Forget the sourdough bread for now. This scrumptious roundup of family-friendly cookbooks for National Baking Month is meant to tempt you and your children to get cooking together! Start with recipes from Chef Junior, move onto Clean Treats for Everyone and then delight in the deliciousness of Now for Something Sweet.
Five young authors prove that kid’s food doesn’t have to be bland and boring in Chef Junior: 100 Super Delicious Recipes by Kids for Kids! And they cover it all: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and drinks. The creators range in age from twelve to fifteen, however, the cookbook is suitable for middle graders on up—adults, you will learn from this too! The authors’ definition of “real food” is awesome: “An easy rule of thumb is that if something doesn’t have ingredients, but IS an ingredient (one thing), it is generally healthy for you.”
After some “how-to” instruction, tasty recipes follow, thoughtfully flagged with skill level (easy, moderate, advanced). Because chocolate happens in our household, Mug Brownies were our eleven-year-old daughter’s first choice. Dark chocolate, cashew butter, honey, apricot preserves (or more honey), unsweetened cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda come together, producing yummy brownies baked in six oven-safe coffee mugs. Thoughtful ingredients such as the preserves and cashew butter elevate this brownie to something special.
The second recipe tried was Strawberry Cheesecake. Both the crust and filling have only four ingredients each, making this recipe a snap. It received another thumbs-up from the family.
Savory recipes we want to try include Oven Pancake (one-container cooking = less dishes!), Egg-Drop Soup (why have we never made this?), Super-Quick Gravy (because my gravy skills are lacking), and gluten-free Blender Bread. There are also plenty of recipes that use meat, so browse and let your young chef spoil you with a delicious dish.
*The authors are between the age of 12 and 15 and hail from various states in the US (California, Florida, and Michigan), as well as Canada.
Laura Fuentes’s delicious cookbook, Clean Treats for Everyone, gives parents a way to provide healthy snacks for kids using real-food ingredients. Known for her successful MOMables.com and her Family Kickstart Program, Fuentes is a pro at focusing on whole-food family nutrition. This cookbook contains over-fresh and no-bake treats, plus warm drinks, smoothies, and frozen drinks. Clear coding shows which recipes are vegan and which ones omit gluten, dairy, eggs, or nuts. What’s never omitted is kid-approved deliciousness.
While there were many baked treats I couldn’t wait to try, I wanted a quick fix and dove right into making a Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino because I’m all about frozen drinks, no matter the weather. Creamy coconut milk perfectly balanced the matcha’s vegetal notes.
I also made the Coffee Popsicles using coconut milk, instant espresso powder, dates, vanilla extract, and salt. They tasted like a latte on a stick—only better! For kids, swap in decaf.
A two-ingredient recipe that quickly became a must-have in our household was the Homemade Magic Shell. Dark chocolate chips and coconut oil make this magical because it’s no hassle and you know exactly what’s in it. If you’re a label-reader, you’ll know how I feel about the “why are they in there?” list of ingredients found in many foods. This cookbook demonstrates that simple and clean can’t be beat!
The four fabulous women behind Monday Morning Cooking Club have a delectable new Jewish cookbook out called Now for Something Sweet—a title that called to the sweet tooth in me. If you don’t know these ladies, the sisterhood (formed in 2006) is comprised of Lisa Goldberg, Merelyn Frank Chalmers. Natanya Eskin, and Jacqui Israel. Their mission is “to uncover, to persistently test and tweak, and to preserve the many sweet recipes entrusted” to them over their years of collecting. And the results are awesome!
Though I have a long list of recipes I want to try, the one I started with was Hanna Geller Goldsmith’s Chocolate Meringues. Five simple ingredients—dark chocolate, egg whites, salt, caster (superfine) sugar, and vanilla extract—transform into you-can’t-eat-just-one meringue mounds. Bite through the crisp crust for a fudgy middle. These meringues are a step above and will become a welcome addition to my lineup of recipes. Next on my list? Debbie Levi’s Romanian Malai (Polenta Cheesecake), then, for a savory break Leah Koenig’s Onion Pletzels, described as a cross between an onion roll or bialy and a focaccia
I appreciate the specificity of the recipes, reminding me that much of baking is a science. Technical sections like Kitchen Notes (why they use unsalted butter or how to melt chocolate) are balanced with a lovely information about many of the people who contributed the recipes. At the end, in addition to the alphabetically organized index is one sorted into categories: dairy free, gluten free, and for Passover. This at-a-glance reference is truly a time-saver.
