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Happy Passover! Celebrate With Pippa’s Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
Written by Vivian Kirkfield
Illustrated by Jill Weber
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

book cover illustration by Jill Weber from Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield

 

I’m always happy to welcome a new picture book with an original take on the holiday into the mix of Passover stories. Today I’m reviewing Vivian Kirkfield’s charming Pippa’s Passover Plate with illustrations by Jill Weber so you’ll have time to pick up a copy to read before and during your family’s upcoming Seders.

The premise of this read aloud tale told in rhyme is that Pippa the mouse cannot locate her Seder plate, a plausible predicament even for humans! The pressure’s on because this concerned pip squeak must find the plate before sundown and the start of her Seder (the traditional annual ritual where people of Jewish faith gather with friends and family to eat, read, share stories and celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt).

 

Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield int illustration in kitchen by Jill Weber

Interior spread from Pippa’s Passover Plate written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Jill Weber, Holiday House ©2019.

 

Kirkfield clearly has fun with the verse and her meter is spot-on throughout the book:

“Pippa climbs up on a chair,
stretches up–the cupboard’s bare!
Teetor-totter–hold on tight!
Weeble-wobble–what a fright!”

At the start of her search, Pippa asks Sphinx the cat if it’s seen the plate. After no luck there, Pippa is told to try Snake. Each time she must approach an ominous new creature, Pippa is filled with dread, and the following repeating and repeatable refrain …

“Quiver! Quaver!
Shiver! Shake!”

… adds to the page turn appeal of the story since the little mouse must face her fears in order to find the missing plate. Her potential predators, however, don’t seem to want to do her harm.

When Owl wisely suggests that Pippa “question Golda Fish” (great name btw), it seems an easier, less scary task to undertake. Weber’s wonderful artwork here in addition to elsewhere in the book complements the text where Golda is described as quite enchanted with herself. Since a mirror isn’t available, a brass Seder plate in which she can admire her reflection is apparently the next best thing. I love Weber’s palate of all shades of yellow, a cheerful color to counter any feelings of danger when Pippa meets Sphinx, Snake and Owl. How the plate landed in the lake is up for debate so why not ask your child? I’m sure they’ll spin some wild tales. The good news is that Pippa can now prepare the Seder.

No longer fearful of the animals, Pippa invites them all to her Seder and the story ends with a frame-worthy illustration of the Seder plate, and the special food that goes on it. I do wish there had been one page of back matter that included a description of what each of the six food items represents in relation to Passover. Nonetheless that’s easily found online and the majority of readers will know and can explain that to their children. For teachers planning to read Pippa’s Passover Plate to a class, I recommend having this information on hand for inquiring minds. It also couldn’t hurt to include info on what matzo is and why a piece of it gets hidden during the Seder since it’s mentioned on the second to last page when the friends are gathered together to celebrate the holiday.

 

Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield with art by Jill Weber Seder Plate art

Interior artwork from Pippa’s Passover Plate written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Jill Weber, Holiday House ©2019.

 

I recommend this adorable picture book which provides the perfect opportunity to discuss Passover traditions, especially for little ones ages 3-6 who will find Pippa’s plight engaging and most enjoyable. Happy Passover!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find a Passover book review from last year by clicking here.

 

 

SEARCHING FOR LOTTIE
Written by Susan L. Ross
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross cover art

 

 

When is a Holocaust book not a Holocaust book? When it’s Searching for Lottie, a contemporary fiction, historical and mystery novel that beautifully and sensitively conveys the connectivity the past has with the present. Author Susan L. Ross’s multi-layered story, which won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award and is a PJ Our Way selection, also emphasizes the importance of individual identity, the supportive role of family and friends, and the power of music.

Twelve-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Roth has an assignment for 7th grade social studies, a family history project. She’s chosen to research her namesake, Great-Aunt Lottie (Charlotte) Kulka, a violin prodigy who likely died during the Holocaust. While living in Vienna, Charlie’s grandmother, Nana Rose (who was Great-Aunt Lottie’s younger sister) and Lottie’s mother escaped to safety in America. “When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis.” Far from home, Lottie was not as lucky. She had been sent to continue her music studies in Budapest, Hungary so when her mother and sister fled Austria after her father’s arrest, Lottie vanished without a word and was always presumed dead.

