intended) so get this book and experience the excitement this 50th anniversary is celebrating. When the book ends, 18 astronauts will have braved the risks of space travel and fulfilled President’s Kennedy’s dream. On July 20, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said of the Moon landing, “For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

This inside look at the Apollo missions confirms the contributions of a vast team of individuals (400,000) whose dedication to the shared vision “never wavered.” Slade and Gonzalez have clearly worked hard to brought that vision to every page of this beautiful book. Enjoy additional info in the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes plus more photos in the back matter.

To The Moon and Back book cover TO THE MOON AND BACK: MY APOLLO 11 ADVENTURE
A Pop-up Book
Written by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne J. Dyson
Paper Engineering by Bruce Foster
(National Geographic Children’s Books; $32.00, Ages 8-12)

Prepare for liftoff, lift up (pop-up and pull really) then prepare to be wowed by the impressive and brilliantly executed paper engineering along with a fascinating first hand account by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in To The Moon and Back.

Kids even younger than eight will enjoy the design element of this book but the text truly is geared for an older reader who will appreciate the candid and detailed commentary Aldrin has contributed to the book. In just 16 pages, readers are filled in on all that was involved in beating the USSR to a Moon landing and having the first men walk on its surface. I like how we’re pulled in immediately by the first spread showing photos of a newspaper headline, President Kennedy and the Apollo 11 crew positioned on top of a powerful image of the lunar module floating in space near the Moon. “Historians have called this story humanity’s greatest adventure” and I agree, especially considering how much was at stake.

The second spread and first pop-up depicts Aldrin’s space walk on the last Gemini flight, 12, juxtaposed against an enormous shot of Earth. It’s definitely the first “Wow!” moment but not the last! Here we learn Aldrin was nicknamed Dr. Rendezvous because of his excellent abilities at docking, a crucial element of the Moon mission. This page also features a recollection by Jan Aldrin, Buzz’s daughter about the day that Gemini 12 took off for space. Additional exclusive reflections can also be found on other pages. Filled with an insider’s anecdotes, this book is not only a great way to learn about Moon exploration, it’s also a fast, entertaining read.

What works in an interactive book like To the Moon and Back is how the story of Apollo 11 comes alive. By learning from Aldrin himself how he first came to join NASA in 1963 all the way through to his ultimate achievement of reaching the moon is inspiring. At the same time looking closely at the the pop-ups and other interesting images along with Jan Aldrin’s recollections, make this a powerful educational tool for kids. The engaging nature of the book means space enthusiasts can easily follow along on the successive missions, while reading about which astronauts were involved and what new goals were accomplished or sadly, sometimes not. Before that decade had ended, America had achieved what had once seemed impossible, confirming the “endless endurance of the human spirit.”

A bonus paper model to build is included. Tweens can assemble the Apollo11 Lunar Module and go to natgeokids.com/to-the-moon for additional step-by-step and video instructions.

Space Race Book CoverSPACE RACE: THE STORY OF SPACE EXPLORATION
TO THE MOON AND BEYOND

by Ben Hubbard
(B.E.S. Publishing Co.; $18.99, Ages 10-13)

There’s more to this book than simply a comprehensive history of “humanity’s journey into space.” It’s actually a book that’s been enhanced with augmented reality (AR). All readers need to do is download the Space Race AR app to be able to see detailed 3D spacecraft and vehicle models appear right on the pages of the book! Kids can also “watch videos come to life on the page, including real-life footage from NASA. How cool is that?

From Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer whose identity was kept top secret “for fear the Americans would assassinate him,” to the search for alien life (aka SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), it’s all here to soak up in 96 fantastic pages. 

The book is broken up into six accessible chapters averaging between 13-16 pages: “The Race for Rockets”, “Humans in Space,” “The Moon in View”, “Space Stations and Shuttles,” “Probing the Planets,” and “Into the Future.” Tweens can choose to read the book in order or pick their favorite topic and indulge themselves. What’s wonderful is that even without using the AR app, I found the illustrations absolutely gorgeous. There are also a tremendous amount of photographs that capture important moments in time, and quotes such as one from Gus Grissom before his tragic death on Apollo 1 when killed by fire, If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we’re in and we accept those risks.” One of my favorite spreads in Space Race is the one where we get a peak inside the Apollo spacesuits. Its designers really thought of everything and I’m sure Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were grateful! For readers eager to learn more about living in space, the space station section offers detailed info on life aboard MIR.

This book will be a hit in classrooms, libraries and at home. Pick up a copy to be up-to-date on what’s happening in outer space and beyond the solar system.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

HELLO WORLD! MOON LANDING
by Jill McDonald

LUNA: The Science and Stories of Our Moon
by David A. Aguilar

BUZZ ALDRIN
National Geographic Early Reader Level 3
by Kitson Jazynka

A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE: How Katherine Johnson
Helped Put America on the Moon
by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison

Read a fascinating article about Katherine Johnson called “The Path to The Moon” written by Joseph Taylor in Cricket.  Johnson, who worked at NASA “helped figure out the mathematics behind space travel—specifically the path astronauts would take to make it to the moon and back.”

