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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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Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio

EVERYONE LOVES BACON
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Eric Wight
(Farrar, Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers;
$17.99, Ages 3-7)

And we’re not talking Kevin here either!

EveryoneLovesBaconcvr.jpeg

I clearly remember the day I fell in love with bacon. At dinner my mother placed a heaping platter of liver and onions before us. “It’s good for you! Try one bite,” she insisted. I carefully swaddled a teeny tiny piece of liver inside the largest crispy, chewy bacon slice. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, then GULP! I was able to consume the one required bite. Bacon had saved the day!

Everyone has different reasons for loving bacon, and Kelly DiPucchio’s funny tale about bacon’s universal celebrity status will be a real winner with kids. In this tasty tale, set in a shiny silver roadside diner, readers quickly learn that in addition to Egg loving Bacon, and Pancake loving Bacon, BACON loves Bacon, too! Oh sure, cranky French Toast doesn’t love Bacon, but he doesn’t love anyone. It hardly seems to bother Bacon anyway, since he has so many loyal fans!

The perks of Bacon’s popularity include posing for photos and taking center stage for singing, telling jokes, and playing ukulele. His entourage of fruits, fries, veggies and meats are always fawning over him. Bacon laps up the attention like 100% pure Vermont maple syrup. When bacon-themed accessories and knickknacks start appearing (bumper stickers, hats, t-shirts) Bacon really starts to sizzle.

DiPucchio’s text pulls no punches in stating story facts from the sublime to ridiculous about Bacon’s ego explosion. Pun-inspired balloon quotes from Bacon’s forgotten friends enhance the storyline with funny asides, capturing the personalities of the other diner foods. “Fine. Have it your way,” grumps the cheeseburger. DiPucchio nicely sets up Wight’s picture puns, and the illustrator takes full advantage of the wacky edible world to craft clever, silly anthropomorphized foods. The setting is balanced with well-rendered, slightly surrealistic details from the red and white striped drinking straws to the grains in the salt and pepper shakers.

By the time mustachioed Bacon acquires a fancy car, readers will be anticipating a funny, dramatic end. Does the book deliver? Well, everyone loves Bacon.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of EVERYONE LOVES BACON from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Music Class Today! by David Weinstone

 MUSIC CLASS TODAY!
Written by David Weinstone
Illustrated by Vin Vogel
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 1-3)

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– reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Young readers are assured of a toe-tapping, page-turning good time in MUSIC CLASS TODAY!, a new picture book from the hip creator of the toddler pop-culture sensation Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals, David Weinstone. Weinstone’s interactive preschool music program has been joyfully translated into book form, capturing all the egg-shaking, scarf-tossing, stick-tapping excitement that little ones love.

As children gather eagerly for the start of music class, one young lad hangs back. Staying near his mother and clutching a cheery stuffed frog, he watches as the class begin to whirl, twirl, and dance along with the teacher’s song. Each child participates in his or her own way, whether jiggling, flopping or listening. Vogel perfectly captures all the energy and chaos of distractable little kids who yawn, sing, stretch, suck their fingers, or check their noses while jamming to the beat.

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Interior artwork from Music Class Today! by David Weinstone with illustrations by Vin Vogel, Farrar, Straus Giroux ©2015.

The narrator proceeds smoothly through the rhyming song/story, remaining calmly observant of the rolling eggs, flying shoes, and racing around pandemonium. His unmistakable goal is to reassure the young boy that he can join in when the moment is right. A gentle refrain “That’s all right, that’s okay. Whenever you’re ready, come on over and play,” punctuates the tale regularly.

As expected, the hesitant observer gradually warms to the idea of participating in the class. He smiles, stands up, dangle-dances his froggy to the music, then gradually picks up a pair of cymbals to join in a jubilant parade. “Everybody’s in the band. Hooray!” sings the teacher. After helping clean up the instruments and sing goodbye, the little music-maker and his frog are reluctant to leave and eager to return.

Vogel’s illustrations are dazzling and fun, endowing each child with a unique personality and vibrant striped or polka-dotted outfits with fabulous colorful socks. My favorite kid had a single front tooth and sported a green googly-eyed dinosaur ushanka.

Paired with a free download of Weinstone’s musical version of the song, the tale’s catchy plink-plunk beat is absolutely infectious. The publisher offers an activity kit (PDF) with supplemental activities including a coloring page, word match, iron-on decal, and directions for making simple instruments from recycled materials. MUSIC CLASS TODAY! is sweet, simple musical fun for the littlest of book and music lovers!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I received a copy of MUSIC CLASS TODAY! from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 2015!
❤️A ROUNDUP TO SHARE THE LOVE ❤️

In-My-Heart-cvr.jpgThis book is great for Valentine’s Day, but is not limited to the holiday.

Even as an adult, feelings are hard to pinpoint, much less express. Written by Jo Witek, with illustrations by Christine Roussey, IN MY HEART: A Book of Feelings, (AbramsAppleseed, $16.95, Ages 2-4), may be a book intended for toddlers, but its universal theme will appeal to all ages.

This beautiful die-cut board book uses colors, shapes, and symbolism to help children identify and verbalize what they are feeling. Witek’s lyrical writing and masterful use of vocabulary are awe-worthy, and are complemented perfectly by Roussey’s fanciful illustrations.

