Many children’s stories get the parents out of the way by killing them off. New middle-grade series, Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff begins with the newspaper headline “Prominent Environmentalist and Oceanographer Die in Boating Accident.” However, Andrea Portes’s story surrounds this incident rather than pushing it out of the way and moving on. Siblings, Henry and Eva, suffer from this sudden shock but it’s the first of many in regard to their parents’ death.
Details make the story come alive such as Eva’s voice, “[the article in the paper] says that I am twelve and that Henry is ten but it doesn’t say that Henry will be eleven in three weeks and we were already starting to plan his birthday party.” Palpable grief engulfs the kids as they face a new life, one without their folks. Matters are complicated with caregivers, Uncle Claude “the Clod” and his girlfriend Terri “the Terrible,” seeming opposites from Henry and Eva’s parents.
Super-smart Henry has sunken inside himself; Eva tries to cajole him out with silly antics. The kids have a lot to deal with—then the mystery starts! Portes weaves in otherworldly elements in a fresh manner with dimensional and likeable characters. Even the “bad adults” have interesting traits. Levity and humor shine in clever lines of dialogue.
Portes is the best-selling author of two critically lauded adult novels: Hick, her debut, which was made into a feature film, and Bury This. She also writes popular YA novels.
This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.
A brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year isHello School!(Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.
Sometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long(Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.
Finally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mackwith two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cakeand Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.
Reviewed by Jessica Palacios
You can click on the coloredlinks for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? With our recommendations for the best new Mother’s Day books around! And, whatever you may do, wherever you may go, take some time to read together with your children at home, in a park, on a train, at a bookstore or in a library. Books make memorable gifts and, with an added personal message, will be cherished for years to come.
In A Heart Just Like My Mother’s, when Anna, who loves and admires her mother is inspired to help a homeless man by saving up her Tzedakah money, she realizes she and her mom share something in common—a big heart. This lovely picture book is a wonderful way to explain the Jewish tradition of performing an act Tzedakah which Nargi defines not so much as charity but doing the right thing by helping others. But it’s also the story of a little girl who starts out thinking she could never be as creative, funny or caring as her mother until she realizes what she has to offer. By collecting Tzedakah money and providing food for the homeless man, Anna’s selfless act of kindness brings her closer to her mother and proves to herself that she too has qualities worth being proud of. I love Cis’s illustrations too. There’s a warm, folksy feeling about them that adds to the positive vibe that emanates from the pages making A Heart Just Like My Mother’s such an enjoyable read.
With its starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Forever or a Dayby Sarah Jacoby will make a thoughtful gift this holiday for those seeking something at once out of the ordinary as well as heartwarming. It conveys its beautiful message with spare yet evocative text and in just 20 pages. At first I thought it was a picture book about the future, but then it dawned on me that it’s about being present and spending time together with loved ones and making meaningful moments now. Adults and children may experience different reactions when reading the book but that’s to be expected. Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times–bestselling illustrator of Finding Winnie, says it best: “Sarah Jacoby’s ethereal exploration of time rushes like a passing train, shimmers like a setting sun and allows us, just for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of standing still.” Prepare to be moved by the compelling art that complements the lyrical language of Forever or a Day.
Precious pairings of mothers and and animal babies from bluebirds and bunnies to otters and owls fill the pages of Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s debut picture book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Kotb adopted her daughter, Haley Joy, in February 2017 and her happiness at becoming a mother is infectious and evident throughout this delightful picture book. Gentle rhyme, a repeated refrain (there was you … and there was me), a rewarding wrap up and exuberant illustrations all work wonderfully together. I’d pick up I’ve Loved You Since Forever for any new parent on your holiday list. In addition to Kotb’s lovely language, there’s a sense of warmth and closeness from the special bond of parenthood depicted in Mason’s tender scenarios. Whether or not you’re an adoptive parent, I’m sure these lines will resonate with you as they did with me: Before otters swam together/and rivers reached the sea/there was you and there was me/waiting for the day our stars would cross/and you and I turned into we. Awww!
