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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children 2023

 

 

BEST NEW VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

~ A Roundup~

 

Free Valentine's Day clipart

 

 

 

I Love You Cockatoo! cover art pirate bird and MamaI LOVE YOU, COCKATOO!
Written and illustrated by Sarah Aspinall
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 2-5)

Author-illustrator Sarah Aspinall captures the tender moment of a pink feathered Cockatoo sitting on his pink feathered Mama’s lap as she lovingly brushes out her child’s feathers in her recently released picture book I Love You, Cockatoo!

Cockatoo’s big eyes widen when Mama randomly does what mothers often do blurting out the words, I love you, Cockatoo to her precious son. It seems odd to Cockatoo that she could love him all the time so he asks, even when I’m grumpy and tired? Mama kindly responds, even when you’re grumpy and tired. The repetition of the answer mimicking the question continues when Papa expresses his love for Cockatoo, even when I wake you up at night … Even Aunt P loves him when the two are eating breakfast together and Cockatoo makes a mess. So much love to go around!

But, as stories often do, things take a turn when the playful Cockatoo takes advantage of that love when he reenacts a shouting pirate while Mama is trying to have some alone time in the bath. And Papa scolds him when he is awakened from his afternoon nap by Cockatoo’s loud green drum. Our little friend hops onto a nearby branch and thinks that perhaps they don’t love him ALL the time after all.

Aspinall’s adorable vibrant illustrations showcase each character’s personality with Papa’s glasses, Mama’s long eyelashes, and Aunt P’s yellow feathers when they locate a concerned Cockatoo alone in the tree. Readers discover along with Cockatoo after clever adults pose those same questions to Cockatoo that if he still loves them despite occasional grumpiness, it makes sense that they too still love him ALL of the time no matter what! This reassuring read is a fabulous Valentine’s Day addition for home, preschool, and library. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The Catalogueo of Hugs dad holding child like slothTHE CATALOGUE OF HUGS
Written by Joshua David Stein and Augustus Heeren Stein
Illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
(Rise x Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

This uplifting (pun intended) picture book showing 25 types of hugs not only warmed my heart but had me grinning with every page turn. It was such fun to see what new hug name and accompanying artwork would greet me. The cover, of course, is the Sloth. Then there’s the Classic, the Backpack, the Necklace, and even the Tantrum,  confirming that when it comes to showing varying emotions (love, playfulness, sadness), there are all kinds of hugs as there are all kinds of people. A positive for me was the inclusion of a diverse group of parental figures and individuals with differing abilities whether that’s someone in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg. The art is loosely drawn yet expressive with not a large color palette and it works wonderfully. This cool father-son collaboration clearly stems from years of hugging experience! There’s also a final spread that includes imaginative hug names without any illustrations which will no doubt invite children to invent their own style of one-on-one and family hugs. Do you know a hugger? I think we all do! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Very Best Hug cover Bear carrying girl and other animalsTHE VERY BEST HUG
Written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Illustrated by Alison Brown
(Bloomsbury; $18.99; Ages 0-5)

From the creators of the #1 bestseller I Love You Night and Day comes the perfect for Valentine’s Day picture book The Very Best Hug by award-winning author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrator Alison Brown. The rhyming words bounced off my tongue when I read the book aloud, putting a  fast smile on my face. How can you not grin from cheek to cheek when you read

Have you ever wondered who gives the very BEST hug?
The kind that’s warm and cozy and snug?
Extra squeezy, but never too tight,
the kind that fits you COMPLETELY right?

Prasadam-Halls asks How about a kangaroo kiss? Or a Walrus Wiggle? A Penguin Peck? Or a porcupine Prickle? Cheerful art depicts the child ready to put on her red pajama bottoms after being kissed by the kangaroo. Below that illustration readers see the pajama top still on the floor as the girl is hugged tightly by the walrus. Brown’s adorable illustrations also portray the little girl playing with the animals on her staircase, and rolling with a narwhal on the ground. The girl is brave stepping into that furry-purry lair for a lion squish! or a leopard squash! with a beautiful blue-toned spread.

The animals may enjoy showing their affection for the girl in a big group squeeze, but the look on her face shows she may not be that comfortable face down on her belly. The animals console her with chocolate chip cookies and milk as she realizes the best hug isn’t from any of them.  Their hugs are rough and tumbly, but someone else’s are sweet and comforting! SO … Who gives the best hugs? You’ve got it! You’ve guessed! And I will leave you in suspense about the ending. (Hint: it is a woman with brown hair). The animals happily return to being stuffed and scattered all over her bedroom. I’d recommend this for a cuddly bedtime read! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Little Hearts: Finding Hearts in Nature four animal friends in meadowLITTLE HEARTS: FINDING HEARTS IN NATURE
Written by Charles Ghigna
Illustrated by Jacqueline East
(Red Comet Press; $17.99, Ages 3-5) 

Charles Ghigna, known to the readers from his more than 5,000 poems as Father Goose, has done it again with his latest poetic picture book that explores a world full of hearts on the ground and hearts above. Little Hearts: Finding Hearts In Nature is both a cozy read with its words of love and a peaceful journey into the lives of four softly rendered animals. Jacqueline East’s earth-colored illustrations of the pig, the bear, the rabbit, and the fox play off the beauty that surrounds the animal friends.

The little bear notices two birds seated on a branch with their bodies entwined like a heart, while the pig discovers the spider’s silky gift of love-a little heart of lace. The friends move on to pick a few strawberries from the heart-shaped strawberry field. Then they find an apple tree upon the hill. What a sweet surprise. Two hearts before your eyes!

This tender story read begged me to sit back and ponder East’s heart-shaped drawings of leaves and petals, something that often goes unnoticed. The next time I come across a heart-shaped rock, I  take it home for safekeeping as I think of this book. This February 14, look up in the sky and you may find a cloud that looks like a Valentine. A fluffy heart of white! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Love Escargot cover snail wearing beretLOVE, ESCARGOT
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Farrar Straus Giroux; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

Escargot is my favorite snail so I’m thrilled he’s back and as debonair as ever! In this picture book where Escargot speaks directly to us readers, we soon learn the suave snail has been invited to a Snailentine’s Day party where perhaps we too will find our snailentine. I’m in! Are you? So, even if you do not have tentacles, the secret to being a beautiful French snail, Escargot tells us, is joie de vivre.

Heading to the party the snail wants to know what we look for in a snailentine and how they make us feel. If you feel shy, Escargot shares invaluable tips on convenient ways to hide. But more importantly, he will offer tips on how to dance with élan, that’s French for a mix of style and enthusiasm. An unexpected twist in this très formidable tale is that Escargot winds up at a party he hadn’t planned on attending but finds it an enchanting evening nonetheless! Slater’s use of French words makes this an irresistible read-aloud, especially if you add an accent charmant, and maybe even a beret to get in the mood. Kids will have fun looking through Hanson’s gorgeous art, especially the first spread and also the endpapers. Her illustrations’ muted tones are gentle on the eye and pair parfaitement with Slater’s humor and heart. Don’t miss this Valentine’s Day treat! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Lovebird Lou cover lovebird on tree branchLOVEBIRD LOU
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
(Union Square Kids; $16.99; Ages 3-8)

The adored character in this picture book can do no wrong according to his parents, and I must admit he is rather cute. In Lovebird Lou we learn that Lou comes from a long line of lovebirds who spend their days telling each other how much they are loved. (Not a bad way to spend a day). Lovebirds were all Lou knew until his flock visited the other side of the island.

