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Creative Chaos Links Two Terrific Tales – Teach Your Giraffe to Ski and Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI
Written by Viviane Elbee,
Illustrated by Danni Gowdy
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

&

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
Written by Melissa Stoller 
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Spork/Clear Fork Press, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.Teach Your Giraffe to Ski book cover illustration Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.

Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.

Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski is tons of fun.

 

cover art from Scarlet's Magic PaintbrushCreative determination also threads through Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, the story of a young artist who learns to appreciate the power of a hands-on, personal touch. This is a sweet debut book from author Melissa Stoller and illustrator Sandie Sonke.

Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.

Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.

Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Find another recent Epic18 debut review here.

The Diamond and The Boy by Hannah Holt

THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY:
THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS AND THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL
Written by Hannah Holt

Illustrated by Jay Fleck
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

The Diamond and The Boy book cover art

 

Starred Review – Booklist

Holt’s debut nonfiction picture book digs deep into family history, introducing readers to natural and industrial diamond creation with an engaging dual narrative structure.

Cleverly designed, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS AND THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL is engineered to compare graphite, a common gray rock, and young Tracy Hall, an inventor and the author’s grandfather. Free-form poetry on facing pages invite easy associations between the rock and the boy, subjected to physical and societal pressures respectively, which transform them over time.

Tension builds naturally through Holt’s lyrical mirrored text. Of the graphite; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. The rock would dazzle if it had any light to reflect, but it doesn’t.” She writes of the boy; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. His inventions dazzle classmates, But Tracy is still penny poor, with so many ideas floating just out of reach.”

 

int spread rock boy from The Diamond and The Boy by Hannah Holt

Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

The tale celebrates Hall’s perseverance and resolve in the face of poverty and bullying. These obstacles ultimately build his resilience as he develops an invention to produce industrial diamonds. For those interested in learning more about diamonds, Holt provides backmatter on the mined diamond industry including the DeBeers monopoly and “blood diamond” conflict in Africa. A timeline and bibliography are also appended.

 

int artwork small gray meager from The Diamond and The Boy

Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

Fleck’s color-saturated illustrations are digitally enhanced and multi-layered, keeping the focus squarely on the man and the gem. Clever use of the color palette, alternating between the echoing narratives, helps balance the book visually. The contrast nicely reinforces the natural comparison of Hall’s and the diamond’s transformations. Fleck makes excellent use of angular elements such as the striations of the earth, books shelved in the library, diamond facets and kite strings, while occasional red-orange ‘explosions’ emphasize dramatic changes.

 

interior artwork from The Diamond and The Boy Waiting

Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

In THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, Holt offers a personal and noteworthy celebration of a man deep in substance and character. This book is a different and delightful choice for readers of history, industrial manufacturing, or STEM classroom libraries. The intersection of science and personal character development is a unique and rich format that will engage a variety of readers and potential young inventors.

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Seasonal and Celebratory – We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA
Written by Traci Sorell
Illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

 

STARRED REVIEWS – Kirkus, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Sorell’s delightful debut, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA showcases ways that the universal value of gratitude can be expressed through a contemporary Cherokee lens. Using the phrase “Otsaliheliga” (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) meaning “We are grateful” as a refrain, the book unfolds throughout the seasons. Measured, lyrical text engages readers with opportunities for gratitude both small and large, drawing upon tradition, nature and family.

The book opens in fall (uligohvsdi), introducing readers to the Great New Moon Ceremony and the Cherokee New Year through cultural symbols and traditions. Special foods, song and crafts appear to mark seasons and occasions. The refrain “Otsaliheliga” centers the narrative with poetic pause as one explores and celebrates with family and community.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

Each season is named in Cherokee, presented phonetically and in the Cherokee syllabary. Sorell’s tale builds bridges between old and new, past and present, honoring the legacy of ancestors while anticipating hope and joy for future generations.

Lessac’s vibrant illustrations are warm and contemporary, incorporating many rich details throughout double-spread community scenes and intimate family gatherings. Her bright gouache is cheerful, resonant with numerous opportunities to expand the gratitude-themed narrative. Text and illustrations blend seamlessly to uplift connections between history and tradition, past, present and future.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

Sorell’s backmatter includes more information on various ceremonies and observances, a Cherokee syllabary and pronunciation guide. Her author’s note discusses keeping balance between observing the ancestral and ceremonial way of life with demands of the modern, non-Cherokee world. Readers should also note her extensive acknowledgements in the book’s dedication, a true reflection of Sorell’s rich, respectful and authentic work.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

The final pages – “Every day, every season. Otsaliheliga” – are illustrated with a beautiful composite of fall, winter, spring and summer encircling one tree where people have gathered together in celebration and gratitude. Don’t miss this special book and the chance to embrace its message of thankfulness and appreciation.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Find a teacher’s guide here.

Listen to Traci We Are Grateful  here.

See the book trailer here

 

Punny, funny history of American English – An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET:
BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION
Written by Beth Anderson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

       

Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.

Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.

 

int spread 1 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 


When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that 
“Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters. 

Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today. 

 

int spread 4 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.

Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another #Epic18 review by Cathy here

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 

The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, ages 6-9)

is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

The 1963 Children's Crusade Cover image Let The Children March

 

 

★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Horn Book, School Library Journal

On a warm May day in 1963, young feet took the first steps on an inspiring crusade for civil rights. Through the observant eyes of a fictionalized girl, debut author Monica Clark-Robinson depicts the momentous events surrounding the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, illustrated by Frank Morrison.

As the book opens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has delivered a compelling speech calling for peaceful protest that has touched his listeners’ hearts and minds. But the adults feel torn by their desire to take action and their responsibilities to home and family. The children, equally moved, volunteer to unite and march in their parents’ stead. Dressed in their best clothes, the apprehensive but determined marchers walk hand in hand for change and freedom. Clark-Robinson pulls no punches in her succinct and moving descriptions of the events, noting the angry crowds, potent threats, and physical dangers. Yet her poetic text is underscored by the palpable sense of pride, courage and hope that sustain the young marchers throughout their ordeal, from march to imprisonment to release.

Morrison’s vibrant illustrations powerfully enhance Clark-Robinson’s tale, bringing to life the intensity of terrible experiences that the marchers endured. Adults as well as children are represented with portrait-like detail throughout. They convey serious, determined dignity through their steady eyes and calm, straight-shouldered stances. While the faces are ultimately most compelling, Morrison incorporates signs, hoses, flags and fences that communicate the hostile environment with depth and poignancy.

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH will surely spur important and essential conversations between young readers and the adults who share this book with them. Additional information is supplied in an afterword, a bibliography and sources of quotations. A timeline, illustrated across the endpapers, grounds the tale from beginning to end by showcasing the young faces that helped sow the first seeds for justice and freedom.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

SNOW SISTERS!
Written by Kerri Kokias
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias with art by Teagan White

 

When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters! react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.

The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.

 

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias Interior artwork by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.

 

Interior artwork from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.

 

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias with illustrations by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.

Click here for author tour dates.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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