In 176 color pages and 12 clever chapters, author Hale deftly delves into the world of motherhood from various perspectives that readers will find fascinating. The introduction says the book “explores the changing role of motherhood through the images and shared cultural moments that have captured it best: magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, television shows, movies, songs, and other pop culture ephemera.” Choose a chapter at a time because this comprehensive and enlightening book is meant to be savored slowly (like a 1950s TV mom’s best casserole) and cannot be read in one or even two sittings. I love the breadth of the material that’s been included and am partial to the earlier chapters that cover motherhood in the eras before I was born including The Nineteenth Century, The Pre-War Years, World War I, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, The 1950s (although note that American Momdoes go all the way to present day 21st century). I learned, for example, that between “1885 and 1905, there were around eleven thousand magazines and periodicals published in the United States—and about 88 percent of the subscribers were women,” that Betty Crocker was a fictional character, that Eleanor Roosevelt “broadened the role” of first lady and that on I Love Lucy they couldn’t say the word pregnant on the show! Through Hale’s insightful lens on motherhood, we’re taken on an entertaining jaunt through fashion, food, first ladies, feminism, photography, film and literature that pays tribute to the ever changing role of mothers in American life and touches on aspects of this expansive topic in ways that will interest every reader, male or female.
If you’re looking for a fun, original board book for Mother’s Day, look no further than From Mother to Mother Written and illustrated by Emilie Vast Translated from French by Julia Cormier (Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3) Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a mother’s mother’s mother’s mother who in turn gave birth to a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I gave birth to you … my very own child. A mother’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for dads!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read our Mother’s Day recommendations from 2017 here.
Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Love, Mama here.
THIS IS IT by Daria Peoples-Riley (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
When a young dancer hesitates nervously at the studio audition door, her mirror-shadow self comes to life to encourage, support and reassure her in This Is It, a charming debut from author-illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley.
“Look at me,” commands a tutu-clad shadow, hands on her hips. The young girl, stiff and uncertain, looks askance but listens to the shadow’s message about challenge, confidence and poise. Slowly, the girl stretches, bends, leans and finally embraces the shadow’s exhortations. “Listen to the hum of your heart’s song,” says the shadow and reminds her to hear the melodies that flow from her elbows to her knees.
The delightful pas-de-deux, girl and shadow, pass together through a grey, concrete cityscape where bridges, staircases and sidewalks accentuate the opportunity for movement and energy. Red, green and pink shrubbery soften the silent, stiff buildings, while the curves of splashing fountains and smoky vents echo the dynamic pair’s swirling, twirling exuberance.
Peoples-Riley employs a mixture of free-verse and concrete poetry that showcase the strength and grace of the young dancer in definitive, certain terms. Moving in deliberate, thoughtful progression, the phrases carefully build up the young dancer’s inner confidence and ultimately celebrate her beautiful self-expression. While the shadow keeps all the spoken lines, it is the girl who ultimately shines in the triumphant, starring role.
Most young dancers become accustomed to studying their reflections in the dance studio mirror. This Is It will inspire them to look for a supportive, encouraging shadow that has also been with them every step of the way, both in and out of the spotlight.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
I’ll never forget my son’s first Halloweens. He was dressed up as pirate and ready to join the ranks with a seasoned pro, his older sister. But before we stepped foot out of the front door, a trick-or-treating ghost rang the doorbell. When we opened the door to offer candy, my son dashed behind me and refused to leave the house. Even the prospect of candy couldn’t get him to budge. I’ll hand it to the father in Herbert’s First Halloween, he has a gentle way about him to help ease his little one’s apprehension. As the story unfolds, “Herbert was not sure about Halloween.” Readers can see the reluctance in his eyes as Henry’s illustrations so warmly depict. At the same time, the passion and excitement about the holiday are written all over Herbert’s father’s face. He’s determined to make this first Halloween a special one for his son, even sharing photos of when he was young dressed up like a cowboy. Soon, Herbert’s more engaged, asking questions about costumes and his dad is all too happy to accommodate his son’s desire to be a tiger. On Halloween the pair encounter neighborhood kids in what is perhaps my favorite spread in the book. There’s something magical about that first time taking to the streets under the glow of street lamps, candy bucket in had, trying to figure out who is who behind the masks and zany outfits. Though it’s a pretty simple story, it’s totally age appropriate. There’s a genuine feel-good quality about Rylant’s prose when coupled with the old-fashioned picture book style off-white paper, choice of font and Henry’s charming artwork. When seeking a book to help lessen a child’s fear of Halloween, Herbert’s First Halloween, is a terrific tale to turn to.