Tammi Sauer, the author of more than 30 picture books, writes about all the wonderful things other birds are doing. The pelicans twist into a figure eight, the nightingales sing, and the flamingos wade into the water on one leg. And every time Lou tells his parents he wants to be like the other birds, he gets positive reinforcement along with pinches on his cheek. Sauer also uses catchy nicknames for Lou such as sugar cookie and mixes them into the text with creativity and charm. There’s no denying Lou’s family loves him so whatever he desires is fine by them.  In spread, illustrator and character designer Stephanie Laberis draws Lou attempting to fly like a pelican flopping into the green pasture. “You’re the best pelican ever!” said his mother. “We love you, Lou!” said the others.

Lou begins to realize that despite unending family support he is not meant to be a pelican or a flamingo, or a nightingale. “Being a bird is for the birds,” he says. Deciding he would rather not be a bird, Lou leaves the flock and tries sitting still next to a sign that reads #1 Rock. He was an excellent rock. Well, that is until he realizes it was scary being a rock alone out there without the lovebirds. The art turns from light colors to dark with Lou running back home under the moonlight to the open arms of his parents who of course tell him they love him to which he joyfully responds “I love you, too!” Lou knew lovebirds were good at the most important thing of all. Another fabulous book to be read by parents and teachers any time of the year, but especially fitting for Valentine’s Day.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out cover of gagging Jim PanzeeGRUMPY MONKEY VALENTINE GROSS-OUT
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Kids; $10.99; Ages  4-8)

New York Times Best Selling author Suzanne Lang has teamed up, once again with her husband, Emmy winner Max Lang, illustrator of over 20 books, in the latest addition to the Grumpy Monkey series Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out.

I have to admit I was not familiar with the Grumpy Monkey series, but the title alone is grabbing. So, when I opened the first page and read the protagonist’s name Jim Panzee (get it – Chimpanzee), I was hooked and eager to read more. The story opens with Jim, the protagonist, lying next to a stream, arms overhead, amongst the frogs and butterflies when Oxpecker flies overhead with a flower carried in its talons. The bird gleefully tells Jim, “My boyfriend gave it to me because we’re in love!”

Needless to say, Jim finds love to be quite gross and knows his friend Norman will feel the same way. But Jim locates the larger chimpanzee sitting on a low branch making love cards. Even Norman liked Valentine’s Day!

Max Lang’s hilarious illustrations are filled with purple snakes, heart-shaped leaves, and drawings of various smitten creatures gazing into each other’s eyes. It’s hard not to smile at all the animal couples getting on Jim’s nerves. Jim has the hardest time with the kissing ones such as two chimps sharing a smooch. Jim finds Valentine’s Day to be the GROSSEST HOLIDAY!

Wise Norman returns to explain to Jim that there are all kinds of love. You have a love for your parents and they have a love for you. Suzanne Lang’s prose explains to the reader that Valentine’s Day is about showing the people you love that you love them. Now convinced it’s not all gross, Jim decides to make valentines for all his friends and family to show them how much he cares. All goes well until the last page when two birds’ beaks join together with closed eyes (I now know how birds kiss) and Jim shouts GROSS

This book deserves to be a Valentine’s Day staple for young readers. It has made me a fan of Jim Panzee, one of the best character names I’ve ever read.  A page of stickers in the back is a bonus included in this LOL picture book. • Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Dino Valentines Day cover dino and childDINO-VALENTINE’S DAY
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Carolrhoda Books; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Let’s talk T. rex and team. Fans of the popular Dino series will enjoy this latest picture book that is packed with love-action as dinos get ready for the big day! As February breezes in,/Dinos giggle, swoon, and grin. Gott’s whimsical illustrations show your favorite dinos at school making cards, going shopping, having crushes, all culminating in a Valentine’s Day dino dance party. 

I counted more than a dozen different types of dinosaurs appearing on the pages doing all the necessary preparations to show they care with gifts of chocolate, handmade prezzies, baked goods, and more. During craft time, this line made me LOL: Apatosaurus just can’t win./Scissors are so hard for him. And Gott’s art is spot on particularly in the scene when Minmi spies Leso coming into the room and, as her heart takes a leap, so does her marker. The heart she was drawing continues off the page onto the table!! Best of all, Wheeler’s story is written in a fast-paced rhyme scheme. Though at times she takes liberties with the end rhymes, I don’t think kids will care. The story concludes with a teaser for the next book out this fall which is for Hanukkah! Can’t wait to see dinos play dreidel!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Cozy in Love cover two Alaskan musk oxCOZY IN LOVE
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I adore the heartwarming cover illustration from Jan Brett’s heartwarming tale told both in prose and through her beloved border art. Note: The Alaskan seaweed in the borders are from Seaweeds of the World and the heart-shaped stones are from Fox Island. You’ll also see puffins and beluga whales who live near Teardrop Inlet in this story.

Inspired by a cast of creatures she encountered on her Alaskan adventures, Brett brings back her character Cozy who in this new picture book worries that he’ll never catch the eye of his favorite musk ox, Lofti after losing a battle of strength to a fellow musk ox.

Cozy is soon pulled away from his sulk and called to action when Puffin, Cozy’s pal, alerts him to young Bella’s plight. While Bella, a spirited beluga whale plays in Teardrop Inlet, Puffin knows that “Air is getting cold. Ice will trap her!” Despite being warned by her mother that when the sea freezes, the entrance to the inlet gets closed off, Bella doesn’t leave. Then, when she tries to exit, she cannot make it over a wall of ice. If she doesn’t get out soon, she’ll be trapped “with no way to reach the air.”

Though his musk ox herd is heading to sleep, Cozy is compelled to rescue Bella. At the same time, Lofti decides to see what he is getting up. Cozy gets an idea that if he can displace water in the inlet by filling it with heavy rocks, it will allow the water to rise and carry Bella out to sea. This time his show of strength might save a friend’s life. Exhausted by his successful efforts, Cozy settles down only to be joined by an admirer, Lofti! This happy ending not only sees Bella reunited with her family but a bighearted musk ox named Cozy who just happens to be in love. A feel-good picture book for animal lovers of all ages!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Love Stinks! cover skunkLOVE STINKS!
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Gal Weizman
(Random House BYR; $5.99; Ages 4-6)

Where is my love? Skunk asks in this first level in the Step Into Reading series Love Stinks! This 32 page comic reader introduces new readers to rhyme, rhythm, and picture clues with bigger type and easy words.

Parents and caregivers will appreciate the Dear Parent intro page explaining speech balloons and captions, and panels along with questions to ask the child such as What is a character feeling? We turn the page to find Dog love and Cat love written in large letters with Weizman’s adorable characters gazing into each other’s eyes. Well, all except stinky Skunk who spurts out an odor that keeps him separated from the others.

Easy-flowing rhyme helps prompt little readers. Frog love./Fly love./Where is my love? The engaging artwork depicts frogs, ants, and flies in love but standing on the busy city street poor Skunk doesn’t see anyone for him. Place pronouns such as Here and There allow a beginning reader to hear and see those words in relation to characters on the page. And, if an adult reads along, they can easily point to what the skunk is doing and where. Simple sentences are brought in when Skunk is eating his ice cream cone alone Where is true love? he asks. Ending with a true heartfelt valentine’s tone, Skunk finds Stinky love! inside a trash can.

This humorous leveled reader with its Valentine theme is playful and fun while introducing kids to new words with accessible short sentences. The reader can choose to move on to the next step in the series or continue practicing Step 1 with Robot, Go Bot; Dragon Egg; or another good Valentine’s read, Mama Loves.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

How We Say I Love You cover multigenerational family huggingHOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU
Written by Nicole Chen
Illustrated by Lenny Wen
(Alfred A. Knopf; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

Nicole Chen introduces readers to a girl named Hana and the multigenerational family members who love her with actions not just words. How We Say I Love You tells the story of a Taiwanese American family that includes Hana’s parents, her Ah Gong (grandfather), and Ah Ma (grandmother).