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Kids Book Review – My Heart by Corinna Luyken

MY HEART
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

my heart book cover art

 

Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s rhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 07
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 08
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 13
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

 

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For Fans of Middle Grade Horror There’s Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter

WHERE THE WOODS END
Written by Charlotte Salter
(Dial BYR; $17. 99, Ages 10-14)

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Connection

 

Where The Woods end book cover art

 

Twelve-year-old Kestrel’s dark and mysterious world is literally defined by Where the Woods End. And she wants out. Since her mother’s the village witch and her father a lonesome wolf hunter, Kes doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Brushing off their taunting, Kes, instead, utilizes Granmos’s harsh training to destroy grabbers—these beings build bodies resembling their victim’s greatest fear; once they’re complete, your time is up.

With her weasel-like sidekick named Pippit and her tree-living friend, Finn, Kes studies Granmos’s notes, trying to discover a way to the world beyond before her grabber attacks. All the while, other fantastic ghouls (like treecreepers and face painters) loom dangerously.

Salter’s middle-grade horror fantasy novel’s imaginative world with twists and peril will keep you turning the pages. We feel Kes’s plight for redemption and freedom. She’s an outcast in her town and her home, yet bravely tries to make sense of the mysteries. In doing so, her friendships quiver and threaten to break as she becomes more entrenched in her quest. Where the Woods End will appeal to middle-grade readers seeking adventures in creepy worlds.

 

@ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER:
The True Story of The Emmett Till Case
Written by Chris Crowe
(Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

cover image from Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

 

Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.” 

In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.

Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.

Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.

When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.

Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.

There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Five New Father’s Day Children’s Books That Celebrate Dads

FIVE NEW FATHER’S DAY BOOKS
– A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS –

Happy Father's Day artwork

 

Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans bookcover illustraton by Elisa FerroDaddies Do
Written by Lezlie Evans
Illustrated by Elisa Ferro
(Sterling BYR; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

Over a dozen different kinds of animal dads demonstrate why they’re so beloved in this rhyming 32-page picture book. Offspring ask “Who makes you feel big even though you small?” or “Who sits in the front row when you’re in a play and takes lots of pictures on your special day?” Do we know the answers? Yes! Devoted dads do all sorts of things to make their youngsters feel special and Evans has selected some important ones including encouragement, validation, playfulness, listening and best of all, love! “Who gives you a bear hug and tucks you in tight? Who whispers ‘I love you,’ then turns out the light?” From anteaters to walruses, Ferro’s charming illustrations of animal dads and kids use soothing jeweled tones and fill every two page spread completely. This technique allows readers to occasionally get a glimpse of several daddy child relationships before a page turn and also means more animals such as elephants, hedgehogs, lions, monkeys, mice, octopi, owls, pandas, peacocks, penguins and polar bears can be included in the story. “She creates her artwork primarily in gouache, colored pencil, and ink before tweaking digitally.” Daddies Do is a wonderful addition to Father’s Day themed books although this one clearly can be revisited over and over again any time of year.

The Gorilla Picked Me! cover illustrationThe Gorilla Picked Me!
Written by Michele McAvoy
Illustrated by Valentina Carboni
(Native Ink Press; $18.99 Hardcover, $13.99 Paperback, Ages 4-8)

School dances are hard enough to begin with, but when your confidence is low and your dad, who also happens to be your date, steps out for a while at the spring dance and you’re left sitting there on your own, can you feel any worse? Such is the case with Olive. She’s the narrator of The Gorilla Picked Me!, a refreshing and rhyming look at how this self-described “plain, simple and ordinary” main character has experienced her school life up to this point. Her clothes are second-hand, she’s chosen last for teams and the only Valentine she receives is a discarded one. But when the special guest at the school dance, makes his appearance, things start looking up for Olive. This silly, dancing blue gorilla playing a kazoo is the life of the party and, out of anyone there, he picks Olive to join him on the dance floor. They swirl and they twirl and this magic moment lifts up Olive like nothing else has. After Gorilla departs and Olive’s father returns, her one regret is that he missed her star performance. But did he? Look for clues planted as to the gorilla’s identity and have a conversation about the remarkableness of being ordinary. Warmth and love emanate from Carboni’s illustrations that complement McAvoy’s heartwarming story of a dad’s clever way of elevating his child’s self-esteem. A pleasing pick for Father’s Day.