Whether you’re interested in buying this accordion style bilingual board book for Halloween or Day of the Dead, it won’t matter to your kids. They’ll love the artwork, the book’s layout and reversibility from English to Spanish and vice versa, the interactive clock face and the rhythm of the tune which when translated from Spanish is called “The Skeletons Come Out of the Tomb.” The origins of this song remain a mystery, but that won’t stop parents from finding a fun beat to share with youngsters when reading out loud. The book comes packaged in a sturdy box and while all the interior artwork is black and white, there’s a touch of color on both the box and book covers. Count up to 12 with Esqueletitos and teach the time too with the help of all the adorable skeletons. In addition to the two-books-in-one feature, there’s also a free sing-along app to accompany the book.
This hard cover book is labeled a high interest story for developing readers. It instantly took me back to my days at camp where scary stories were always told around a crackling fire and then afterwards I was the only one who couldn’t fall asleep. Why do counselors do that? Anyway, depending on your child’s fear level, you may want to consider reading this in the daytime. There are some classic tales that I recognized and got such a kick out of reading again, especially as engagingly recounted by Schwartz and illustrated vividly by Rivas. For example, The Green Ribbon is the tale of a charming girl whose head was attached to her body with said ribbon which is why she never removed it until her deathbed. Perhaps the most chilling of the seven poems and stories is The Night it Rained. Here’s a story many adults may recall about a driver picking up a rain soaked young boy and loaning him his sweater only to discover the next day that the boy was a ghost. There’s also a foreword and back matter about the author, the illustrator and where the stories originated.
Ella and Owen are twin dragons who, while seeking adventure, always end up in some kind of mess. In this, the fourth book in the series, the siblings end up being out at night while trying to escape some trolls. A light in the distance, however, doesn’t end up leading them to safety. Instead it turns out to be from candles belonging to the nasty Pumpkin King. Exasperated, the siblings just want to find a way out of the Terror Swamp and so the orange body-less guy offers them a deal. If they can recover his body from the local witch, he’ll give them an escape map. Jaden Kent, a writing team of two authors, has the dragons encounter obstacle after obstacle while peppering each of the nine brief chapters with humor and language first and second graders will enjoy. I mean what kid doesn’t like the idea of a pumpkin pie fight? Bodnaruk’s spiced up this pumpkin themed story with plenty of black and white illustrations to entertain young readers and help them feel accomplished as they fly through this book. There’s a surprise love angle to this particular volume providing LOL moments with dialogue such as, “Okay. This just got really weird,” that kids will relate to. A bonus is a sneak peak at book #5 Ella and Owen: The Great Troll Quest which I’m sure will be as engaging as this one. Find more Ella and Owen books here.
If you want to get older kids scared, this 144 page book should do the trick. After deciding I wasn’t brave enough to read the stories rated over a five in the Fright-O-Meter provided, I braced myself, chicken that I am, and made my selections using that number as my guide. For a tween who gets spooked easily, suggest something else, but if they’re the sort who truly finds the creepy stuff cool, the two-paged table of contents can provide a tantalizing tease with titles like The Real Life Dracula, Telepathic Twins, Island of the Dolls and The Green Children of Woolpit. NatGeoKids.com does these almanac-style paperback books better than anyone else with their great images, creepy fonts and fascinating factoids that your kids will want to share with friends. Pages six and seven explain how to use the book which was where I learned about, and was grateful for, the Fright-O-Meter. On top of the visual fright fest and the accompanying tales, there are six quizzes scattered throughout the book, a great way for kids to catch their breath which they may not have realized they were holding. My recommendation: bring this book to a Halloween party. Why be the only one awake at night? Seriously though, this one’s a year round treat.
With starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, Mama’s Kisses is sure to be an in-demand picture book for many Mother’s Days to come. McMullan has written a sweet ode to the unwavering devotion and patience of moms, in this case, rainforest moms. The moon is on the rise and four mommy animals are on the lookout for their young ones, a baby panda, elephant, orangutan and leopard. As bedtime beckons, the babies engage in a playful game of hide-and-seek that seems so successful until all at once, when the moms are ready, their hiding place is uncovered. But being found means getting kisses, smooches, and hugs galore until tired eyes can no longer remain open. Dreamland is drawing nigh so the baby animals go to sleep soon followed by their tired moms, always close at hand. Conveyed in uncomplicated rhyme and calming rhythm, Mama’s Kisses is a gentle bedtime tale perfect for pre-schoolers. Nyeu’s artwork fills all corners of most every page and, though using only oranges, yellows and blues, she manages to create a subtle softness, warmth and calming mood with just these few well chosen hues.