We first meet them in their busy living room decorated with a large family portrait on the wall, and a bonsai plant resting on a wooden hutch. Ah Gong, who wears big brown glasses and has grey hair, is sweeping while Hana’s dad is carrying a basket of laundry. In the kitchen, her pregnant mom is dressed in a blue apron stirring her love into a pot of steaming xi fan. Hana smiles sniffing the aroma. Ah Gong dances with each step walking Hana to school, and her father cheers her on the soccer field, “Jia you, Hana! Go, go, go!”

We know the baby will be loved when Hana lays on her mother’s stomach telling the unborn sibling about things like ice cream and swings. Author-Illustrator Lenny Wen created her superb illustrations with Photoshop and a graphic tablet, visually showcasing the love this family has for each other.

The Asian culture is conveyed through illustrations of their cuisine, and gold and purple flowers with bamboo stalks in the background of many of the pages. Wen hides a heart on each page, adding a fun search-and-find activity after finishing the book. And the back glossary teaches us Mandarin Chinese with words like Wan an (good night) and Jia you (a cheer of encouragement). Hana says, “In my family our love lives in all the things we do for one another. That is how we say “I love you.”
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Additional Recommended Reads 

BAD KITTY DOES NOT LIKE VALENTINE’S DAY
Written and illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press; $9.99, Ages 2-5)

LITTLE OWL’S LOVE
Written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

 

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Best New Christmas Books for Kids 2022

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS 2022

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas With Auntie cover bunniesCHRISTMAS WITH AUNTIE
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)

My Aunt Shirley wasn’t my real aunt but she treated me as if I were her niece and I loved her the same as all my other aunts. Since Aunties can be blood relations or close family friends, Christmas With Auntie should find a large readership.

When Auntie picks up little bunny for the day, preparations for Christmas get underway. “Bunny-kins bunny, we’ll make and then bake/gingerbread goodies, sweet cookies, and cake.” Taking time to nibble carrots together, Auntie and little bunny spend quality time together. I love the snow bunny they build together and how attentive Auntie is to all bunny’s needs. Foster James writes in gentle rhyme and coupled with Brown’s tender illustrations, Christmas  With Auntie exudes warmth and love like hugs and kisses in book form. What’s extra nice is this Keepsake Edition provides a page to write a letter and add a photo so this copy will be a personalized family treasure.

 

Moo Baa Fa La La cover farm animalsMOO, BAA, FA LA LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon Books; $6.99, Ages 1-3)

If you or your kids are fans of that perennial fave, Moo, Baa, La La La!, you’ll be happy to know the adorable farmyard friends are back with a rollicking animal-centric altered rendition of “Deck the Halls.” While the meter may not be spot on in this board book, the silliness of what Boynton does best—cows, sheep, ducks, pigs, ducks, doggies, and chickens having a blast— is too good to miss. See the animals sing while they decorate the barn and get in a holiday mood along with them.  The playfulness of the pigs getting piggy with it, the bock, bock, bock of the chickens looking like they are about to Rockette it out, and the touch of the final fa la la la la fun at the end promises to entertain readers young and old.

 

 

Christmas Street cover

CHRISTMAS STREET
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Nosy Crow; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

This fold-out, lift-the-flap, two-sided board book is one your children will return to again and again every Christmas until they outgrow the make-believe play this book invites. My daughter would have asked me to make cut-out characters to insert into all the scenes when the street is completely unfolded. But I can also see kids using little animal figures they might already have to join with those in the cheerful art.

Penguins, bears, dogs, cats, bunnies, tigers, reindeer, giraffes, foxes, frogs, and walruses populate the pages of this rhyming alphabet book. Youngsters lift the flaps as they travel from store front to store front on bustling Christmas Street to discover what’s happening inside the shops and above them. “I is for icing on freshly baked cakes. J is for jingle, the sound a bell makes.” A snow-covered festive park scene is on the reverse side where a band practices beneath a gazebo, Christmas carols are sung, vendors sell hot drinks, and animal children skate and toss snowballs. This book makes a great gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers learning the alphabet and into pretend play. The nice thing is that it can be read simply as a board book or opened up for a longer interactive experience depending on how much time you have.

 

The Night Before The Nutcracker coverTHE NIGHT BEFORE THE NUTCRACKER
(American Ballet Theatre Presents)
Written by John Robert Allman
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

As a huge Nutcracker fan, I found myself totally enthralled while reading this behind-the-scenes look as four young dancers go through auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, and ultimately the opening night performance of the beloved Nutcracker ballet. Not only does Allman manage to pull off the upbeat rhyme based on “The Night Before Christmas,” but he’s done so while using an abundance of ballet and theatre terminology which is not easy. This is such a captivating way to engage young readers!

Our first introduction to the characters is as they lay sleepless in their beds thinking about opening night and then we go back to the different stages of getting ready for the big event. When at last we’re back on stage just before “Places!” is called, the excitement is palpable and we’re rooting for these kids. I especially liked how The Nutcracker story unfolds with glimpses backstage. Children who are not familiar with the plot can easily follow along with Clara and her nutcracker. In full-page bleeds, Swaney’s art depicts movement and magic with a diverse group of performers in colorful costumes and graceful poses. Backmatter includes “Richard Hudson’s original costume designs for the ABT’s production” while explaining Act 1 and Act 2. If you or your child has never attended a performance of The Nutcracker, this book might just be what gets you to finally reserve tickets. Enjoy!

 

Through the North Pole Snow cover Santa fox in sleighTHROUGH THE NORTH POLE SNOW
Written by Polly Faber
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

This delightful picture book is quiet (except for some loud noises in the beginning), calming and heartwarming. It’s perfect for when you’re winding down your child’s day and are ready to snuggle. A small white fox seeks shelter and food amidst a snowy scape. It crawls down a chimney where it gets stuck and is aided by a jolly man with a white beard that little ones may not recognize despite the cover illustration. The art along with the old fella offers hints that he’s been on his Christmas rounds and is exhausted. Still, the fox doesn’t realize who he’s living with! Santa and the fox sleep until the season has changed and the man awakens to begin work on a new batch of toys. With the fox close by, Santa reads the letters, makes lists, and prepares his sack and sleigh for the night run. The fox is thrilled to be invited along. Then, as toys are delivered, Fox at last understands. “And when the sleigh was empty, the fox’s heart was full.” Jones’s warm tones and folksy style enrich Faber’s sweet text and make us feel good all over about this very special newfound friendship.

 

Hello Tree coverHELLO, TREE
Written by Alastair Heim
Illustrated by Alisa Coburn
(Little Bee Books;  $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Between the sly fox’s antics and the pages packed with visual treats—look closely—the hilarious Hello, Tree merits multiple reads. We meet Fox, fond of the five-finger discount, in the process of taking whatever strikes his fancy. The problem is he likes a lot of what he sees whether that’s a Christmas tree, a snowman’s nose (to munch on), gingerbread, candy canes (one of my fave illustrations),

ornaments, poinsettias, or a string of lights, all to decorate his home at everyone else’s expense. He swipes, and swipes to his heart’s delight! And though his intentions may be good, since he clearly wants to create an inviting atmosphere when giving presents as indicated by the many stockings hanging from his fireplace mantel, stealing is not the way. So, when Santa drops in, he makes Fox give back his ill-gotten goods. Only then can the true Christmas spirit shine. I love all the subtle and not-so-subtle humor in Heim’s rhyming read-aloud. I’m thinking of the illustration showing bear parents kissing under mistletoe with their kid sticking out his tongue. “Hello, kissy mistletoe.” I know kids will get a kick out of scenes like this too. It’s such fun to also find details in Coburn’s illustrations upon a second read that I didn’t catch the first time and I know there are more treats waiting for me to discover. Don’t miss the surprise on the endpapers!

