HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG Written and illustrated by Jen Betton (G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
TWILIGHT CHANT Written by Holly Thompson Illustrated by Jen Betton (Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?
Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.
Betton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time
The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS 2018 A ROUNDUP – PART ONE
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz Illustrated by Deborah Marcero (G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale delights with its clever premise: Cinderella has a twin! In this 32-page picture book, Tinderella is a math whiz who divides the girls’ grueling tasks precisely down the middle. They each do, “Half the folding, half the mending, half the mean stepsister tending.”
Following the traditional story, on the night of the Royal Ball, Cinderella tearfully summons her “fairy godmom.” The fairy sparkles up some party dresses for the girls with accessories that Tin splits into two sets. However, when Prince Charming falls for both sisters, a dilemma ensues. Which sister should he wed? Luckily, Tin is again quick of mind and suggests a fabulous formula that, with some magic, may just work out.
This retelling enchants with its spot-on rhyme. The addition of the “fractioned” facts smartly introduces simple math, demonstrating in a straightforward manner how parts of a whole fit together.
Marcero’s artwork combines the timeless feel of a “Cinderella” story with a modern edge. Black spaces are skillfully presented—from classroom blackboards showing mathematical formulas to shadowy silhouettes in the margins.
Schwartz, author of The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears continues to reign supreme with her funny adaptions of fractured fairy tales. In Twinderella, the girls, of course, live happily ever “half-ter.”
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg Written and illustrated byJan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
What happens when it seems your sister is allergic to Christmas? Find out in Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, a thirty-two-page children’s picture book, the fourth in the series. What begins as the best Christmas ever—the first year sisters Maple and Willow are getting a real Christmas tree—soon becomes problematic when Maple starts sneezing.
To quell Maple’s symptoms, the tree is placed outside. Willow’s sharp words make Maple feel sad about ruining their Christmas. That night, Willow regrets her outburst and has an idea to mend the bad feelings between them. Her ingenious solution takes some hard work but she can’t wait until morning time and, instead, wakes up Maple to show her the big surprise.
Nichols’ slim text complements her whimsical artwork which captures the girls’ emotions well. The cheerful pencil drawings leave plenty of white space on the page, evoking a cold winter scene, a nice contrast to warmth of the sisters.
The Christmas Eve Tree begins in a forest of Christmas trees where one was planted carelessly, “so that when the wind blew strong it fell sideways onto its neighbor and had no chance to grow.” In this thirty-two-page children’s picture book, we find this little tree is about to get thrown out on Christmas Eve until a homeless boy asks if he can have it. Taking care to not snap its crooked branches, the boy plants the tree in a cardboard box. We share the tree’s thoughts, finding it goes from feeling pitiful to proud when recognizing that it belongs to someone.
In the boy’s homeless village, the tree’s boughs are decorated and an accordion plays a Christmas song to which they sing along. Soon the passersby stop to join in, creating a lively community. “The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness, because clearly the boy had forgotten that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box.”
Days later, the boy moves on, sadly leaving the mostly dead tree behind. The street sweeper notices some green shoots and, instead of discarding the tree, cleverly plants it in a corner of the park where it lives on, providing a gathering place for people and animals.
The book’s rich watercolor images by Sutton have an old-time feel; their saturated colors contrast with the ivory paper. While the fir straightens out and grows a thicker trunk, the concluding pictures show us that its branches are still sparse. Yet, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, everyone is happy—including the tree.
NOTE: “Delia Huddy worked as an editor in children’s publishing in a long career that included many happy years at Julia MacRae Books in London, after which she became editorial director at Random House UK. She was also an author of novels, picture books, and younger fiction. At the end of her life, in 2005, Delia Huddy was working on the text for The Christmas Eve Tree.”
The great spruce, Alec’s favorite climbing tree, captures the attention of some men who are passing through town. Astounded that his parents agree to let the tree be cut down for the city’s Christmas celebration, Alec places himself between it and the chainsaw, imploring that they borrow the tree instead. Soon everyone is digging.