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Interior spread from In My Heart by Jo Witek with illustrations by Christine Roussey, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

 

When I get really angry, my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!
Don’t come near me!
My heart is yelling, hot and loud.
This is when my heart is mad.

But other times, my heart is cool.
I bob along gently like a balloon on a string.
My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall.
This is when my heart is calm.

Sad, afraid, and shy are emotions which are explored by this perfect pairing of author and illustrator, along with hopeful, brave, and proud, to name a few. Witek ends the book with an open-ended question for the reader, sure to encourage a heart-felt discussion. She asks:

How does your heart feel?

Both Witek and Roussey live in France, and originally published their book in French under the title Dans Mon Petit Coeur, (Editions de La Martiniere/2013). Nothing has been lost in the translation to English, proving the heart speaks a language all its own. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Guess-How-Much-cvr.jpgIt must have been twenty years ago when I first read the touching tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, and teared up. Then, when my oldest daughter was in high school, her boyfriend gave her a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I got choked up again when she let me read it. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, written by Sam McBratney, and illustrated by Anita Jeram, (Candlewick Press, $9.99, Ages 4-8), is now available in a 4″x4″ special foldout, pop-up book format, and after all of these years, still makes me misty.

A timeless tale of love, this beloved book comes to life with Jeram’s ink and watercolor illustrations of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In this most recent edition, the characters pop off the pages as they try to outdo one another while expressing their love.

“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“But I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare — and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

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Interior artwork from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Anita Jeram, Candlewick Press, ©2014.

 

McBratney’s text expands upon the phrase, “I love you this much,” so often heard between parent and child, with his creative prose. The sentiment is appropriate any time, but tucked away in a beautiful red sleeve with a decorative gold title, Guess How Much I Love You  makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loved ones of any age. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Love-Monster-cvr.jpgThis little Love Monster was a nice little monster living in a land called Cutesville. LOVE MONSTER, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 2-4), is another terrific Valentine’s Day picture book to add to your gift list. Living in a world full of everything cute and fluffy can be hard when you’re a funny looking monster of bright red hue, and googly eyes. Or so it felt that way for our main character who was seeking someone to love him “just the way he was.”

NOTE: Make sure to point out the sign that reads BIG, WIDE WORLD as Love Monster sets off on his search.

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Interior artwork from LOVE MONSTER by Rachel Bright, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©2014.

Monster looked high, low and he even looked “middle-ish,” one of my favorite words in the story. At the Fancy Dress Shop (costume store) he was almost fooled by a monster mask, then again by his shadow, and finally by his reflection. Was there no one for him?  It almost seemed as if he had a dark cloud hanging over his head. But in a moment of pure storybook serendipity, as Love Monster was almost running out of places to look for love, his luck changed.

“You see, sometimes when you least expect it … love finds you.”

Bright’s message is not a new one, but it’s an oh so important one to share with children. How many times have we said something similar to our kids?  This simple tale is one of hope and reassurance for any child feeling they don’t quite fit in.

Bright’s artwork is not only bold and colorful, reflecting Little Monster’s various moods, but unique. Bright’s created her illustrations with solar etching according to jacket copy.  She uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates, a truly illuminating technique!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other New & Noteworthy Picture Books

Zombie in Love 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Scott Campbell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

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Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn

Booklist Starred Review

Spirit’s Key written by Edith Cohn, (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 8-12) is a middle grade novel packed with emotion, humor, and mystery.

spiritskey-smallAll Spirit Holden’s dad has to do is hold someone’s key, and he can see their future. Spirit comes from a long line of psychics, but for some reason, even though she’s twelve-years-old, the age when her ancestors received their gifts, she hasn’t gotten her powers. When Spirit holds someone’s key, she feels nothing. She is worried her elders didn’t pass along their gifts to her.

Her dad is unusually tired, and hasn’t been able to do readings for the islanders in a while. Spirit doesn’t know how they’re going to survive without the income from his readings. She’s also preoccupied with the mysterious recent deaths of the Baldies, the wild island dogs that the natives believe to be evil spirits. Spirit doesn’t believe the superstitious islanders. She even had a pet Baldy, her beloved Sky, whom she lost to the mysterious illness that was threatening to wipe out all of them. Now, the illness is spreading to the islanders, and her father is quarantined! Spirit thinks she sees Sky everywhere. She can feel him, smell him, and even hear him barking! Could Sky be trying to help Spirit solve the mystery of the dogs’ deaths?

First time author Cohn has created a page-turner of an adventure with colorful characters and vivid settings. She’s incorporated all the makings of a great novel; a flawed, but likable, main character, high stakes for her to succeed on her quest, and the ability to suspend the reader’s sense of reality.

I’d be remiss to not mention the lovely cover design by Eliza Wheeler in which she so perfectly captures the feel and mood of the book. You can judge this book by its cover, and not be disappointed.

Following is a very brief excerpt from Spirit’s Key:

“It’s easy to be brave, child, when you don’t know any better.You don’t understand about the baldies.” Mrs. Borse shudders like the thought of them, even in all her fur, gives her a chill. “You didn’t grow up hearing their history like I did, because you aren’t from around here. But maybe it’s time someone told you a thing or two about those devil creatures.” She pushes me back onto the couch and gets herself comfortable like we’ll be there awhile.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

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