 

The Little Toymaker coverTHE LITTLE TOYMAKER
Written and illustrated by Cat Min
(Levine Querido; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Little Toymaker, though not a Christmas book per se, still feels like it delivers all the feels a holiday book should. This boy has a magical talent and it’s not for making children’s toys like the guy with the white beard and red garb. He repurposes old toys from grandparents and other older people’s childhoods. Kids probably don’t realize the elderly like toys too, in fact, I bet if you’re reading this you have a particular childhood fave too.

One day an old woman arrives at his toy-making tower and hands him a candy tin to fix. As he worked he chats with the woman learning about each other’s likes and dislikes. When his first attempt does not please her, the little Toymaker tries again. His second attempt also leaves something to be desired so it’s back to the drawing board. Over tea, the two talk some more. The boy gleans insight into exactly what he needs to do with the candy tin after hearing the old lady recollect a special time in her past full of love and romance. Finally, the little Toymaker’s last attempt succeeds because he listened. Inside the tin, he’s captured enough cherished memories to fill her heart for all her days. That sweet little bit of magic moved me as I remembered toys and happy times from my childhood. Watch your little ones create new memories playing with the toys and sharing experiences this holiday season. Min’s exuberant art is an added bonus to this lovely heartwarming tale.

 

THE CHRISTMAS PINE
Written  by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Victoria Sandøy
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Told from the point of view of the pine tree, this story found its start as a poem by beloved British author, Julia Donaldson for the UK Poetry Society “to celebrate the 2020 Christmas tree” which was a gift from Norway to the British people.

The Christmas Pine, now a picture book with spare rhyming text, was inspired by a true story. A young tree recalls how it grew and then came to find a home in London, a tradition that began in 1947, one that I, having lived there for over seven years, was not aware of. When it’s old enough for felling, the tree (back matter explains it’s usually a Norwegian spruce) journeys via sea to reach the UK. Eventually, it takes its place in Trafalgar Square near Nelson’s column and other statues and monuments. The spread of Londoners and perhaps visitors too, gazing upon the tree is my favorite because it shows people from all walks of life admiring nature’s beauty and majesty. The Christmas Pine, on the other hand, would probably tell us the illustration featuring children caroling at its base is its favorite.

 

The Christmas Book Flood coverTHE CHRISTMAS BOOK FLOOD
Written by Emily Kilgore
Illustrated by Kitty Moss
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

This is a story about a good flood, a flood of books in Iceland that get published in autumn. Many of the books are then bought, and gifted annually on December 24 since WWII. This stunningly illustrated book uses collage mixed with newsprint/book text that captures the spirit of this wonderful tradition. The palette is warm, dark, and rich reflecting the magical short days and long nights in this northern country leading up to Christmas. Kilgore’s lyrical language conveys the anticipation building among the people like a dam about to burst. The search for the right book to give friends and family is almost as exciting as the pleasure of getting to read the books at last. If you know a book lover, young or old, consider gifting this lovely picture book celebrating the joy of reading and starting your own book flood!

 

THE PERFECT TREE
Written by Corinne Demas
Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This story unfolds on the day before Christmas as Bunny is searching for the perfect tree. Each kind forest friend she encounters tells her the different things the perfect tree should have. Squirrel, Mole, Cardinal, and Skunk suggest a tree that’s bushy, has a point at the top, and has the right color, and smell. When Bunny has looked high and low with no luck, Deer posits that perhaps there is no perfect tree but Bunny is not about to give up. Heading back home as night falls, Bunny spots a tree she hasn’t seen before and realizes it’s too perfect to cut down. With her friends helping, Bunny decorates the tree and celebrates the perfect Christmas Eve with the perfect tree. While the story is a simple one, it flows easily from scene to scene. Dullaghan’s sweet illustrations bring the right amount of winter chill and charm to each spread. Add this feel-good Christmas tree tale that’s perfect for storytime or bedtime to your Christmas book list.

 

Celebrate With Me! coverCELEBRATE WITH ME!:
Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun From Around the World
Edited by Laura Gladwin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Magic Cat Publishing/Harry N. Abrams; $22.99, Ages 8-12)

This time of year when it seems there’s a party around every corner, the perfect book to keep this mood going is Celebrate with Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World. Beginning with January 1st, middle-graders learn fun facts that span the globe. Each holiday is presented by a different contributor which gives the book a wonderful range of information.

In February or March, make a papier-mâché mask to celebrate Portuguese Carnival.

On April 13th, learn about Songkran (or Thai New Year) when Thai people literally wash away anything negative by splashing each other with water. What kid won’t get behind this holiday?! The accompanying recipe for Thai-Style Congee is simple and delicious.

In Spain, Christmas is celebrated with the chewy and nutty Turrón de Navidad. Make a batch, then pop it in the fridge to set up while you sing festive songs called villancicos together.

Every page’s amazing information is accompanied by Dawn M. Cardona’s cheerful illustrations showcasing our world in a rainbow of colors. I like the closing pages which encourage kids to ask each other what holiday they celebrate, what’s important about it, and why it’s special to them. This is a great way to get to know a new friend or learn something new about someone already in your life. • This book was reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.WriteforSuccessEditing.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@WriteforSuccessEditing.com

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

CRINKLE BELLS
by Jay Fleck
(Chronicle Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)
e
PEEK-A-FLAP JOLLY 
Illustrated by Kathrin Fherl
(Cottage Door Press; $9.99, Ages 1-5)
e
WHEN SANTA CAME TO STAY
Written by Billy Sharff
Illustrated by
Eda Kaban
(Dial Books; $18.99, Ages 4-7)
e

HOW TO CATCH A REINDEER
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

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Picture Book Review – If Animals Gave Thanks

IF ANIMALS GAVE THANKS

Written by Ann Whitford Paul

Illustrated by David Walker

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 2-6)

 

 

 

If Animals Gave Thanks, Ann Whitford Paul’s fifth book in the If Animals Kissed Goodnight picture book series, delivers sweet, rhyming lines alongside David Walker’s whimsical images.

 

IfAnimalsGaveThanks int1
Interior spread from If Animals Gave Thanks written by Ann Whitford Paul and illustrated by David Walker, Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR ©2020

e

I appreciate animal facts such as Rabbit purring his thanks and Squirrel using her tail for protection from the weather. As the creatures express what makes them thankful, the story loops back to Bear orchestrating a friendly feast.

 

IfAnimalsGaveThanks int2
Interior spread from If Animals Gave Thanks written by Ann Whitford Paul and illustrated by David Walker, Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR ©2020

e

Kids will want to repeat the soothing animal sounds such as Raccoon’s “chir-chirrrrr.” And we all could use more comfort as we face a socially distanced holiday season. This story embraces the simplicity of gratitude. The art’s soft lines and warm colors welcome readers to join this gentle celebration, where animals from all walks of life enjoy each other’s company while sharing a lovingly prepared meal.

 

 

Read a review of another book by Ann Whitford Paul and David Walker here.