Whether it’s for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Graduation or simply just because, Love is by Diane Adams will make a great gift. Love isa girl and her duckling. Looking after the fuzzy little creature is not unlike a mother caring for her child which is why Love is works on many levels. It’s a story about loving and nurturing something that is dear to you, as well as being about the responsibility involved in such a privilege. “Love is holding something fragile, tiny wings and downy head. Love is noisy midnight feedings, shoebox right beside the bed.” The little girl must also accept that her duckling is growing. She will soon need to allow her pet to move on, fend for itself, find a new home and start a family all its own, all the while knowing that the love she has shared will not be forgotten. This 32 page picture book is a delightful read aloud story with well-paced rhyme and evocative illustrations that, coupled with the meaningful verse, will tug at your heartstrings.
Another winner from the creators of the How To picture book series, How to Raise a Mom will totally charm moms, dads and kids alike. “Raising a happy, healthy mom is fun … and important! Are you ready for some tips?” The sibling narrators take readers through their mother’s typical day as part of their instruction guide, and clearly based on the wonderful rearing and love they’re getting from her. After kisses to awaken her, and giving her choices for the day’s outfit, the kids take her to the supermarket and the playground to name a few places while also leaving quiet time for her to get some work done. It’s fantastic to be treated again to Wildish’s whimsical illustrations like those found in the other How To books, full of humorous not-to-miss touches and amusing expressions in every spread. Kids will especially get a kick out of the dog and cat Wildish includes in many scenes. The children also cover playtime, mealtime and finish up the full day with stories and snuggles. I loved how they occasionally mimic just what Mom always says to them such as “Thank you so much, Sweat Pea, for being so patient,” or “Remember to be a good sharer!” There is so much to enjoy in this picture book tribute celebrating moms everywhere.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
More recommended children’s books for Mother’s Day:
Love Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd (Nosy Crow; $12.99, Ages 2-5)
Going to relatives or friends for Thanksgiving and don’t know what to bring along to keep your little ones occupied and entertained? Why not consider buying a copy of this counting themed board book, part of the Charlesbridge’s First Celebrations series for the youngest readers in your family? With its vibrant colored turkey cover, this new book introduces the first Thanksgiving and one ear of corn going all the way up to six multi-hued leaves falling from a tree and lots of scrumptious food in between. Thanksgiving Counting is a great way to get your children to observe all the decorations and food around the dinner table while learning to count all the wonderful things that make this holiday so enjoyable.
For Hall fans and those who also appreciate the art of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, Wonderfall is sure to delight. As the jacketflap says, “In this book you will discover 1 colorful tree, 2 scurrying squirrels, and 15 blended words created to celebrate the wonder of fall!” So much goes on around this one majestic oak tree. In 15 brief poems that tell the story of the people and animals that live and work near it, we see what an important role this tree plays as autumn turns into winter. Peacefall, Plentifall, Playfall, Frightfall, Thankfall, and Watchfall, are just a few of Hall’s wordplay topics that culminate in Snowfall. The stories move from acorns dropping with a plink, plunk, plop to the magic of fall’s magnificent colors. The tree is there to welcome trick-or-treaters, witness animals enjoying nature’s bounty and provide piles of leaves in which children frolick, and branches in which squirrels chase. A bonus for readers is the five pages of back matter containing great information about the tree, the animals that find shelter in it and get nourishment from its acorns. I’ll weigh in here with one more blended word that happens to be my reaction to reading this charming new picture book – Joyfall!