A tugboat transports the tree to the city; Alec and his grandpa accompany their tree on this delightful voyage. In downtown, when Alec flips the switch to light the tree, a young girl declares it the most wonderful tree ever and asks if it can stay. Alec explains that the tree is just visiting then gives her a pinecone and instructions on how to plants the seeds.
The tree returns home to grow even taller. Later, when Alec climbed the tree and “looked hard enough through his telescope, he could just make out the tiny sapling that took root in the big city square.” Alec’s love of nature demonstrates how one person’s courage and creativity can directly impact the environment.
The Great Spruce is a forty-page children’s picture book enlivened with colorful images. Gibbon’s acrylic ink and colored pencil style works for both the serene country scenes as well as the busy cityscapes.
OUTRUN THE MOON Written by Stacey Lee (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
Ever since I finished reading Stacey Lee’s debut Under a Painted Sky, a YA novel following two girls escaping along the Oregon Trail, I’ve been hankering for more of Lee’s historical fiction, especially her lively and likable characters. In Outrun The Moon, out on May 24, Lee delivers, giving us Mercy Wong, a fifteen-year-old growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s 1906, and the Chinese are restricted to a crowded corner of the city, but Mercy is determined to break out for the sake of her family, especially her overworked father and weak-lunged little brother. Mercy wants to change their destiny, but her mother warns that destiny is “like the moon. We can see it differently by climbing a mountain, but we cannot outrun it.” Or can they?
The story takes off — literally — as Mercy helps her lifelong friend and marriage prospect, Tom, with his hot-air balloon. Mercy’s mother is a revered fortune-teller who uses facial characteristics in her character assessments and predictions. You can imagine what happens when the daughter she calls “bossy cheeks” is left alone in the balloon for a moment, with the simple instructions, “Don’t touch anything.” The balloon seems to be collapsing, and Mercy will never sit still doing nothing if she thinks she can fix a problem.
And lots of problems are coming. If she can survive the hot air balloon, Mercy has a plan to win herself a scholarship to the best girls’ school in the city, but she may not understand the depth and breadth of prejudice against the Chinese. Dependable Tom is acting aloof. Ma has a chilling premonition — of her own death. Worst of all, it’s springtime in San Francisco. In 1906, that means the earth is about to crack open.
I love how Lee places many intermediate points of suspense along the story’s path, and I don’t want to spoil that suspense by telling any more about the book’s plot. But I can tell you that you will meet interesting young people of different backgrounds and prospects — and some crotchety older people, too. There will be leeches, and a mystical cow. There will be wisdom from Mercy’s fortune-telling mother, and from Mrs. Lowry, a Texan with a big ranch and a big personality. Food plays an important role, too, especially once disaster strikes; you may want to have some pasta available for the cravings you’ll get as you read. Chocolate, too.
I recommend this novel wholeheartedly. YA readers looking for strong, independent female characters will enjoy it. The book is also an excellent diverse read, giving an intimate perspective on the attitudes, injustices, and practical difficulties associated with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Finally, I recommend Outrun The Moon to my fellow historical fiction fans, and to anyone who’s ever left their heart in San Francisco.
Click here to see Lee’s book tour dates. Visit Lee’s website to learn more about her here.
Merry Merry Holly Holly is a simple and sweet feel good story to share this holiday season. Usually found in level readers, Cork and Fuzz have entertained children for 10 years, but for their anniversary they’re starring in their first picture book. Cork the muskrat “had a head full of thoughts,” while Fuzz the possum “seems to have a head full of air.” Cork felt there was something special about this particular snowy day, only he couldn’t quite put his finger (or paw) on why. Lying under the canopy of a tree (or bare branches in some cases) was the ideal “little piece of quiet” that Cork needed to figure things out so this tale unfolds as the two friends go in search of a good tree. Along the way Fuzz finds a bell he thinks is a stone providing the impetus for some Merry Merry Holly Holly singing, sure to tempt little ones to join in. It’s obvious that Cork and Fuzz, like Frog and Toad or George and Martha, have the most marvelous give and take friendship. When Cork discovers why he felt the day was so special, your child will undoubtedly agree. McCue’s artwork sparkles and brings these two endearing characters to life with every turn of the page.
Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly. Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly.
A delightful family of rosy-cheeked pigs decide to make Christmas gifts for one another rather than buy them. While Luca’s parents and sister Rosie get busy creating their presents, the youngest pig struggles to execute his ideas. Then on Christmas Eve his efforts finally inspire a just-right gift for this sweetly non-commercial family tale.
A bright, funny look at how one family’s Christmas light display grew over time until their entire neighborhood was bathed in a dazzling neon glow. Based on a song by the author (included as a download) the crazy accumulation of blazing doo-dads finally reveals that the ultimate holiday display was right over their heads all along.
The third book in the Gingerbread Man series finds the charming cookie champ teaming up with his class to deliver simple holiday cheer to community helpers throughout the town. Bouncy rhyme and a theme of gratitude and thoughtfulness make this playful spiced supercookie story a tasty holiday treat.
Garth Stein’s Enzo will likely steal your heart as he did mine. Told from this adorable dog’s point of view with humor and insight, the story takes readers to a Christmas tree farm where Enzo’s owner, little Zoë, is in search of the perfect tree. Zoë gets lost, there’s a case of mistaken identities and ultimately Enzo (with help from a Newfoundland), saves the day. All the while the perfect tree’s right smack in front of them! Alley’s illustrations in “pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, gouache and acrylics” convey just the right ambiance of a cold snowy evening settling in so be sure to grab a cup of cocoa before sitting down to read this one.
The third title in this family’s beautifully photographed “Wish” series, the young heroine clad in gorgeous Nordic garb raises an abandoned baby reindeer with tenderness and love. As the caribou grows, so does their friendship, until he is invited to join Santa’s North Pole team. A magical, visual fantasy warm with imagination.
Miracle on 133rd Street introduces us to Papa and son, both called José, who must try to find a pizza oven, likely the only thing big enough for Mami’s roast. As father and son head downstairs in their apartment building, we meet a diverse cast of characters bursting with personality. It’s Christmas Eve and we get a brief glimpse of all the tennants’ lives before the pair depart 133rd Street and cross “over the Bronx River to Regular Ray’s Pizza.” The joy in this story stems from the way Manzano brings all the neighbors together with such love and warmth on a cold, cold evening to share the roast together. Priceman’s illustrations have a Matisse-like quality that makes the scenes jump off the page and into your living room, very much the same way Manzano’s characters make you want to move into that very apartment building or at least be there on Christmas Eve to be a part of the community and infectious camaraderie.
An elegant interpretation of another holiday class song, this luxurious book sets the familiar lyrics in lush silhouetted landscapes of snow and sleigh. Highly detailed, thick cut paper pages, gold embossing, and an amazing pop-up finale pages make this an ideal gift book for adults as well as children.
Take a trip up North to Santa territory in this charming and engaging picture book. Filled with rhymes that progress up to 10 starting with Little Elfie One, eager for Santa’s arrival in one more day. Also included are mice, gingerbread men, carolers, polar bears, snowmen, stars, Santa’s helpers, reindeer and kittens. Using the nursery rhyme “Over in the Meadow” as inspiration, Jane’s cheerful choice of language coupled with Manning’s upbeat watercolor and ink illustrations (love the snowmens’ caps!), make Little Elfie One a pleasure to read aloud. Bring the excitement of Christmas with this book today.
The 20th anniversary edition of this lyrical tale reminds us of a gentle grouch who keeps a sad secret until tenderly nudged into a new life by a young widow and her son. Lynch’s breathtaking early American paintings pair perfectly with the deep emotions of Wojciecowski’s sentimental tale, resonating with warmth and hope.
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“War was something that happened in other countries, not here in the United States. Not in Chicago on Maplewood Street.” (p. 21).
On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address to the American people about the discovery of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba and his response to that threat: a naval blockade of the island. In the tense days that followed, U.S. and Soviet warships sped to the island and the two Cold War superpowers stood “eyeball to eyeball.” The world hovered at the edge of a nuclear precipice.
