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Kids Book Review – Three Picture Books for the Fourth of July

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY

WITH A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

A IS FOR AMERICA
A BabyLit Book

Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

I’m a big fan of the BabyLit series and I especially like their alphabet primers, A is for America being no exception. It’s full of simple, relatable examples yet sophisticated with its retro-style art and bonanza of bright colors and detailed scenes.

Paprocki has assembled a pleasing assortment of Independence Day and overall America-themed illustrations including E is for Eagle and M is for Mount Rushmore. Of course it makes sense to share F is for Fireworks but I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Q is for Quill as we see John Hancock writing his easily identifiable cursive signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Playful and pertinent, this charming 32-page board book serves not only as an alphabet primer but as a terrific way to acquaint little ones with our country’s history. From the first colonies to the transcontinental railroad when east met west, from the pilgrims to George Washington, A is for America honors our nation’s past and what it means to us now.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MY FOURTH OF JULY
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Illustrated by Larry Day
(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

My Fourth of July is a joyful look at Independence Day through the eyes of an excited little boy. The holiday tale unfolds with the lad still in his pajamas, something I found so sweet, watching the parade passing by from his screen door then even joining in as shown on the cover. My town has a Memorial Day parade but if it had one on the Fourth of July it would be just like this one, full of kids on bikes carrying pinwheels or waving flags and generally having tons of fun. In fact, we even have a big park where many celebrations take place around the gazebo or bandshell just like in Spinelli’s story.

The boy’s in a hurry to get to the park so the family can claim a picnic table, another thing I could relate to! There are hot dogs galore on the grill and all the other mouth-watering food we associate with Independence Day. This imaginary, small town USA has a flag-draped train that passes through (like a scene out of the film Oklahoma) as well as face painting, organized games, a talent show and a concert at the park. Written as a warm, happy slice of life story with little to no obstacles (unless getting a prime picnic spot counts), Spinelli’s picture book celebrates family, community and tradition. It’s wonderful when everyone makes their way to the baseball field to watch the fireworks with Day’s ebullient illustrations depicting the magical display and the emotions it elicits as the day’s festivities come to an end. If you love a feel good picture book that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time, this one’s for you.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AMERICAN?
Written by Rana DiOrio & Elad Yoran
Illustrated by Nina Mata
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

Calling yourself an American is more than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, or eating fast food. It is believing that all people are equal as told by Rana DiOrio along with debut children’s book author, Elad Yoran, in the forty-page picture book, What Does it Mean to be American? Colorful, feel good illustrations by Nina Mata beautifully convey the many different aspects the authors address. Teachers and parents alike will enjoy this upbeat social studies lesson that educates young children on the importance of being grateful and that dreams can come true by working hard because all Americans have the freedom to choose whom we love, what we believe, what we do, and where we live.

 

WDIMTB American int4

What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

The story begins with an interracial couple and their daughter traveling through the desert surrounded by cactus, mountains and a clear blue sky in a van packed with suitcases. The opening sentence is the question, What does it mean to be American? In the array of artwork, we see the young girl smiling as she attends a half Jewish wedding ceremony; she salutes a woman in military gear; and in another she hugs an older former military man seated in a wheelchair. Being American means having access to abundant natural resources so we see the child walking in the great outdoors, enjoying time in nature while holding her mother’s hand, a reminder to be grateful all year for her family’s many blessings.

 

WDIMTB American Int6

What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

As the reader turns the page, our character sees people from all countries working in America and learns to appreciate that people from all kinds of backgrounds have something to offer her, whether it’s playing a game of chess or exercising with an elder in the park. As the little girl sits on her father’s shoulders, he tells her about people in the past who had the creativity to invent new things and that she should be proud of all that Americans have accomplished, yet humble about all we still need to learn. The illustrations take us back to the invention of the computer and the automobile, but also remind us that women fought for their right to vote.

This vital story that every parent must take time with their young kids to discuss, reminds us to become our best self, but that we also have an obligation to help others (something children can NEVER  hear enough of!) With mindfulness lessons on the importance of being present mixed in with a rich lesson in our American history, readers learn that the greatest nation in the world can always be better!

In addition to loving the message throughout this book, I got excited reading the back matter. Writers Rana and Elad share that their intention for writing the story was to encourage adults in children’s lives to start meaningful conversations about what it means to be American. With a fabulous history lesson reminding readers what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence to a guided list of questions to continue the conversation with young and older children alike, we are reminded about all the amazing people who made America what it is today.

This is a great read for teachers who can jump start a discussion with these initial questions, and then lead into so many other topics. Bravo to the writers who said, Being American means welcoming people from other countries and helping them learn what it means to be American … and appreciating that our differences make us kinder, smarter, healthier and stronger. Don’t miss the other great books in the What Does It Mean to Be …? series.

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Ronda Einbinder
Ronda is a teacher/writer who worked for Irvine Unified School District assisting students in grades K-6. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor, teaching yoga and mindfulness both publicly and privately. Previously, she was a writer and publicist for ObesityHelp magazine and non-profit medical facilities.