WHAT WE’RE READING WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME
Always Time for Books – A Roundup of Time Related Reads
Books have a way of making time do funny things; slowing us down as we settle into the story and speeding up whenever a clue is about to be revealed. And of course, there is never enough time to read all the books we want to read. There is so much power in the way that books and readers interact with time and we wanted to highlight some of our middle grade favorites here at Once Upon A Time.
The slow and careful buildup of love and trust is the star in Saving Winslow (HarperCollins) by Sharon Creech. A delightful family read-aloud that skillfully weaves empathy, compassion and family into a beautifully realized story, universal, timeless and, dare I say a new classic, in the mold of Charlotte’s Web (without the talking animals). Ten-year old Louie is determined to save a sick miniature donkey even though his past animal endeavors haven’t turned out well. His parents caution him but Louie names his new charge Winslow as a sign of faith and determination in the small creature’s survival. Louie uses his plight as a way to connect with his brother’s absence while serving in the Vietnam War. Saving Winslowcaptures an innocence and steadfast belief in miracles that are real and close at hand. ★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062570703
Everything can change in just a few days. In Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking BYR), Pablo Cartaya shows how much time and place impact who you are. Marcus Vega may look like the average bully—large, silent, and overwhelming—but inside he is just a boy too big for the quiet kids and too small to fill the shoes of his absent father. Marcus is suspended from school for protecting his brother from a bully and decides his time off would be better spent searching for answers from his father in Puerto Rico. With his mother and brother in tow and only a few days to accomplish his goal, Marcus goes down a path of misadventure leading to understanding. A fast-paced journey of self-discovery about the role of family, friendship, and home. Perfect for readers ages 10 to 14. ★Starred Review – School Library Journal. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9781101997260
For fantasy adventure readers that want to be blown away, Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic (HarperCollins) written and illustrated by Armand Baltazar is for them. First, the physical book is 400+ pages and weighs a massive 2.5 lbs! But that’s because there are over 150 full color illustrations throughout which pull the reader along the fast-paced story. And second, the premise—our world is 300 years in the future, has collapsed for a minute, and in that time reconfigured with past, present and future worlds meshed all together – without cell phones, electricity. “Diego’s middle school hallways buzz with kids from all eras of history and from cultures all over the world.” Dinosaurs are with robots (mechanical) and tall ships, sort of steam punk but not.
Diego is 13 and a mechanical whiz. He and his family live near the coast in New Chicago, a reimagined Chicago and its waterways. Diego has concocted a cool mechanical submarine in order to go to school! The plot goes crazy when Diego’s dad is kidnapped by a villain from Roman times. He’s aware that Diego’s dad is a mechanical genius who can help mechanize the robots and turn the world back to the proper time. Diego’s friends go with him as he tries to find his father. Help from his pilot mother and the Rangers set up this first in a series. I LOVED the vast world building, fast pace and those one-of-a-kind illustrations. Truly, this is what I think could be the next Harry Potter type series which will capture the imaginations of adventure fans all over and for years to come. Best for ages 9 and up. ★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062402363
Looking for a good way to spend your time in addition to reading? Meet Armand Baltazar, creative mind behind Timeless on Friday, October 19th at 7 pm for a special book signing and costume contest.
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS A ROUNDUP – PART THREE
Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!
Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.
The story begins on the cover flap: “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result, the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.
In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.
Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight. • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Luluto Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided. “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True!series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:
This Little Reindeer Written by Aly Fronis Illustrated by Luke Flowers (Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)
Christmas Eve Annie Auerbach (Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)
Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS A ROUNDUP – PART TWO
As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.
The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition(Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.
The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.
If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
I picked up Mary Engelbreit’sColor ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Here’s the first of several roundups full of great new Christmas books for kids that we hope you’ll enjoy. There’s really something here for everyone under age 10 who’s interested in a great story or activity during the long holiday break. Let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!
In A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World, Santa takes a journey across the globe to drop off gifts and savor treats children leave for him.
The story begins appropriately on Christmas Island in the South Pacific where Santa finds the children’s gift of chewy coconut macaroons. From Christmas Island, Santa visits Asia, Africa, Europe, South American and North America before heading home to the North Pole. Santa’s entire journey may be traced by using the map at the beginning of the book.