As the story in Cold War on Maplewood Street unfolds, we meet sixth grader Joanna who loves her dog, Dixie, horses, and mystery books. She lives with her single mom in a basement apartment. Her beloved older brother, Sam, is in the Navy and her best friend, Pam, lives upstairs. She is attracted to the new student in her class, Theo, but too embarrassed to talk to him. However, Joanna has a lot to worry about. A latchkey child, she’s home alone frequently after school and fears that robbers may break into her basement apartment. She wonders about the strange lady in the upstairs apartment who always seems to be watching Joanna from her window … could the old lady be a spy? She misses Sam, but won’t write to him or read his letters, because he broke his promise to her that he would never leave like her father did. One of the popular girls in school is having a boy-girl party that Joanna’s mom feels she’s too young to attend.
President Kennedy’s televised speech triggers unpleasant memories of Joanna’s father and the disastrous last visit she had with Sam. As tensions mount between the two superpowers, fears at home grow. People begin to stockpile supplies and students practice air raid drills at school. Joanna worries about her brother’s safety and she finally begins writing to him. But he does not reply. Has he given up on her? Or is his ship involved in the blockade?
This middle grade historical novel is a dramatic, wonderfully crafted, coming-of-age-story set during a critical moment in history, as one young girl, standing between childhood and adolescence, struggles to understand the changes in her world. The author’s research into early 1960s America and the political crisis creates an authentic setting, which brought back many childhood memories for me. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are references to popular culture such as transistor radios, television shows (Broken Arrow), personalities (First Lady, Jackie Kennedy), and music (The Four Season’ Sherry Baby and Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash).The author mirrors the growing tensions between the two superpowers with Joanna’s fears and concerns, but prevents the story from being swallowed up by events on the world stage. Day-to-day life continues for Joanna: school, homework, running errands, dinners with Pam’s family, and baking cookies with her mother. But life, as her mother reminds her, changes, and while some changes may be scary, others bring hope. Could mom’s new job improve the family’s lifestyle?
Visit Gayle Rosengren’s website for more information on this book and her previous title, What the Moon Said (Putnam, 2014). Rosengren has many resources for using both books in the classroom or with book clubs, including a list of books that Joanna might have read, and links to websites about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Highly recommended for ages 8-12.
If you thought getting your children to go to sleep wasn’t difficult enough, try your hand at Putting The Monkeys to Bed. This new picture book by popular children’s author, Gennifer Choldenko, is a whimsical tale of nighttime shenanigans started by young Sam’s active imagination and perpetuated by a trio of plush merry-making monkeys.
As is often the case with so many little ones, going to bed can be a chore when there’s still so much to think about:
Do pirates sleep with their eye patches on?
Do fish go to bed in their bathing suits?
Where do baseball players sleep at night?
… and so much fun still to be had. But when the day begins to catch up with him, and Sam is ready to call it a night, it seems the simians can’t switch off. Even calm inducing in and out breathing turns into ping pong singing for the primate pals eager to play the night away. Davis’s light-hearted illustrations capture the antics of the monkeys as they try everything in their power to keep Sam awake, my favorite being the one where the monkeys mimic the ubiquitous Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil statues. Eventually though, the monkeys succumb to some serious snuggling and a bedtime story read in a whisper by the weary Sam as “Arms cuddle close. Covers nestle round. Heavy heads sink into soft pillows.”
Parents, if you and your kids are still awake after this wonderful wind down, check out the humorous author’s note at the end with answers to Sam’s questions posed above. I also recommend going back through each spread to enjoy all the details Davis has included. Then, if yawns and heavy eyelids are still not evident, you can always try singing a lullaby, but somehow I think that won’t be necessary. Look for satisfied smiles all around as little ones drift off to dreamland when you share Choldenko’s Putting The Monkeys to Bed tonight.
FIREBIRD Written by Misty Copeland Illustrated by Christopher Myers (G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
Firebird won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, received the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor, and was an NPR Best Book of 2014.