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Reasons to be Thankful – New Thanksgiving Board Books for Kids

THANKSGIVING 2019
∼A BOARD BOOKS ROUNDUP∼

 

free Thanksgiving Clip Art

 

 

look and be grateful bbcoverLOOK AND BE GRATEFUL
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Holiday House Publishing; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

This sturdy board-book edition of the hardcover picture book from 2015 is great to share all year long. With just 24 pages of spare and inspiring text, dePaola’s peaceful, pleasing art takes center stage. The little boy on the cover wakes up to behold the beauty of a new day and the wonderful things that surround him. “Open your eyes, and see, and say thank you.” Children learn with each simple sentence and illustration to be present and look at each day as a gift. Look and be Grateful is a gentle and sweet introduction to mindfulness and gratitude which are never too early to share.

 

Be Thankful PoutPout Fish cvrBE THANKFUL, POUT-POUT FISH
by  Deborah Diesen
Pictures based on illustrations created
by Dan Hanna
(Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

Little fans of the beloved Pout-Pout Fish will be delighted he’s back, under the sea, serving up tasty dishes for Thanksgiving in Be Thankful, Pout-Pout Fish. Mr. Fish has invited friends and family from near and far to join him at the celebration. It’s a pot-luck dinner for which all of the guests are grateful. When the meal is over and everyone’s full, Mr. Fish is feeling especially thankful not only for the food, but for the full feeling in his heart.

Told in 12 full-color pages, this rhyming board-book makes a sweet addition to any toddler’s Pout-Pout Fish book collection. It’s also an ideal gift when visiting during the holiday. Dive into a copy and share today.

 

five little thank yous coverFIVE LITTLE THANK-YOUS
Written by Cindy Jin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I love the die-cut turkey feathers design of this 12-page board book. Inspired by the hand-print turkey art craft so many children proudly create at Thanksgiving time, each finger/feather in Five Little Thank-Yous represents a paper-cut illustrated spread devoted to a particular thank-you message. It starts off with “Thank you for this sweet, warm home, blessed with family all my own.” The four other feathers mention thanks for food, friends, love and “…most of all, I’m thankful to be the one and only, special me.” What a terrific and important message to impart to children at Thanksgiving.

 

 

T is for Turkey cvrT IS FOR THANKS (AND TURKEY!)
A Flanimals Book
Written by Melinda Rathjen
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(WorthyKids; $7.99, Ages 1-3)

Fab and felt-clad Turkey (on the cover) is just one of the adorable Flanimals animal characters in this 20-page cumulative concept board book.T is for Thanks (and Turkey!) explores themes of gratitude and friendship courtesy of the letter T. The story begins when Tiger gives Turtle some tulips in a tea pot as a gift. Such a lovely gesture! Sadly, the present breaks when Turtle sneezes. Turkey’s on hand to offer some tissues. In fact he humorously always wants to be included in the cumulative repetition that kids will love. “T is for Thanks and Tape and Thunderstorm. And Turkey!” Some tape mends the broken tea pot and Turkey’s wings keep the rain off Tiger while Turtle’s retreated into his shell.

It’s great how the friends get up to some fun antics that kids will relate to all while sticking to the letter T. Things get messy though when Turkey gets onto a trampoline with tacos given to him by Toad. That causes no end of trouble as you might imagine. But with caring, thoughtful friends, everything will work out in the end providing everyone (and Turkey!) is on good behavior.

This book provides many levels of entertainment and positive reinforcement whether it’s counting the tulips (three), noting with little ones how all the animals’ names begin with T, seeing what else they can spot in the art that might pertain to thankfulness and the letter T, and most importantly, seeing the kind way friends treat each other.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a review of another Thanksgiving book.

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Our Favorite Kids’ Christmas Books Part Three

NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2018

– A ROUNDUP –

PART THREE

 

Free Christmas clip art bells and holly

 

 

A Unicorn Named Sparkle's First Christmas cover illustrationA UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE’S FIRST CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Amy Young
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

A Unicorn Named Sparkle’s First ChristmasAmy Young’s third book in this funny series, doesn’t disappoint. Cutie pie Sparkle continues to delight readers with silly antics offset by his true friendship with the little girl who loves him.

Lucy—perhaps like someone you know—believes the best thing about Christmas is “Lots and lots of PRESENTS!” And, of course, who better to give great presents than your BFF? However, even with Lucy’s insistent reminders, Sparkle doesn’t quite grasp the concept. It is, after all, his first Christmas.

Young’s illustrations capture the exciting buildup of holiday madness (cookies, ice skating, the mall) and, of course, a crazy-messy wonderful house. If you enjoy playful underscored by heartfelt friendship, this book’s for you.

 

Little Christmas Tree book cover artworkLITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE
Written and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

(Big Picture Press; $15.99, Ages 2-5)

Starred Review – Publisher’s Weekly

This beautiful, extra-large, 12-page board book’s sparkling art invites readers to journey into wintery landscapes. Each scene has several lift-the-flap opportunities for little hands to discover hidden wonders.

Written in rhyme, the story takes the reader through a day in the forest. First, the little Christmas tree awakens to find the woods have turned from green to white. Creatures explore until the sky clouds over and snowflakes fall once more.

Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s digital illustrations in Little Christmas Tree convey the best of snowy weather. Brightly colored berries and animals contrast well with the forest’s earth tones. Silver foil accents add a lovely effect. Young readers will delight in revisiting these tranquil sceneries.

 

Merry Christmas Little Elliot cover artMERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE ELLIOT
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot is a lovely addition to the seasonal standards with its fresh look at a familiar theme. You may know Little Elliot (an elephant with pastel spots) from previous books. In this holiday adventure, Elliot isn’t excited because he doesn’t have Christmas spirit.

So he sets off with Mouse to try and find this elusive thing. None of the typical wonders (The Nutcracker ballet, a spectacular tree, or sledding) incite Elliot until a mysterious envelope leads the two friends to discover what this time of year truly means.

Mike Curato’s classic art enhances and amplifies the story line. The beautiful book has an old-fashioned feel with a timeless message. Santa tells Elliot that he can’t give him the Christmas spirit, “You have to find that yourself.”

Be sure to look under the picture book’s dust jacket for a clever alternate cover image.

  • The above three books were reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

 

Merry Christmas Little Pookie cover illustration by Sandra BoyntonMERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE POOKIE
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 0-5)

I’ll be honest. Pookie can do no wrong by me. Sandra Boynton is a personal fave so I’m biased when it comes to her books as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows. 

On Christmas Eve, little Pookie pig is ready for a walk in the snow with Mama. When noses get frozen, it’s time to head inside because “There are garlands to make and lights to turn on and cookies to bake.” Family and friends will soon be arriving and Christmas songs will be sung. Boynton’s 18-page rhyming board board is festive and endearing and features all the trademark cuteness that make this a wonderful addition to the beloved go-to series. With eight books available, there’s definitely a great selection to keep your youngest ones entertained. And now, with Merry Christmas, Little Pookie in the mix, children can easily spend all year with Little Pookie!

 

The Broken Ornament by Tony DiTerlizzi book cover artTHE BROKEN ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
(Simon & Schuster Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Be careful what you wish for is what I kept thinking as I read The Broken Ornament, a touching picture book about empathy, thoughtfulness and self-reliance. As the story opens “Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever.” When that means adding more ornaments on the tree, Jack’s mother warns him about the one he intends to hang. It shatters and his mom hastily retreats upstairs followed by his dad with a box of tissues. Clearly that ornament was meaningful to his mom. It’s only when a fairy named Tinsel emerges from the ornament shards that Jack gets the over-the-top Christmas experience he longed for. But something was missing. Was there a way to replace the broken ornament? Tinsel helps Jack learn the story behind the ornament’s importance and explains that only Jack has the power to come up with a solution. Once Jack puts his mind to it, he figures out a beautiful way to show his remorse over his action that, while not bringing back the old ornament, helps everyone have a joyful Christmas after all. Sometimes there’s magic in the small things. I absolutely loved DiTerlizzi’s spread of Tinsel’s magical creatures (Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer, nutcrackers) gathered in the snow outside the living room window looking in at the happy family. Santa’s got a spotlight on him as he holds a glowing Tinsel in his hand. Young readers will be thrilled to witness the positive outcome along with the Christmas cast of characters. Buy local and treat yourself to this beautiful book to share with your family this holiday season.