Coloring books are so popular right now and with the hectic holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to find a few quiet moments with your kids to decompress. Coloring helps foster creativity and mindfulness, and most of all, it’s calming. Adults and children alike will find the designs and quotes that Ingram has provided to be perfectly suited for Thanksgiving. On the last page of Thankfulness to Color is a list of these quotes including Henry David Thoreau’s “I am grateful for what I am and have,” all of which have been woven into the plethora of beautiful patterns. Keep this book to enjoy with the family or give as a gift to your holiday hostess.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here are links to our book reviews from previous Thanksgivings:
FIVE LITTLE BUNNIES Written by Tish Rabe Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Harper; $6.99, Ages Newborn – 4)
This charming 16 page board book invites parents and children to recite every line. The first bunny said, “We’re here! Let’s stop! Let’s hide Easter eggs. We all know how. We need to hurry. Let’s start right now!” So the bunnies make plans to hide a lot of eggs, under trees, in bushes, next to flowers. All kinds of eggs, too – striped ones, spotted ones so kids are in for a treat. The watchful, eager bunnies wait until all the little children arrive and start the hunt. With their job successfully completed, the bunnies are free to hippity hop away, leaving youngsters on the lookout for all the eggs they can find!
THIS LITTLE BUNNY Written by Aly Fronis Illustrated by Sanja Rescek (Little Bee Books; 5.99, Ages 3-6)
This Little Bunny, an adorable 16 page board book, will fit right into any Easter basket and promises to bring lots of sweet smiles your way. Written with nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy” in mind, naturally the first little bunny goes to the market. The next one bakes a cake, and another makes cookies. As all the bunnies in the story get ready for Easter by decorating, painting eggs and such, one little bunny feels the need to take a break (perhaps my favorite activity or lack thereof). Kids will love the closing line of “We … we … we … wish you a Happy Easter!” While the story ends on this high note, you’re far from finished because I’m certain kids will want you to read this one again and again. Remember to buy several copies then head – wee … wee … wee … all the way home to enjoy!
IT’S THE EASTER BEAGLE, CHARLIE BROWN by Charles M. Schulz Adapted by Daphne Pendergrass Illustrated by Vicki Scott (Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster; $7.99, Ages 3-8)
The whole gang’s here for all you Peanuts fans. And while everyone from Linus to Lucy, Marcie to Peppermint Patty, Schroeder to Sally, and Charlie Brown to Snoopy, are getting ready for the Easter celebration, Linus wonders what all the fuss and preparation is about. “The Easter Beagle does all that,” Linus announces. Poor Marcie cannot seem to get the knack of coloring eggs, Sally wants new shoes for the holiday, Snoopy is dreaming of befriending bunnies, and all the while Linus is insisting no one need worry about all the eggs gone wrong because the Easter Beagle will bring lots more eggs. But will the Easter Beagle really show up and save the gang from big disappointment, especially Lucy? Find out how Snoopy surprises everyone in this delightful new tale to share this Easter holiday.
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY! Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies (Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5) Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM Written by J.J. Austrian Illustrated by Mike Curato (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5) Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. I get to kick my feet up, relax, and get spoiled for several blissful hours. Okay, who am I kidding? That actually doesn’t really happen chez moi, but that’s not what Mother’s Day is about anyway, is it? Love is really at the core of this special day. Let’s look at some picture books that celebrate all kinds of moms in all kinds of ways, because no mom is the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are You My Mommy?by Mary Murphy (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 0-3) – This lift-the-flaps board book features an adorable little light blue collared puppy meeting lots of different animals as he asks, “Are you my mommy?” Naturally, each animal encountered replies no and explains what animal he is. “No, I’m a sheep.” The reveal is each animal’s own special baby, from a lamb to a calf, a foal and a kitten, a piglet and a duckling until the most lovely surprise, the puppy’s mommy, a purple collared dog. As little ones enjoy the colorful illustrations done in mixed media with bold black outlines, they’ll learn new words and have fun lifting all the die-cut flaps.
Mom Schoolby Rebecca Van Slyke with illustrations by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – What a clever idea, a school for moms! I sure could have used a class or two at this place because, while I may be great at cutting and gluing like the little girl narrating this charming story, I never had a lesson in the cool kinds of classes she imagines her mom attended. There’s the essential learning how to grocery shop without losing your child class. There’s pitching 101 so moms can toss a ball that’s easy to hit. And of course, we can’t leave out the ever popular, and delicious, cupcake baking course. Here’s one of my faves, and it’s got to be called Mom’s Mandatory Multi-tasking:
At Mom School, they learn how to do more than one thing at a time, like talking on the phone and fixing my hair, and making dinner while listening to a song I just made up.
Mom School is a sweet, positive picture book not just for Mother’s Day because the skills moms acquire at this school are utilized throughout the year. The adorable, humorous pastel-toned artwork by Burris is expressive and cheerful. Kids are going to enjoy thinking of other classes that their moms are likely to have attended and perhaps, inspired by Van Slyke’s words and Burris’ illustrations, they can try their hand at drawing their own pictures to show all the neat things moms know.