Pet Dad cover illustration by Elanna Allen Pet Dad
Written and illustrated by Elanna Allen
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

My first suggestions for Elanna Allen’s adorable picture book, Pet Dad, is to not miss the end papers in the front because they’re hysterical and so many people skip this part of a book. It’s also how you know you’re in for a treat, not a doggy treat, a reader’s treat! “Plum wants a pet. Plum’s dad does not want a pet” is how the story begins as she drags then begs him in front of the pet shop. But since her father’s rather adamant against and she’s rather resolute for, she’s not leaving without a dog. Dad is just going to have to fit the bill! She even names him Schnitzel. He may seem to enjoy her attention at first, but Dad or Schnitzel is not responding well to Plum’s attempts to treat him like any other pet. He doesn’t want to eat the food she’s prepared, get paper-trained or sleep at her feet. Can you blame him? At the park the next day, Schnitzel is still not behaving like Plum would like and she acts out in frustration. In fact, rather than Pet Dad getting punished, it’s Plum who must contemplate her unruly actions. During a time out, Plum realizes that offering a hard-to-refuse reward to her dad so that he’ll cooperate is the way forward. After such a positive response and with the help of lots of hugs, Plum and her dad are on track to having a most mutually loving and enjoyable relationship.Told tongue-in-cheek with hilarious, pet-centered illustrations, Pet Dad is an ode to the wonderful daddy daughter dynamic worth celebrating on Father’s Day.

cover art from Sun by Sam Usher Templar BooksSun
Written and illustrated by Sam Usher
(Templar Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Sun by Sam Usher follows Rain and Snow, two previous picture books by this talented author/illustrator. The first thing that struck me about this beautiful picture book is the front cover. A little lad sits on the stoop of his home or someone else’s. He’s sipping something from a cup, the inviting red front door is partially open and sparkling sand dusts the steps and leads to the sidewalk depicted as a beach, replete with shiny sandcastle and a green parrot, also sipping away at something! If that doesn’t spark one’s imagination, I don’t know what will! It’s soon learned the boy is staying at his Granddad’s and clues to the adventure that awaits him are sitting right there on his bed in the first illustration, a pirate and a bow-tied monkey toy. Despite being the hottest day ever, Granddad suggests a picnic and, after loading up with all the “necessary provisions,” the pair set off in search of the perfect spot. As Granddad navigates with a map (is that a pirate flag on the sandcastle?), the unnamed narrator remains on lookout. Does he notice that some trees in the distance seem to resemble a sailing ship? Shady spots seem most appealing on a scorcher and eventually the two end up by a cave. Lo and behold, someone has gotten there before them! A perfectly pirate-y dinghy is down below (the main ship is off in the distance) and a little boy is at the bow just in front of a peg-legged pirate and other non-intimidating crew. Treasure is unburied, intermingling has begun between Granddad, Grandson and pirates, and a picnic can be had at last! The second to last illustration, a spread of the picnic party onboard the massive pirate ship is delightful and warrants intense inspection since so many fun things can be found on the Galleon’s many levels. Can you spot the parrot from the first page? I suspect the main character might be named Arlo since Usher’s dedicated the book to him and magnets with his initials can be found on the fridge in the last illustration. Whether the pirate adventure is real or imagined, there’s a good time to be had by all who embark on this jolly grandfather and grandson journey.

From Father to Father board book illustration of matryoshka dollFrom Father to Father
Written and illustrated by Émilie 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 father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s dad who in turn saw the birth of a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I saw the birth of you … my very own child. A father’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 moms

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read last year’s Father’s Day Roundup here.

 

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The Legend Retold – El Chupacabras written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery

EL CHUPACABRAS
Written by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Crash McCreery
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cover artwork from El Chupacabras written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery

 

Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos, Robo-Sauce,and Those Darn Squirrels) delights audiences once again with his 48-page picture book El Chupacabras. In this fractured folktale, we learn that the legendary and fearsome creature known as El Chupacabras (the goatsucker) is actually a tiny, well-dressed gentleman who drinks chocolate with the butterflies. He does, however, occasionally like to suck a goat.

 

interior artwork by Crash McCreery from El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin
Interior spread from EL CHUPACABRAS written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

English and Spanish words are interwoven with sentences beginning in one language and ending in another or switching back and forth midsentence. This inventive style organically teaches the fluidity of languages. Some lines remain in Spanish without translation, but, taken in context and with what’s been unwittingly learned, the words are simply understood.

The text is cinematically illustrated by acclaimed Hollywood creature creator, Crash McCreery, best known for his iconic character designs in the Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mischievous goat antics are a delightful through line and goat pancakes are sure to delight. This fulfilling story and its modern art engage the reader on every page.

 

Int. artwork by Crash McCreery rom El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin
Interior spread from EL CHUPACABRAS written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Rubin has generously pledged to donate his proceeds from El Chupacabras to the Hispanic Federation in support of the Educational Programs and Puerto Rican hurricane relief. “I decided to tell this story in an unusual way to explore the beauty of harmony,” says Rubin. “It’s easy to dismiss the unfamiliar, but compassion takes a little more effort. With so many people trumpeting the ignorances of separation right now, it’s more important than ever to teach kids that there is more than one way to understand the world.” Hats off to these timely sentiments.

    • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Read another review by Christine Van Zandt here.

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