In Firebird; American Ballet Theater ballerina, Misty Copeland, shows a young girl how to dance like the firebird. Copeland, author of Life in Motion, has written a spare but powerful picture book about a young African American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Daunted by the process, the young girl compares her ” gray as rain” self to the “swift as sunlight” Copeland, believing that she could never be as good as her idol. Realizing that the girl lacks confidence and is overwhelmed by what lays ahead, Copeland offers encouragement and support in a lyrical conversation between mentor and protégé:
“darling child, don’t you know
you’re just where I started …
your beginning’s just begun …”
Copeland assures the young girl that, despite the challenges and hard work (“…I had a thousand leaps and falls …”), her ability will grow. One day someone will need her support:
“then they will look to you in wonder
and say …
the space between you and me is longer than forever
and I will show them that forever is not so far away”
Lovely ballet similes and metaphors are woven into a narrative as powerful, yet as graceful as the dancer’s art:
“ …Like me you’ll grow steady in grace
spread an arabesque of wings
and climb …”
And while the narrative is a conversation is between a beginning dancer and an experienced ballerina, Copeland’s message of determination and realizing your dream is an important and inspiring message for all of us.
Using bold and striking mixed media illustrations, award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers enhances the soaring and inspirational text by dramatically capturing the movement of the dance and Copeland’s amazing ability to stretch her body in extraordinary positions. Likewise, his illustrations also depict the tender and affirming relationship between Copeland and her protégé. Myers, the son of the late children’s author Walter Dean Myers, has received multiple awards for his illustrations. Visit Reading Rocketsfor a selected list of his books and a video interview.
The Afterword contains a poignant message from Copeland about her childhood struggles and how ballet “saved” her. Nevertheless, as an African American, she did not see herself in this almost exclusively white world. With hope, hard work, and support she made it and has turned to supporting other young dreamers like herself to enter the world of Classical ballet.
Copeland has just been appointed the first African Americanprincipal ballerinaofAmerican Ballet Theater.Visit Misty at her websiteand see her reading Firebirdat the April 6, 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll. A search on YouTube will display many videos featuring interviews and performances. Click on the link to read an excerpt of Life in Motionand see a short video of Copeland discussing her determination to succeed. Earlier this week it was also announced that for two weeks this August, Copeland will star on Broadway in the musical “On the Town.”
Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to join in The Secret Hum of a Daisy (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, Ages 9-12) blog tour sharing insights into Tracy Holczer’s new middle grade novel.
Praise for The Secret Hum of a Daisy
“Tracy Holczer’s story is a lyric about love and loss and not being able to find your future until you’ve uncovered your past.” — Richard Peck, author of Newbery winning A Year Down Yonder
Read it all!
As part of the tour, bloggers are posting Tracy Holczer’s answers to questions about her novel this week. After your appetite is whet, please scroll down to check out my review of The Secret Hum of a Daisy.
The Guest Post by Tracy Holczer:
Is there a playlist for The Secret Hum of a Daisy? Any books, movies, or TV shows that inspired it? Tell us about them.
I had a playlist ages ago that I don’t remember all that well. There was probably some Enya, some Sarah McLachlan, some Beethoven. Soothing. Mostly though, I don’t listen to music when I’m writing because there’s so much going on in my head, and lyrics compete. Weirdly, I don’t even listen to music in my car for the same reason. I’m not always in my chair with my laptop, typing a story. But I’m not sure my head ever stops. The characters are in there, the ideas for plot, memories that tie in to themes and how to navigate all that in a linear way so it makes sense to other people. Throw music on top of that and my head might just explode!
So while music wasn’t a big help in writing The Secret Hum of a Daisy, there is a book that inspired me – The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson. I don’t know how many times I read that story before, during, and since I wrote about Grace. I just love Gilly. She is tough and smart. Smarter than anyone in the room, but doesn’t know how to use her big brain for good. It’s such a great example of a story that chips away at a character, smoothing their edges, and making them shine. Partly this inspired me because I wondered what might have happened if Gilly came to her grandmother before meeting Trotter. That idea was part of a jumble of ideas that brought Grace to life.