Splashes of orange and dashes of red flood the 48 pages and create warm cheery scenes. The joy of giving and receiving is vividly expressed on the faces of smiling children. Parents may stumble over a few foreign words, but there’s lots of opportunities for fun-learning. Furman provides recipes for baking Santa’s cookies which may inspire children and families to try new multicultural holiday recipes. Countries may have different Christmas customs, but they are similar in keeping the traditions of preparing and enjoying treats. • Reviewed by Randi Lynn Mrvos
Growing up, I was always a fan of the “find the hidden objects” puzzles, so it’s no surprise that I love Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things even now as an adult. As the title suggests, the reader is invited to help bear find the items he needs for his upcoming holiday party. Children will enjoy the challenge of perusing through the crowd of cute critters, the jumble of gingerbread, and the sea of snowmen to get bear’s party going. The 32 pages of colorful confections, gift bags galore, and a multitude of mittens make a Christmasy camouflage that will keep the young ones engaged while they look for ice-skates, an ornament, and an array of other goodies. Some things are easier to spot than others so don’t be surprised if this turns into fun for the whole family.
If you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained while you’re planning a party of your own, Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things should do the trick. And don’t worry, this is not a one-and-done book either. Even after they’ve found everything for Bear, little ones will enjoy looking through the wintery scenes again and again to see what else they might have missed. • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
Will this be the year your child learns the truth about Santa? You may want to hold off sharing this purposely green foil-banded book until your youngest is ready to have “that conversation” with you about whether or not Santa is real. While Scholastic suggests that this picture book may be appropriate for children aged 5, another publication recommends it for ages 6-9 and still another says it’s for kids ages 9-12. To be honest, only a parent knows when their child will appreciate the heart felt message Brockenbrough so beautifully and thoughtfully conveys.
The story is interactive in that a little girl does her annual correspondence to Santa and young readers can actually open an envelope, pull out the letter and then have it read to them or read it themselves. Naturally she’s curious about all things North Pole, until she turns eight. That’s when she leaves Santa’s note for her mother instead, inquiring whether she is actually the wondrous world traveler. Her mom’s response will no doubt resonate with all readers of a certain age. “Santa,” replies the mother, “is bigger than any one person. He always has been.” The message that the truth and tradition of Santa is carried on by all who cherish the magic of believing in something good and selfless is one that will touch everyone this Christmas. Certain to be treasured by all who receive it, Love, Santa is THE book to reach for whenever a child questions the existence of Mr. Claus. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS
With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year, what better way to ease little ones into the classroom than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?
Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.
Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.
How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.
THE CROWN (THE SELECTION SERIES #5) by Kiera Cass (HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
Since Kiera Cass’ The Heir left off on a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the next and final installment of The Selection series, The Crown. Princess Eadlyn faces the fear of possibly losing her mother, while having to step into very large and heavy shoes in the absence of her parents. As Maxon stays glued by his ailing wife’s side, Eadlyn must fill the role of both King and Queen while also continuing her Selection for the sake of her parents and her country. Eadlyn must also provide comfort for her younger brothers all on her own, as they are all still mourning the departure of Eadlyn’s twin brother, Ahren, after his surprise elopement to France. While the situation is extremely daunting, Eadlyn takes on these challenges, following in the strength of her mother, and blossoms into the woman she was always meant to be. She still struggles with whether love is actually possible for her, ever comparing it to the truest and deepest love her parents share, but she must find a way to do what’s right for herself, her family, and her people.
I recommend rereading the last few chapters of The Heir before reading The Crown to remember all the Selection candidates and Eadlyn’s feelings for each one. It reintegrated me back into the palace and Eadlyn’s life, allowing me to be wholly invested in her once again. I waited an entire year to read this book, and Kiera Cass did not disappoint. She gave me everything I wanted in an ending and allowed me, as a devoted reader, to lovingly say goodbye to these characters. I’m sad it’s over and will likely read the entire series again, just to experience it one more time.
Reviewed by Krista Jefferies
Click here to get more info about Kiera Cass. Read Krista’s review of The Heirhere.
Let’s get ready for the holiday today with this roundup of new books for children.