  • The above two books were reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Please click here for Part One of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup.
Please click here for Part Two of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup.

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Five New Christmas Books for Kids – A Roundup of Our Faves

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

– A ROUNDUP –

PART TWO

candy cane free Christmas clip art

 

Jane Foster's Christmas board book cover artJANE FOSTER’S CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Jane Foster
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Illustrator and designer Jane Foster helps make spirits bright with her new board book, Jane Foster’s Christmas. This smartly designed and graphically bold concept book will familiarize babies and toddlers with all the signature items we associate with Christmas. From Santa Claus and sleigh, to gingerbread house and hot chocolate, each spread features a word on the left in black typeface and an illustration on the right. Additional subtle graphic elements on the word pages, like polka dots, waves, trees and stripes are visually pleasing too. The vibrant colors used add to the book’s appeal as does the shininess of the art and text. This board book is sure to get little ones excited for the holiday with its choice of cheery images presented as beautifully as her 10 previous books in the series such as Things That Go, Animal Sounds and First Words. Need a stocking stuffer? Give this to the youngest readers in your house this holiday season.

 

 

All is Merry and Bright board book cover illustrationALL IS MERRY AND BRIGHT
(A Shine Bright Book)

Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Don Clark
(Little Simon; $24.99, Ages 1-4

Here is an oversized, thick and bedazzling board book that needs no wrapping and just begs to be opened like a present. As I turned each page I was treated to a parade of pizzazz, foil and color. The glorious graphics jumped off the page filling me with light and delight. The embossed designs also feel fab to touch so let little fingers wander as they wonder what comes next. The text, spare, but lyrical, promises “joyful smiles” and multiple reads to soak up all the positive energy emanating from between the covers. It’s less a story and more a celebration of the joy that Christmas brings. A glowing review for this shiny, happy book that you can feel confident when adding to your Christmas reading list!

 

 

If Animals Celebrated Christmas book cover illustrationIF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by David Walker
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

The latest in Ann Whitford Paul’s charming series of rhyming stories, If Animals Celebrated Christmas, ponders what each particular animal would do for the holiday. Koala lovers will be happy these marsupials feature prominently in this tale as do penguins, cranes, buffalo, turtles, owls, oryx, beaver and hedgehogs. Crustaceans also grace the pages. “Crabs would scamper from the deep, dark sea, and build a seashell Christmas tree.” Illustrator Walker’s topped that Christmas tree with a starfish, making it my favorite spread. If you’re curious what the others get up to, be sure to include this book in your holiday shopping. It’s a recommended read-aloud that provides a fun jumping off point for a discussion about what other creatures might do to make the holiday their own.

 

 

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? book cover illustrationWHERE DO DIGGERS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Christian Slade
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

If you’ve got an “all things tractors, diggers and cranes” fan at home, make sure to add Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? to your holiday collection. While in some places the rhyme meter felt slightly off, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture book. In fact I was rather impressed how Sayres came up with such clever ways for vehicles to celebrate. And in case kiddos didn’t know it, diggers, cherry pickers, forklifts, mixers, cranes, tankers, tow trucks, tractors, food trucks and even Zambonis celebrate Christmas by doing the exact same things they do. That means stringing lights, singing Christmas carols and even sharing egg nog with their families. Illustrator Slade’s put a mouse on the pages too, so children can watch out for what the creature gets up to in every spread. Wheels are the way to go in this charming, feel good Christmas story.

 

A Tuba Christmas book cover illustrationA TUBA CHRISTMAS
Written by Helen L. Wilbur
Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Who knew that tuba Christmas concerts were a thing? Now that I know about them, having read A Tuba Christmas, I cannot wait to attend one! Unlike my family, the family members in this picture book all play an instrument, and when the story begins, it’s time for the youngest child, Ava, to choose an instrument, too. Everyone is surprised, however, when Ava decides to take up the tuba. She’s helped along by lessons from Rodney, a compassionate high schooler in the marching band. When the tuba’s challenges (it’s clearly rather cumbersome) get to her along with the kids at school (as well as her brothers) teasing her about the tuba, Ava’s ready to call it quits. But Rodney’s not concerned about her progress and invites her to participate in a tuba holiday concert at her school at just the right time. Being part of an ensemble is exactly the kind of supportive and spirited musical environment Ava needs. The audience is enthralled and impressed with the concert including Ava’s performance and she’s over the moon. As Rodney like suspected, rather than giving up on the instrument and her instruction, Ava feels proud of her accomplishment and decides to continue playing. Back matter details the history behind Tuba Christmas concerts and will likely have readers seeking out the nearest one this holiday season. Uhles’s cheerful illustrations pair wonderfully with the exuberance of the tale and perfectly capture Ava’s up and down moments. Wilbur’s written a special kind of Christmas story to share because, in addition to centering around the holiday, it’s also a heartwarming tale about perseverance and how wonderful and motivating it feels when someone (in this case Ava’s instructor) has your back. 

 

  • Reviews by Ronna Mandel


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker

lllustrated by AG Ford
Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Oliver Elephant 
Written by Lou Peacock
Illustrated by Helen Stephens 
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Click here to see Part One of our 2018 Christmas book suggestions.

 

 

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Finn’s Feather & Sterling, Best Dog Ever, Two New Books by Epic18 Debut Authors

FINN’S FEATHER
Written by Rachel Noble

 Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(Enchanted Lion; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

&

STERLING, BEST DOG EVER
Written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

A feather. A fork. These things mean more than they seem when viewed through the loving eyes of a family in two new picture books, FINN’S FEATHER and STERLING, BEST DOG EVER from debut authors.

 

Finn's Feather book cover illustrationFINN’S FEATHER features an upbeat and energetic child who discovers a white feather on his doorstep. He runs to show the new treasure to his mother, explaining that the feather is from his brother, Hamish. His mother responds with a deep breath and a big hug. His teacher’s reaction is likewise muted. But Finn’s friend Lucas understands and shares in his delight. Together they find ways to include the special feather in their playtime.

With the feather as an equal, adventuresome partner, it is as if Finn’s deceased brother is right beside them, sharing in the delight of a spring day. When Finn finally decides to write a letter to Hamish, he uses the feather as a pen. “I whish you were here,” he writes, and secures his message in a tree branch.

Abbott’s warm illustrations are clear and soft, setting off the emotional tale with gentle tenderness. Simple and generously spaced, the images leave ample room for Noble’s text to carry deeper meaning. The pastel color palette is attractively textured, drawing readers’ eyes to the ever-present, symbolic feather. This poignant book is ideal for helping children understand the range of complex emotions, grief and happiness, that accompany our experiences of loss and remembrance.

 

Sterling, Best Dog Ever book cover illustrationIt’s a fork, or a dog, that stars in STERLING, BEST DOG EVER. Although no home has ever wanted to keep Sterling, he is determined to find a family. Outside the Butlery Cutlery Factory, he comes up with a plan to be shipped inside a package of utensils. Sure, he may have to disguise himself as a fork to succeed, but he’s resourceful!