Pointe by Brandy Colbert is reviewed by Mary Malhotra
“Colbert builds characters whose flaws, struggles, and bad decisions make them real and indelibly memorable . . and it’s this complexity and empathy that set this gripping story apart.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Colbert has put out a stunningly poignant novel . . . Readers who discover this book will be unable to put it down.”—VOYA
The narrator in Brandy Colbert’s debut YA novel Pointe (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014, $17.99, YA) could be a stereotypical prima-ballerina-in-training. Theo’s got the drive, the demanding instructor, the long, strong legs, the beat-up toe shoes. As you might expect, she commiserates with dancer frenemies, and escapes with school friends who have no idea what she goes through at the studio. She struggles with an eating disorder, too. But Theo is not a stereotype, and she has a lot more going on in her life than just dance.
The eating disorder, for example. It seems to be a response not to the demands of ballet but to two losses Theo suffered as a thirteen year old: her much-older first boyfriend unceremoniously dumped her, taking off without a trace; and her best friend Donovan was kidnapped. Pointe opens on the day four years later when Donovan is rescued from his kidnapper and returned home. Theo is upset that Donovan won’t see or talk to her. She’s also confused by news footage that appears to show he was happy living with his captor. She needs to understand why Donovan didn’t try to escape, especially once she realizes she knows the kidnapper — and will have to testify against him.
There is much to recommend in this book. Theo’s voice is real and raw, and she and her friends Phil and Sara-Kate make compelling, memorable characters. Their chemistry, like Theo’s warm relationship with her supportive parents, provides an island of hope in a choppy sea. The book’s natural presentation of diversity works well. Realistically, as the first-person narrator, Theo doesn’t announce that she’s African-American. Race doesn’t even come up until part way through the second chapter, when she recalls how she and Donovan bonded after a teacher mishandled a classroom discussion about slavery.
Parents sharing Pointe with teens may want to be ready to discuss some aspects of the book. Pot smoking is an accepted, routine activity for Theo and her friends. In fact, her love interest doesn’t just smoke; he also sells drugs to his classmates. He already has a girlfriend, too — but will that matter to Theo? There are sex scenes and references, and much of the sex is abusive, though Theo doesn’t realize it. Perhaps because of this, the scenes are not so explicit that the details got burned into my psyche. A last point to consider is best explained by including a spoiler, although you can skip the spoiler and walk away with this bottom line: if you start the book, be sure to finish it!
SPOILER: In case you want additional guidance before choosing this book, I’ll close out the review with the spoiler version of my “finish what you start” recommendation. Early on, Theo realizes that Donovan’s kidnapper and her first boyfriend are the same guy, Chris Fenner. This means he was actually twenty-six when she was thirteen, but Theo still thinks of him as her ex-boyfriend. She sees herself as an unlovable reject rather than seeing Chris as a pedophile. Eventually, she comes to the understanding that she and Donovan are both victims, that part of Chris’s crime was that he warped her view of sex and love. However, it takes her most of the book to get there; a reader without patience might give up while right and wrong are still upside down. Reading this book to the last page is not hard, but it is important.
“Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears puts a perfect twist on a beloved fairytale classic,” says reviewer MaryAnne Locher.
In Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton with illustrations by Nate Wragg, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, Ages 5-8), the story begins with Papa, Mama, and Baby bear who have their own rock-n-roll band, but are in need of a soprano. When they leave their cottage to find one, the story, written in pitch perfect verse, follows the original tale. Goldi Rocks comes knocking on the three bears’ cottage door, only to find it unlocked, empty with some porridge cooling on the table. This is where the story takes a spin faster than a D.J. scratching records. Goldi forgets her hunger when she sees the music studio with Papa Bear’s drums, Mama Bear’s guitar, and Baby Bear’s keyboard, all of which she must try out, making a mess of things as she goes.