Canticos: Little Chickies/Los Pollitos by Susie Jaramillo (Encantos Media; $14.99, Ages 0-5) This adorable, sturdy board book, the first in a series, celebrates moms in a most unique way. Its format is reversible – an original Spanish version is on one side for both the enjoyment by native Spanish speakers and to encourage the early learning of a second language. Turn it over for an English adaption of this children’s nursery rhyme about little chicks being born and their devoted mama hen seeking food with which to feed them. She provides warmth when they’re cold and gives them all the love they deserve. Designed in accordion style with bright artwork and the simple story (no more that six words on a page) on both sides, the book can be read folded up or opened up in its entirety. Have your little ones try it both ways. Preschoolers will find all the interactive lift-the-flaps and spin-wheel features hard to resist. I know I did! A bonus – little ones can sing along with the Canticos: Los Pollitos App for smartphones and tablets. There are activities to keep your children busy and entertained for hours. For every Canticos book purchased, the company will donate books to preschool programs across the U.S. to help low-income families in need. Visit the website to see what other books are on the horizon. www.canticosworld.com
Mamasaurus Written and illustrated by Stephan Lomp (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5) Illustrator Stephan Lomp makes his picture book debut in Mamasauras as both author and illustrator. After Babysaurus slips off the back of Mamasaurus and loses sight of her, he embarks on a “Are You My Mother?” type journey through the wild jungle. As he encounters the offspring of various dinosaurs, Babysaurus is certain someone will have spotted her – after all she takes huge steps, has a wonderful long neck, is taller than the tallest tree and “She’s the biggest there is!” Using bold artwork (I like the white text against the black background) with some subtle humor, Lomp’s Mamasaurus is a fun addition to this Mother’s Day Roundup mix.
You Made Me a Mother Written by Laurenne Sala Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins BYR; $15.99, Ages 4-8) This charming book, just perfect for Mother’s Day, opens with a mom-to-be waiting for the birth of her first child. “I followed advice. I read twelve books. I ate lots of spinach. Could you tell I was nervous?” The mother in this story expresses her love for her child, her desire to make him happy and the honest realization she’s not perfect, but willing to do all that’s in her heart to be there for her child. “I made you, but you made me a mother.” That powerful last line resonates with me and is a moving one to share with children. Sala has found an original way to present motherhood to youngsters with an economy of words and richness in spirit. Glasser’s touching illustrations add to the joy of this story making it a most delightful Mother’s Day read.
Our Love Grows Written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 4 and up) Meet Panda Mama and her son Pip, together in a bamboo forest, the beautiful setting of this heartwarming story. Pip asks “Mama, when will be big?” And Mama explains, in the most poetic and touching of ways, how exactly when compared to nature, he has indeed grown while at the same time, so has her love for him. The things the mama panda points out to her son are so evocative and lovingly told in gentle rhyme. “Once this tree was smaller too. And the stars above were just a few. Your paw print was tiny in the snow, and every step was far to go.” Getting into the head of a panda isn’t easy, but Pignataro makes it seem that way with the imagery and examples. Kids will appreciate seeing the sweet owl plush toy Pip holds in most of the spreads and parents will enjoy the calming cadence of the text, likely choosing this as an ideal bedtime story that’s definitely not just for Mother’s Day as a mother’s love is year ’round.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Ella The Elephant: Ella and the Mother’s Day Surprise (Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 3-5) My Mother My Heart: A Joyful Book to Color by Eleri Fowler (HarperCollins; $15.99)
Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.
My Chinatown: One Year in Poems Written and illustrated by Kam Mak (HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8) Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.
A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young Written by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Chris Riddell (Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7) It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.
Visit “The Land of Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.
Fans of The Wig in the Window eagerly awaited the arrival of its companion book, The Tiara on the Terrace, and were rewarded this past January with its release. But even if you’ve never read Kittscher’s first book, her latest, The Tiara on the Terrace, can most certainly be read as a stand alone and is terrifically entertaining and awash in the adventures of Young and Yang.
In this funny, clever novel, perfect for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch and Gordon Korman and a companion to The Wig in the Window, tween sleuths Sophie Young and Grace Yang go undercover at Luna Vista’s Winter Sun Festival to catch a murderer before he—or she—strikes again. Sophie Young and Grace Yang have been taking it easy ever since they solved the biggest crime Luna Vista had ever seen. But things might get interesting again now that everyone is gearing up for the 125th annual Winter Sun Festival—a town tradition that involves floats, a parade, and a Royal Court made up of local high school girls. When Festival president Jim Steptoe turns up dead on the first day of parade preparations, the police blame a malfunctioning giant s’more feature on the campfire-themed float. But the two sleuths are convinced the mysterious death wasn’t an accident. Young and Yang must trade their high tops for high heels and infiltrate the Royal Court to solve the case. But if they fail, they might just be the next victims.