 

Click here to read last year’s Fourth of July book reviews.

 

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Here Comes Hanukkah! A Children’s Book Roundup Part 2

HANUKKAH 2018
BEST NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS ROUNDUP PART 2

 

 

Free Hanukkah clip art

 

 

D is for Dreidel book cover illustrationD IS FOR DREIDEL: A Hanukkah Alphabet
Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
A BabyLit Book
(Gibbs-Smith; $9.99, Ages 2-5)
NOTE: Today it’s on sale for $5.00 on their website.

Let your little learners thumb through all 32 pages of this colorful board book with its retro cartoonish feel while you gently introduce all the different Hanukkah related things included. While this is not the first primer in the series from Paprocki (there’s S is for Santa, L is for Love and B is for Boo), I’m glad Gibbs-Smith decided it was important to add this title. And expect two more soon (E is for Easter and R is for Ramadan) which can be pre-ordered now. I honestly wondered at first how the author/illustrator would find appropriate words for each letter, but surprising he did including Y is for yontiff (Yiddish for holiday). Saying “Gut yontiff” is how my parents and grandparents greeted fellow Jews at holidays throughout the year.  From alphabet to zaide, I found so many of the illustrations beautiful and welcoming with their jewel tones and cheerful settings. J is for jelly doughnut is another particular fave but truly there are many so you’ll just have to see for yourself. Then, perhaps you, too, will be as eXcited as I was to read the book.

 

 

book cover illustration from Meet the LatkesMEET THE LATKES
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg makes for an enjoyable read if parents seek something a bit less traditional and more whimsical to share this Hanukkah (or Chanukah!). Silberberg, an award-winning cartoonist and children’s TV creator, is both author and illustrator of this debut picture book.

The main characters in the story are Lucy Latke, her grandpa and her dog Applesauce. The humor comes into play when Grandpa tells Lucy his version of Chanukah or Hanukkah as is explained early on since the holiday can be spelled multiple ways. But these are the two most common. I suppose you could say Meet the Latkes is funny from the get go because we’re listening to latkes as opposed to people and that’s probably enough to get little ones giggling.

Rather than stick to the standard story of the heroic Maccabees, headed by Judah, who fought to keep the Jewish people safe from a brutal King Antiochus, Grandpa recounts the tale of the Mega-Bees. Their nemesis was a group of “Outer space spuds.” All the while Grandpa is telling his story, Applesauce is trying to explain the real version and growing increasingly frustrated.

Most young Jewish children know the Hanukkah story but it bears repeating annually. I never tire of reading new spins on an old tale and Silberberg has definitely done that. Children who aren’t Jewish or have never learned the story will find Silberberg’s way of conveying this historic tale most entertaining, especially if different voices are used for Grandpa and Applesauce. 

In Grandpa’s version, the evil tater tyrants ultimately get whipped into mash that, when mixed up with “EGG and ONION and a pinch of flour,” becomes what we know as latkes! Of course Applesauce goes on to explain the true tale which includes the miracle of the Maccabees’ discovery of a tiny amount of oil left “to light the holy menorah.” What should have been enough for one day lasted eight which is why we light candles for eight nights. My favorite part of Meet the Latkes is the teenage brother who always says “I don’t care!” and remains cloistered in his room until finally emerging near the end, making that just one more miracle to celebrate and one that may resonate with many families. In fact, I laughed upon discovering teen Lex Latke’s promotional blurb on the book’s back cover. “You want to know THE TRUE STORY OF HANUKKAH? Don’t ask me—read this book!” I agree. 

Light The Menorah! A Hanukkah Handbook cover artLIGHT THE MENORAH! A HANUKKAH HANDBOOK
Written by Jacqueline Jules
Illustrated by Kristina Swarner
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99 Hardcover, $8.99 Paperback, Ages 4-10)

After so many years of celebrating Hanukkah, I thought there was nothing more to learn about the holiday but I was wrong. Jacqueline Jules has written an engaging picture book that I could easily see using with my grown-up family every year.

There’s an introduction, blessings, thoughtful verse to accompany each of the eight nights candle lighting along with a moving reflection to read silently, aloud or discuss together as a family. The second half of Light The Menorah! features four pages devoted to the Hanukkah story for which there are two versions, something I had never known. There’s the historical version and the rabbinic tradition which is the one I’ve always told about the oil from the damaged Temple lasting eight nights. The historic version says that since the Maccabees “couldn’t take a week to observe Sukkot properly, … they celebrated for eight days during the rededication of the Temple.”

The remaining pages answer common questions such as when does Hanukkah occur, where is it celebrated and more. I was delighted to read the section where Jules explains the role women played in the Hanukkah story. No one will be disappointed to see instructions for playing the dreidel game, latkes and jelly donut recipes in addition to easy crafts.

Swarner’s lovely watercolor illustrations dress up the text and are well paired on every page or spread. I was drawn to the book by the title and cover art and am glad I didn’t miss a single thing both Jules and Swarner had to share. This one’s a keeper and would make a wonderful gift to families just beginning to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

 

 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

For more Hanukkah book ideas, click here.

 

 

 

 

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