The Gilbert family is skeptical but accepting of Sterling, and their dog-obsessed daughter is delighted beyond measure. But Sterling’s role is not entirely clear. Did the family want a fork, a dog, or should he try to be a whisk, a rolling pin, or a chandelier? Young readers will giggle at Sterling’s enthusiastic attempts to carve out a place for himself in the new family order.

Cassie’s illustrations are colorful, humorous and well-paced. Even when attempting to fill-in as an inanimate household item, Sterling is imbued with emotion, expression and energy. His earnest efforts and the girl’s equally passionate yearning to help her “dog-fork” assimilate are heart-tugging and funny at the same time. STERLING is a quirky, clever tale of self-acceptance and love that will hold special appeal for readers with rescue dogs.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Click here to read another recent review by Cathy.

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.

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100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita & Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK
Written by Kate Narita
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)

&

FLYING DEEP:
Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN
Written by Michelle Cusolito
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.

100 Bugs: A Counting Book by Kate Narita cover artIn 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects. Narita employs bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.

Kaufman’s bright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection. 

cover art from Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVINIn FLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolito uses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.

Digital illustrations from Wong enrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.

 

100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!

        • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Read another recent #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.

Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.

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Three Magic Words We Love to Hear – If Animals Said I Love You by Ann Whitford Paul

IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by David Walker
(Farrah Straus Giroux; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

 

If Animals Said I Love You book cover art

 

 If Animals Said I Love You is a charming and worth-waiting-for companion to Ann Whitford Paul’s and David Walker’s If Animals Kissed Goodnight, and this new bedtime tale does not disappoint.

There are lots of different ways that animals say I love you to their family and friends, and young readers will welcome how creatively they show their love any time of day or night in this picture book. Although the story’s star is Gorilla who appears several times throughout the book in addition to being featured in the beginning and end, children will also get to meet nine other animals including Whale, Boa, Lion, Secretary Bird, Cheetah, Spider, Ostrich, Impala and Alligator.

 

int 1 spread If Animals Said I Love You
Interior spread from If Animals Said I Love You written by Ann Whitford and illustrated by David Walker, Farrar Straus Giroux ©2017.

 

Can you guess how a Whale might say these three important words? Would it be in whale song? Perhaps, but only partially. “Whale would sing it and, from his spout, shoot some heart-shaped bubbles out.” And what about Boa? “Boa would hiss, “Hatchlings, come please. Time for a loving, squish-hugging squeeze.”

 

int 2 spread If Animals Said I Love You
Interior spread from If Animals Said I Love You written by Ann Whitford and illustrated by David Walker, Farrar Straus Giroux ©2017.

 

Each individual animal grouping demonstrates its love in a unique way, one that youngsters will want to imitate whether that be the slap-slap chest pound from Gorilla or the big tail swish and shower splashity-splish of Alligator. 

Paul’s lyrical text is playful and inviting. It’s hard to resist repeating the whappity-whaps, click-clacks and heapity-heaps. Walker’s soothing artwork is a sweet accompaniment to Paul’s well-paced rhythm and rhyme. His animals are adorable and endearing and never stagnant until the closing spread seen below. From twisty Boa  to leapity-leaping Impala, these animals’ motions move the reader to turn the page for another new treat of words and illustrations.

 

int 3 spread If Animals Said I Love You
Interior spread from If Animals Said I Love You written by Ann Whitford and illustrated by David Walker, Farrar Straus Giroux ©2017.

 

If Animals Said I Love You may be packed with tons of heart-warming animal love and affection, but rest assured, there’s always room for more hugs and kisses and I love yous at the end as you tuck your own little one into bed.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another bedtime story review here.

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Books Kids Will Love for Valentine’s Day – Part One

BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS 2018
A ROUNDUP – PART ONE

Double Heart motif clip art

 

Check out the variety of Valentine’s Day books that are available this year to share with your kids. Whether you’re seeking something traditional or offbeat, sentimental or silly, we’ve got you covered! Make tracks to your nearest independent bookseller and pick up several copies using our list below. Nothing goes better with a bouquet than a book!

 

 

This is NOT a Valentine cover image This is NOT a Valentine
Written by Carter Higgins
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Chronicle Books; $14.99, Ages 4-8)  

This may NOT be your mother’s Valentine’s Day book but it is your children’s! Higgins has taken the typical holiday book and turned it on its head as only an author who is also a school librarian can. Prepare for quirky yet charming in this nothing hearts or pink or gushy debut picture book. This is NOT a Valentine celebrates friendship and the kind of love worth getting excited over when you find a friend which whom you have so much in common or adore simply because of who they are and how they make you feel. With kid-centric, feel good artwork that starts with the title page and takes readers through a school day, Cummins’ illustrations demonstrate how the two friends enjoy each other’s company. And while this book may not be a Valentine, it sure feels like one. And that’s okay, even without glitter, cursive writing or dainty lace.

Cover image from LOVE Love
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Loren Long
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Love comes in many shapes and sizes, and is anywhere and everywhere. De la Peña’s Love lyrically and gently conveys the many ways that love manifests itself. Long’s soothing and superb illustrations add to the reassuring nature of this story. Sure to provide comfort to children experiencing growing pains, doubts and fears, this much lauded story also honors the buoyant bonds of family and friends with loud and quiet moments of steadfast love and devotion. Love can be “the smell of crashing waves, and a train whistling blindly in the distance …” or it can be found “in the arms of a loved one who bends to your ear and whispers, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s love.'” It’s tenderness, touching and togetherness rolled into one powerful picture book. Love is filled with ample white space to contemplate the radiant artwork while soaking up the the words slowly and then beginning all over again. Stunning spreads show upbeat slices of life such as a dad and daughter dancing on a trailer home rooftop and youngsters playing with a policeman in the mist of “summer sprinklers.” There are also moments of discord such as a couple fighting and disaster shown on a TV broadcast. “One day you find your family nervously huddled around the TV, but when you ask what happened, they answer with silence and shift between you and the screen.” Reading Love is a visceral experience that will move adults reading the story aloud to squeeze their children a little tighter and plant extra kisses on their cheeks. Four letters say so much.

Cover image of young boy from I GIVE YOU MY HEART I Give You My Heart
Written by Pimm van Hest
Illustrated by Sassafras De Bruyn
(Clavis Publishing USA; $32.95, Ages 6 and up)

In van Hest’s I Give You My Heart, young Yuto’s instincts take him to an old shop where the elderly owner gives him a box, a gift that will positively influence him throughout his life. At first the special box won’t open, but when it does,  a seed grows from inside which one day Yuto must plant. Eventually, as the tree grows, so does Yuto who finds the tree plays an important role in his life—a solid, steady force offering him comfort and stability that he wants to share with his wife, children, and when the time comes, another young child just like Yuto was when he was gifted the box. This beautiful, poetic picture book demonstrates another aspect of love as depicted in the circle of life and nature. Don’t miss this stunning 56 page gift book full of wonderfully impressive laser cutouts in addition to all the other moving illustrations.

 

Cover image What The World Needs Now is LoveWhat the World Needs Now is Love
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt
(Penguin Workshop; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Those of us of a certain age will remember way back in 1965 when the song, What the World Needs Now is Love reached Billboard’s Top 10 and was playing on radios everywhere. The controversial Vietnam War was raging, protestors were picketing and Civil Rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery. And the more things change the more they stay the same. In a brief intro to this song turned inclusive and encouraging picture book, composer Bacharach says, “When Hal David and I wrote this song in 1965, it was an observation on what was going on in the world, and we thought it was an important statement to make. Now, decades later, the song’s meaning has become much more powerful. We’re so glad we wrote this song, and are delighted that you can now enjoy it as a book.” Originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, this song made an indelible impression in my brain because it’s so upbeat and yet so simple. It’s pulled together by McDevitt’s hand-lettered song lyrics and vibrantly illustrated diverse images of children from all walks of life, playing or simply hanging out together. Show you care this Valentine’s Day by giving loved ones a copy of this small (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″) 32-page book that’s as colorful as it is charming and packaged with a red ribbon enclosure.