INTERVIEW WITH THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE AUTHOR, KRISTEN KITTSCHER
Good Reads With Ronna: Are detective stories what you read growing up?
Kristen Kittscher: I was a voracious reader. I read all kinds of things so detective stories weren’t the only things I read but they were some of my favorites. I was a big big Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fan as I’m sure many people are. I love Encyclopedia Brown. I just loved solving the puzzles that were involved. One of my very favorite books as a kid was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and that kind of mystery [where] they’re locked in a museum. I always loved solving puzzles but really I read widely. Judy Blume was an absolute favorite of mine. I think Blubber was a one of my all-time favorite books growing up. And Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming was another book I loved.
GRWR: Empowerment is prevalent in both novels. Was this a goal of yours?
KK: It’s interesting. After the book was out in the world I’d hear that a lot and it wasn’t an actual focus of mine when I was writing … I think it’s because I taught at an all-girls school many years and I was swimming in girl power without realizing it. I was teaching 7th grade where girls are starting to become more self-conscious. But at that school they were very much themselves and not worried about how they were coming across. And I think I was definitely trying to write a story for them and was very influenced by their joie-de vivre and general sense of fun and curiosity and smarts as I was writing. I didn’t think about it. It just came out that way.
GRWR: What qualities do Sophie, Grace and their quirky pal, Trista have in common with you?
KK: Well maybe I’ve given them qualities I don’t have because that’s the fun of writing fiction, right? I’m definitely very curious myself and always loved a sense of intrigue. I’m pretty silly and they’re pretty silly. I think in a way they probably have more attributes of my students but Trista’s practicality and her kind of ability to just sort of, kind of plug on no matter what. I definitely have a bit of that as well. She’s a bit like my father was and I’m a bit like him so I always think I definitely have a little bit of Trista in me. The other quality definitely is the lack of confidence that Sophie has in coming into her own. I just started writing late in life – this is the first thing I ever wrote – or ever finished – and I really was focused on teaching and not writing. So, the thought of saying I want to be a writer is like saying I want to become a rock star or something like that. The story of The Wig in the Window is a mystery but it’s also kind of paralleling my journey in finding my voice as a writer.
GRWR: Getting into the heads of two twelve year olds isn’t easy. What helped you?
KK: Well, it helps to kind of be 12 in my head mostly! Well I think it goes back to my teaching middle school for a long time. I can’t remember what I was like before I was teaching 7th grade, whether I was also still 12 or if they helped me get back in touch with my youthful self. But definitely having that be my world day in and day out for a long time definitely rubbed off on me. As to Sophie and Grace, their perspective was relatively easy for me to access. The other part that makes it easy for me is having moved a lot as a kid. I moved almost every two years when I was growing up. So each place at each age I was, I remember it really vividly. I’s a very separate point in time and it’s relatively easy for me to go back to a certain place geographically in my mind and get back in touch with the feelings I had at that time. So it was a blessing in a way having moved so much because then I can remember each place individually.
GRWR: Where were you at age 12?
KK: At age 12, I was in the South Bay so basically Torrance, Palos Verdes area. For those people who don’t know, it’s this beautiful peninsula at the bottom of Los Angeles. It’s one of the most beautiful places I ever lived. You’re right by the beach. I think at the time as a kid you don’t realize how beautiful it is so when I set out to write something that came back to me very much and I knew it would be a fun setting for other people to read about too.
GRWR: Was there any pushback from the Tournament of Roses organization to change the similarities?
KK: No. But definitely the fictional town of Luna Vista is a combination between Pasadena and the place I just described, Palos Verdes and Torrance area. It’s my observing my students here in Pasadena and my own memories back when I was 12. And the town of Luna Vista has AmStar (which is very similar to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) so we have a great deal of scientists, actual rocket scientists as Pasadena does, and that makes it lots of fun to explore lots of technological things. That’s where the idea of Trista having such technological savvy comes from but as far as pushback from the tournament, no. One of my former students was on the royal court and she sat down with me and told me all about her experience as a princess so I actually had a lot of cooperation. Other former students told me about the audition process, other colleagues, longtime Pasadena volunteers and parade goers definitely helped me with all of their memories and observations. And then when the book was finished the Tournament House was considering even doing a launch there as well. Unfortunately the launch of the book came three days after the Rose Parade itself. So I don’t know if their lack of cooperation after the fact had more to do with the fact that they were focusing on their event because, as you know, it’s a huge operation and requires thousands of volunteers and all kinds of things. I haven’t experienced any direct pushback, but there is of course some gentle fun that I’m poking at the parade so we’ll see.