If My Mom Were a Birdby Jedda Robaard (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7) – is such an imaginative, beautiful picture book. “If your mom were a bird,” it says on the book’s back cover, “what kind of bird would she be?” There is not a lot of text in this picture book, but the economy of words works wonderfully because the type of bird each child imagines their mother would be is perfectly presented in the artwork.
If my mom were a bird, she would surely be a watchful … hawk.
The watercolor illustrations on the pages feel crisp, joyful and complement the traits the kids have chosen,
As with Mom School,If My Mom Were a Bird is a year round story, but also just right to share on Mother’s Day.
Two other terrific picture books I’d like to recommend are: Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Laura Cornell (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – This is a brand-new edition of the modern classic. And for Mother’s Day, what’s better than having one mom? Having two!! There are many different kinds of families and the family depicted in Heather Has Two Mommies is a family unit made up of two moms, no dad. What counts in families is not being just like every other family, but being loved.
Pete the Cat: Rock on, Mom and Dad!by James Dean (HarperFestival; $6.99, Ages 4-8) – Kids who are crazy about the cat will go wild for this paperback which includes 30 stickers, a fold-out poster and cards. How does a grateful cat say thank you to his parents for all they do? How can he show them how much he loves them? His big, smart brother Bob tells him,
“It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it.”
And in a classic example of actions speaking louder than words, Pete composes a song and plays it for his parents. He rocks it out of the park and right into their hearts.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Junior Literary Guild Selection The Independent Booksellers Association – Kids’ Next Pick for Spring 2015.
I love the Beatles! I am a truly devoted fan, so when I came across Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut middle grade fiction novel, Blackbird Fly, I knew I was in for a treat. What I didn’t expect is that the book would address, with truthfulness and clarity, so many of the difficult issues of being in middle school.
After the death of her father when she was four-years-old, Apple Yengko and her mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Apple’s one possession that belonged to her father is his tape of Abbey Road. Now that Apple is in middle school nothing is like what it was in elementary school. In middle school there are now mean girls who used to be Apple’s friends, new friends to make, and Apple is trying to discover who she really is meant to be when she is unexpectedly set apart from the crowd.
More than anything Apple wants to fit in at school, but maybe even equal to that longing is how much Apple really wants a guitar. When social pressures begin to mount up at school, Apple sees no way out of the veritable tornado of difficult times which include being placed on the “Dog Log” at school, a list that the boys make of the ugliest girls. Listening to The Beatles becomes Apple’s way of coping with the changing times she finds herself in. Luckily for Apple her new friends help her to find a way out of all the chaos. She learns that with music and a little help from her friends she can tackle this tough time.
This touching tribute to the power of music to transform a bad time into a better one and how much a true friend can help you had me nodding in agreement many times. I remember these middle school days very well. Who does not remember the days when you just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and when friends suddenly turned into popularity seekers? Blackbird Fly speaks right to the middle school student I was.
The message of the book is one that all middle school students should hear. Find out who your true friends are. Find out what you stand for and the kind of person you want to be. Find your passion in life. Follow the truth and be truthful with others. These are hard lessons to learn, but Erin Entrada Kelly presents a sympathetic heroine who is so easy to relate to. Apple is just learning to navigate the tricky waters of growing up. Kelly writes her character so well. Apple is not perfect, but she is trying her best to find her way. I was rooting for this character all the way through the book and the plot kept me so gripped that I read it in one sitting. It’s very seldom that I’ve read a book so perfectly pitched to the middle grade experience that I would hand it to a girl that age and say, “Here, take this book and you will learn so much about the time you are going through. Use this as a guide.” Blackbird Fly is that book.
References to the Beatles are sprinkled thoughout the book. Even though Apple’s favorite Beatle is George, I can still identify with this character. The best Beatle is of course Paul, but I’m open to debate. Still, you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to understand that sometimes you just want to fly away from difficult situations, but you need to learn how to, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” The moment you were waiting to arrive might come after a difficult time. However, if you can be strong like Apple is and stand for what you believe in then I promise you the moment you were waiting for will finally arrive. Blackbird Fly can be pre-ordered now and will be available on 3/24/15.