Love the World by Todd Parr cover image Love The World
Written and illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

The one place that love should start, emphasizes Parr’s rhyming text in Love The World, is within ourselves. This meaningful message from Parr seems to jump out from every vibrant and boldly illustrated page that also shout Parr from near and far. Children continue to embrace his signature colorful style and positive outlook and it’s easy to see why. If you love yourself then you can easily share that love with friends, family, those in need. And let’s not forget our planet and everything on it. The repetition of “Love Yourself. Love the World!” throughout the book serves to reinforce Parr’s inspiring central idea that we’re all worth the effort. “Everything and everyone deserves love,” says the copy on the back jacket cover and it’s so true, only it doesn’t end when the book closes. Youngsters will feel energized and enthusiastic after hearing the rhythmic words and will be motivated to spread sone love and kindness around.

 

Cover image Bagel in Love by Natasha WingBagel in Love
Written by Natasha Wing
Illustrated by Helen Dardik
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Finding love (and winning a dance contest no one thought he could win) is the sweetest revenge for Bagel who’s got the moves but no dance partner when Bagel in Love first opens. In fact, he can’t get a break. He’s peachy keen on entering the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest, but it seems Poppy, Pretzel, Croissant, Doughnut and Cake all think he’s not cut out to compete like Fred Éclair. And they let him know it in pun-laden prose good for giggles and grins. Wing’s wordplay is wonderful as is Dardik’s delightful digital artwork that animates the downer desserts with pinks, purples teals and tons more colors that pop off the page. Some of my favorite lines include, “Matzo flat out told him no,” and “Call me flaky,” said Croissant. “But those moves are totally stale.” When a toe-tapping cupcake comes along and steals bagel’s heart, the two carbs gel, making the best Éclair and Cherryse moves this side of Hollywood. A sparkly cover and final spread are “just icing on the cake” for kids who love a story with a happy ending.

Cover image from I Love You for Miles and MilesI Love You for Miles and Miles
Written by Alison Goldberg
Illustrated by Mike Yamada
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 2-6)

As I read Goldberg’s debut picture book, I Love You for Miles and Miles, I kept thinking how much my children would have enjoyed this story when they were little. They could not get enough of truck, train, excavator and emergency vehicle books and this one fits that bill in every way with a bonus of love tied to each one depicted. The super cool mama bear, talking to her child, conveys the extent of her love with comparisons to big rigs “Stretching side to side, Hauling loads of every shape and size.” And it doesn’t stop there! Her love is faster than a fire truck and higher than the highest plane. No matter where these various tough, strong and resilient modes of transport go, this mama bear’s love goes there too. Yamada’s illustrations are cheerful and bright, always bringing the focus onto the mother and her child. This book is ideal for bedtime reading and, while bursting with love, is not just for Valentine’s Day but all year long.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Check out a review of Love, Mama
Check out our Part Two of our New Books for Valentine’s Day Roundup
Check out a previous Valentine’s Day Roundup

 

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Hooray for Hanukkah! New Kids’ Books for the Festival of Lights

THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel cvr imageThe Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.

Way Too Many Latkes cover imageWay Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the  humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!

Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale cover imageLittle Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas picture book cover imageQueen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.

Dreidel Dog Mensch pets in box from Mensch on a Bench pkg image

 

Dreidel Dog
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)

Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.

 

Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

SPLASHDANCE
Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover

 

Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.

 

Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance
Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.

 

Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Splashdance from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

 

A UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE
Written and illustrated by Amy Young
(Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

 

A_Unicorn_Named_Sparkle book cover

Carving out a new niche in the unicorn-book market may seem a difficult task, but A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young accomplishes this task with humor and flare. When Lucy finds a mail-away ad stating, “Unicorn, 25 cents,” she, of course, sends her quarter off to Unicorn City, New Jersey, barely able to wait.

Meanwhile, Lucy imagines all the wonderful things they’ll do together. She’ll name her unicorn Sparkle and “he will be blue with a pink tail and pink mane.” To ease him into her world, she plans to give him a cupcake.

When the big truck rumbles up, Lucy’s cupcake disappears in one chomp. I must note that this is a great image—just the unicorn’s mouth coming out of the shipping crate, snapping down the cupcake – terrific!  What emerges from the shipping crate doesn’t quite match Lucy’s expectations. “He had spots. His ears were too long. He smelled funny. Oh, and he had fleas.” And that’s just the beginning.

Interior_art_.A_Unicorn_Named_Sparkle interior artwork
Interior spread from A Unicorn Named Sparkle, written and illustrated by Amy Young, Farrar, Straus Giroux ©2016.

Playing together doesn’t go the way she planned either. So Lucy does what every frustrated shopper would: she phones Unicorns, Inc., and tells them to take Sparkle back. While she awaits the truck’s return, Lucy gets to know Sparkle and even stands up for him when neighborhood kids tell her that Sparkle looks like a goat. Of course we all know that Sparkle is a “special kind of unicorn.”

In this tale of friendship and discovery, Lucy comes to the conclusion that you may not get what you expected—and that can be just fine too.

Author and illustrator Amy Young’s A Unicorn Named Sparkle is a truly enjoyable read, ideal for the pre-K crowd. And her vivid, expressive images are well-matched to the text. Sparkle may not be the handsome unicorn we imagined, but he surely will capture our hearts.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

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Best Picture Books of 2015

 

THIS YEAR’S BEST PICTURE BOOKS

Making a List and Checking it Twice!
Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks

GRWRCoveted-Bookseller-Award

 Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!

vegetables-in-underwearVegetables in Underwear
Written by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5)

What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.

 

ItstoughtoloseyourballoonIt’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon
Written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka 
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.

Counting Crows counting-crows-cvr
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!

IfYoureaRobotIf You’re a Robot and You Know It
By Ukelele and Drum Combo, Musical Robot
Illustrated by David A. Carter
(Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.

Butterfly Park 
ButterflyPark
Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House TheMoonisGoingtoAddysHouse
Written and illustrated by Ida Pearle
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!

OnceUponaCloudOnce Upon a Cloud
Written and illustrated by Claire Keane
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her
request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.

A Tower of Giraffes: AnimalsTower-of-Giraffes-cvr.jpg in Groups
Written and illustrated by Anna Wright  
(Charlesbridge  $17.95 Ages 3-7)

What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!

The Bear Ate Your SandwichTheBearAteYourSandwich
Written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach 
(Alfred A.Knopf BYR;  $16.99 Ages 3-7)

This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.

Lenny and Lucy LennyandLucy
Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.

TheWhispercvrThe Whisper
Written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.

 

One FamilyOneFamilycvr.jpg
Written by George Shannon and illustrated by Blanca Gomez
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.

We Forgot Brock!
WeForgotBrock
Written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!

WaitingWaiting
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.

TheSongofDelphineThe Song of Delphine
Written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!

 

We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Hanukkah Books for #Readukkah & Giveaway

TWO OF OUR FAVORITE NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS
FOR #READUKKAH 2015
& GIVEAWAY

hanukkah-menorah-16069688

 

 

OskarandtheEightBlessings

 

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Oskar_Interior2
Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.

Oskar_Interior1
Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.

Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.

 

 

TheParakeetNamedDreidel

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); $17.99, Ages 5-8)

PARAKEET 1
The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidel is brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.

This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.

 

PARAKEET 2
The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

 

Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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