GRWR: How did you know the Wrigley Mansion so well?
KK: Well, for those who don’t know there’s a mansion in Pasadena called the Wrigley Mansion, which is the tournament headquarters and it was donated by Mr. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate you all know so well. So I thought it would be fun to create this sort of parallel world where Mr. Ridley who is a root beer magnate has his whole thing because basically I wanted a literal root beer float in the parade. Right? That makes it much more fun. I definitely had that outside of the mansion in my head as I was writing. Also you can take tours of the mansion and while it’s been renovated into offices, some of the rooms I definitely had in mind as I was writing so maybe that helped add a little flair to the setting.
GRWR: What else did you do for research?
KK: I was also an embedded undercover agent in float decorating. Every year in Pasadena before the parade begins, students pour out to volunteer in what are called the Float Barns which are these huge warehouses where the floats are. Actually before ever writing the story the inspiration where it comes from is my volunteering as a float decorator on the Trader Joe’s float one year. I was there gluing on flowers and climbing around on scaffolding so in the opening of the novel, Sophie, the main character, nearly falls from the scaffolding. Well that’s directly related to my own fear of heights crawling around on the scaffolding which I thought was highly unsafe for a 12-year-old. I also would constantly be Googling and referring back to different news articles just to get more inspiration and details. I don’t know a lot about flowers and obviously flowers are a very important part of the float decorations. So all the different kinds of things that are used to create different colors I would constantly be having to check back on, and say oh they used cinnamon for the brown part. I only knew what my tasks were as the decorator. I didn’t know what other flowers are used and I’m sure I messed it all up.
GRWR:Do they use a lot of different flowers?
KK: Oh, no they’re endless- I mean that’s part of their creativity – every single bit of surface area of a float needs to be decorated with some sort of living material. Even the tires of the float – they’re black, right? But we need to keep them black so they cover the tires with sheets of sea weed. Those little squares of seaweed that you got – that is really what they do. In order to win any of the prizes everything needs to be organic material of some kind.
GRWR: And there are people underneath the float?
KK: Yes, a major plot point of The Tiara in the Terrace is Trista working on a driver-less float because she finds that it would revolutionize the festival not to have people in these cramped compartments. One of the other things that is also very true about the parade is the need for what they call the pooper scooper brigade of kid volunteers who shovel up after the horses. The reason for that isn’t just to keep the parade route clear it’s because if they don’t clean up after the horses the wheels of the float kick up the remains of the horse poop into the eyes of the float drivers and gets in the ventilation system of their float. We’re getting right down to the nitty gritty.
GRWR: Because The Tiara on the Terrace is for middle grade students and includes murder, did you have to diffuse it with humor? How do you go about bringing that into a story?
KK: It’s true. It’s pretty hard to write a murder mystery for kids. You have to make it silly in some cases, but you know that kids also love the stakes being potentially high or real. In this case, you have what’s a potential murder. All the adults believe that the Winter Sun Festival president has been the victim of a tragic accident – a giant dancing animatronic S’more on a parade float has swung down and killed Mr. Steptoe. So you have this really really silly situation but also this tragic accident and that gives that distance and silliness that makes it kind of okay. And also it’s maybe a bit silly that the kids think that this could possibly be murder. Right? As the kids say, seriously? murder by marshmallow? … By giving that distance it helps explore a dark er side.
GRWR: How hard was it to put your red herrings into your story because there are a bunch of them?
KK: Thank you for recognizing that! The Wig in the Window was not hard, because well, it was hard to write for other reasons, but there’s always something, right? But mystery-wise it’s much more of a thriller, like a psychological thriller for middle schoolers where [the questions are] is this person bad, or is my imagination running away with me or not? So that’s a very simple structure, really. The Tiara in the Terrace is much more like an Agatha Christie novel or a typical cozy mystery as they call it, where you have many suspects in a large cast. It was really hard to trickle in all the clues at the same time that we’re exploring all the social dynamics in friendships. I think as you’re reading you can think oh, gosh, here we have some sort of detour, some sort of social friend detour and you don’t realize oh, wow, all the clues are being laid out at the same time. And so it’s kind of hard pacing-wise to keep the tension going at the same time, your reader might not realize that all of those red herrings are being placed in that sense. It takes a lot of outlining and even reverse outlining. Really knowing the crime, if there is a crime.