Meanwhile, the bears are holding auditions with some other familiar fairytale characters, but none of them quite work out. The bears return home only to find the cottage a terrible mess and Goldi Rocks asleep on Baby Bear’s keyboard.
They stared at the slumbering blond girl, and Papa asked, “Who could she BE?” He disrupted her dream. She awoke with a scream- the pitch was a perfect high C!
The three bears quickly forget about the mess Goldi had made once they hear her fine soprano voice, and ask her to join the band.
Corey Rosen Schwartz is no stranger to the fractured fairytale, her previous success being The Three Ninja Pigs, but forming a duo with co-author Beth Coulton makes for a chart topper! This may be Wragg’s debut picture book, but his background in animating projects including Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, and Puss in Boots give him the chops needed to bring this book to life through his illustrations.
Just as the band’s song,“Too Hot, Too Cold, or Just Right?” is a hit single, I believe this book will be as well.
Where Do Lost Stuffed Animals and Baby Blankets Go? Read on to find out!
Blanket & Bear, A Remarkable Pair(G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, ages 3 and up), the debut picture book from L.J.R. Kelly (grandson of Roald Dahl) with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, is an ideal parents’ go-to book when beloved toys get lost. Some parents buy two of everything just-in-case, others spend hours retracing their steps or making frantic phone calls in an attempt to locate a lost teddy or blanky. But here’s another option. Read this picture book to your distraught youngster and it’s likely they’ll find solace in this charming story with its muted artwork harkening back to a time when men wore hats, women wore dresses and people traveled abroad by steamship. Parents may find Tanaka’s illustrations a bit sombre in the beginning, but I found that as the story’s mood changed, so did the feeling conveyed in each picture. Stick with this story as it tugs at the heartstrings and is sure to start a meaningful conversation with your child.
With an original voice very different from that of his grandfather, Kelly is a terrific storyteller in his own right. The premise is quite a simple one in that when a young boy loses his beloved blanky and teddy, he carries on with his life. The focus is not on how he copes with the loss. Quite the contrary. Kelly chooses to show how the boy’s cherished possessions, spend their time searching for the boy, hoping to be reunited. Instead, they arrive “at an island of lost blankets and bears, living in retirement without worries or cares. It’s here they sadly learn from the island’s king that they’ve likely been replaced. Unable to accept this possibility, they depart and resume their quest. When at last they find the boy, he’s a young lad more interested in sport and girls. No longer needed, they’re free to return to the island and join the other lost or abandoned blankets and bears.
Children hearing this story read to them or reading it with the help of a parent, will likely want to discuss this new take on “they all lived happily ever after,” because in this case the book’s characters did not end up living happily ever after together, but there’s no denying they were all happy in the end.
Molly Lou Melon is a little girl with big hair and a gigantic imagination. This second book in the Molly Lou Melon series, Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, Ages 4-7) is all about making the most of playtime. Molly Lou has a toy chest overflowing with all the toys any child could want, but her grandmother tells her how things were in the olden days when there weren’t a lot of fancy toys and action figures to play with. Back then kids made toys themselves out of things they found laying around and out of their imaginations.
So Molly Lou Melon takes what she learns from her grandmother and fills her playtime with magical tree houses and hand painted boxcars. And instead of watching TV, she watches the wondrous clouds while lying in the grass and finds endless hours of entertainment there. One day Molly Lou invites her new neighbor, Gertie over to play. Gertie brings her fancy dollhouse to show her new friend, while Molly Lou shows Gertie her tree root palace. Can these new friends agree on how they will play together? Fancy toys or imaginative ones?
The glorious illustrations by David Catrow in this fantastic book are just as imaginative as Molly Lou Melon herself. They are colorful and wispy and full of great detail. Your child will enjoy examining every single page and lingering a while. What you’ll appreciate most about this book is that both the illustrations and the words by author/teacher Patty Lovell will inspire your children to get creative for playtime. And they might just ask you to lie on a blanket with them outside and look up at the clouds for a while to see what you can see. What could possibly be better than that?
If you love this book, as I know you will, check out the first book in the series, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, also by Patty Lovell and David Catrow.