GRWR: You totally got me … I love being tricked!
KK: And I love tricking people. I think in this one you might know who it is but you might not know why. And then all the why is very, I think, very satisfying and very fun. (Ronna talking). One thing I know about kids is they often don’t just read a book once unlike adults and so it’s very important to me to make sure that everything matches up. That if you’re going to read this again, you’re going to see everything a second time and have just as much fun figuring out how it’s constructed as the reading itself. Also, my favorite scene is the parade scene at the end which of course has to be bombastic and spectacular and I really had the most fun writing that.
GRWR:Do you ever find, when you hear from young readers, that they’re inspired to write their own mysteries after reading yours? Afterall it is inspiring to see these three young girls go about solving mysteries in their own communities.
KK: Oh definitely … I also run some workshops in writing mysteries so I get kids going that way as well. Last summer I was at The James Thurber House in Ohio and they have a summer writing camp and they also go out in the community. All the kids would love trying to create their own mysteries after reading so I had a great time teaching those workshops. I think kids love the idea of uncovering secrets, I mean we all do, but particularly adult secrets because they don’t have full access to that world. It’s fun to imagine what could be happening in worlds they don’t know about.
GRWR: Will the girls be back for another adventure?
KK: Each book was separate. I like that a lot because they stand alone. If you read carefully there might be mild spoilers that you probably wouldn’t remember but each of those books can stand by itself so I didn’t sell The Wig in the Window as a series.
GRWR:So your publisher came back to you after book #1?
KK: Right. So that’s a good transition to say, ” Buy The Tiara on the Terrace, everybody, so there can be a third Young and Yang adventure.
GRWR: Can you speak briefly about the TV show that’s been optioned?
KK: Yeah, I’m really excited that both books have been optioned by a producer and I’m co-writing the first season – the pilot right now. It’s really exciting to be able to imagine giving Young and Yang new life in this form because they can be much more equally represented. You know, both The Wig in the Window and The Tiara in the Terrace are from Sophie Young’s point of view. Now we can step back and look at these families from the outside a little bit and also get much more access to Grace Yang’s point of view and possibly the worlds of the villains. So I’m having a really good time figuring out how to adapt the story and getting a lot of help with it as well. The first season is The Wig and the Window stretched out over 12 episodes so you almost have strangely more opportunity to see more elements of their school life and family life within that kind of episodic structure as opposed to the three act structure of a book. So The Wig in the Window the ongoing mystery travels over the course of the season, but each episode has its own exploration of things that are going on between Young and Yang and their families and school and love interests.
GRWR: Did I leave anything out that you would like to add?
KK: I don’t know if I can think of a direct question but something I really like to get across about why I write in general and especially The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace is that I love giving kids a sense of adventure and wonder. In my observations as a teacher, kids can be like little business people these days. They have their rolling back packs and their schedules they have their playdates, they have their extra-curriculars. And their world is very constricted much more so then mine was growing up, and I feel that through books or through these adventures you can kind of restore that sense of wonder but also the feeling that kids can have real power and trust themselves to go on all kinds of fun adventures so I like opening that up to them through books and that’s something that I don’t get asked about much but I love to get across. That books have this power to open up some avenues of freedom for kids in their otherwise sometimes overly scheduled world.
Interview by Ronna Mandel (with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for all her help!)
KRISTEN KITTSCHER is the author of bestselling tween mystery The Wig in the Window (Harper Children’s, 2013) which garnered a starred review from School Library Journal and was on ten Best of the Year lists. A graduate of Brown University and a former middle school English teacher, Kristen was named the James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence in 2014. She lives with her husband in Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade—the inspiration for her latest novel, The Tiara on the Terrace. Visit kristenkittscher.comor follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@kkittscher).
Enter below to win a copy of The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher plus an exclusive spy kit with Moleskine notebook. spy pen, magnets and book marks. Receive an extra entry for following Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook.
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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I once heard black author Rita Williams Garcia say that some of the fans who connected most closely to her characters were Asian. Apparently, the story Rita wrote held truth for many families.
The authors of these books have all won major literary awards, but don’t save these books for Black History Month. These are terrific human stories that show that even though our experiences may be different, we all feel longing, heartbreak, injustice, and self-consciousness.
These books can all prompt great discussions about how the characters feel, what they have to deal with and what choices they make. I especially recommend them for book reports or Mother/Daughter book clubs.
THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE($15.99 – Hardcover, $7.99 – Trade Paperback, Random House/Wendy Lamb Books)by Christopher Paul Curtis
I love eleven-year-old Deza Malone, a smart, sassy girl who loves to read and write. Like many during the Depression, her family is surviving on the edge until an accident forces them apart. Getting the family back together is the heart of this story. Great themes of love, family loyalty, and hard work. Historical Fiction (8+)
THE OTHER HALF OF MY HEART ($16.99, Delacorte Books for Young Readers)by Sundee Frazier
Twins Minerva and Kiera are like their parents, one is black and one is white. When their Southern grandmother invites them to visit and insists they enter the Miss Black Pearl Contest, the two sisters’ bond is tested. Grandmother clearly prefers one girl over the other. Kids will respond to this injustice. (8+)
Ella’s always been on the outside. The only black student in a white school, she also has a large birthmark on her face. When a cool new black boy arrives, Ella has to choose between staying loyal to her only friend or being popular. It’s a dilemma that kids will easily identify with. Contemporary Fiction (9+)
Three sisters are sent to spend the summer with the mother who walked out on them seven years before. Their mother is distant and resentful of their presence, and eleven-year-old Delphine must keep her sisters fed and busy at the Black Panther’s youth program. Readers will cheer these three girls as they speak up for themselves and try to form a bond with their mom. Historical Fiction (9+)
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Heart and Soul:The Story of America and African Americans ($19.99, Balzer & Bray, ages 9 and up) is an essential historical fiction book for children and their parents and teachers. It was written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, one of our nation’s most accomplished, multiple award-winning artists. You will undoubtedly be wowed by the 44 illustrations in this remarkable book and will want to covet every page to soak in all the details. Made from oil paintings on canvas, these pictures are so incredibly impressive that they alone are worth the price of the book – and then some.
In the Author’s Note, Mr. Nelson talks about how history was never a favorite subject of his. Yet he found himself illustrating many historical figures over the years and getting more and more fascinated by the subject. It’s a good thing he did, because through his fascination comes this incredible summary of the most important aspects of the history of African Americans through the time of Abe Lincoln’s presidency. Through the voice of a narrator, Heart and Soulis a concise account of the life of the narrator’s ancestors, who endured the wrath of slavery.
I like the way the story touches upon a wide timeline, covering a great deal of information, while not being overwhelming to young readers. From injustice and despair to hope and freedom, the story inspires readers to want to learn more about slaves – the very people who were the “Heart and Soul” of our great nation. A detailed timeline in the back of the book helps readers better understand the history of black America. There’s even a detailed index too.
This is not your every day children’s book. Heart and Soul is a book you should buy and keep, rather than borrow and return. Trust me on this one.
Debbie Glade reviews three heart-warming Harper Collins books, perfect for the little Valentine in your life. Scroll down to see our easy Valentine card you can make with your child.
Who wouldn’t love a Valentine book with glitter on the cover and on the inside pages? Plant a Kiss($14.99 Harper Collins, ages 4 and up) by NY Times Bestselling author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is charming, fun and so perfect for Valentine’s Day. A young girl plants a kiss in the ground to see what will grow. She waters it and waits and waits for something to happen. Just when she thinks nothing is ever going to happen, she is pleasantly surprised. The book is written with just a few clever rhyming words on each page. The small, cute illustrations by Peter H Reynolds really make the story extra special. I love this book, and you will too.
Snowy Valentine($15.99, Harper Collins, ages 3-8), written and illustrated by David Petersen, is a story about Jasper the bunny, who longs to find the perfect Valentine for his wife, Lilly. He asks all the other animals in town what they are giving their wives, yet he still cannot find the perfect gift – that is until he discovers something extraordinary by accident. This story is endearing and has a great message. What’s more, the illustrations are outstanding, and you will want to take the time to look at all the details on every page with your children.
As you might imagine from the title,Hedgehug: A Sharp Lesson in Love ($9.99, Harper Collins, ages newborn-7) is a story about an animal with pesky spikes that get in the way of everything. Hedgehug is a little guy who just wants what all of us want – to find true love. So he makes a special card and sets out on Valentine’s Day to find a special someone who may just return his Valentine wishes. It’s just that his hugs cause his would-be-Valentines too much pain. Just when he thinks there is no hope in finding true love, something really special happens. This adorable story was created and illustrated by Dan Pinto and was written by Benn Sutton. The pictures are colorful and darling, just like the story.