Once Charlie begins digging into the past, her Nana Rose starts to reveal some details from the past that even Charlie’s mom wasn’t aware of. First there is the old black and white photo of her namesake. Then, when Charlie is given a diary and eventually a necklace that once belonged to Lottie, bits and pieces of the past begin rising to the surface causing Charlie to wonder whether her Great-Aunt might still be alive. Could she still be in Hungary? Or America? Charlie’s mom reminds her that “The Holocaust was a tragedy that touched every Jewish family,” and there may not be a happy ending. However, with the encouragement of her friends and family, and despite what she may discover, Charlie vows to find out what really happened to Lottie. It’s clear Charlie is going to be learning about herself and her family as much as she will about her long lost relative as her journey into the past continues.

Unusual incidents and people are discovered along the way that pull the reader into the story and make them feel invested in the outcome. It turns out that Lottie had played with the Vienna Philharmonic. Charlie, also passionate about the instrument, would like nothing more than to please her devoted Nana Rose by being selected for the concertmaster position after her upcoming audition. As Charlie prepares for the big day, her crush on a fellow musician, Devin, could become a distraction from both her violin dreams and her genealogical journey but she perseveres.

The many interesting and exciting things happening in every chapter serve to keep Charlie’s mind off the audition and Devin. There is never a dull moment as Charlie delves deeper into the mystery of Lottie’s disappearance. Exploring every lead for her family history project will ultimately give her a greater understanding of how the Holocaust impacted survivors and children of survivors, in Charlie’s case, her grandmother and mother. “‘After I had children of my own,'” ‘Mom said softly,’ “‘I realized––or at least, I understood a bit better—that my mother had to bury the sad parts of her life in order to live happily.'”

Ross has created a vibrant and resourceful young girl in the character of Charlie. Her hunt through history to uncover hidden truths about Lottie, if successful, will surely solve decades of doubt and we’re all rooting for her. It was hard for me to believe that, though based on Ross’s family, all the characters were fictional. They felt so real, their situations so possible. It’s helpful to read the Author’s Note to learn about Ross’s story inspiration. I found myself heading over to the Ellis Island Archives as I was reading the novel because, like Charlie, and the author, I too, have many unanswered questions about my Eastern European family.

Searching for Lottie will get tweens thinking and hopefully talking about the Holocaust, about their own heritage, and how we often need to look to our past before moving forward. I recommend this novel as it’s not only one of hope and inspiration, but it powerfully demonstrates how one determined young girl can make a difference.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

Two Creative Crop Tales: Rice From Heaven & Hey, Hey, Hay!

RICE FROM HEAVEN:
THE SECRET MISSION
TO FEED NORTH KOREANS

Written by Tina Cho
Illustrated by Keum Jin Song
(Little Bee; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

&

HEY, HEY, HAY!:
A TALE OF BALES
AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM

Written by Christy Mihaly

Illustrated by Joe Cepada
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Grasses and grains make great stories in two new August picture books from Epic18 authors.

Cover art from Rice From Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North KoreansDrawing from her own personal experience, author Tina Cho writes a compelling fictional story about RICE FROM HEAVEN: THE SECRET MISSION TO FEED NORTH KOREANS.

Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.

When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.

Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.

Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.

 

cover art from Hey, Hey, Hay!: A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make ThemIn HEY, HEY, HAY!: A TALE OF BALES AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM author Christy Mihaly tells a summery story about the process of harvesting hay. The bales will be stored in the barn, ready to break out a bit of summer for a hungry horse on a cold winter day.

Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.

As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.

Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.

Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

A Math and Counting Books Roundup

A MATH AND COUNTING BOOKS ROUNDUP
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LITTLE KIDS OCEAN COUNTING,
TEN PIGS, & MICE MISCHIEF

 

Have fun counting and doing simple math with your children …

National Geographic Little Kids Ocean CountingNational_Geographic_Little_Kids_Ocean-Counting
Written by Janet Lawler
Photos by Brian Skerry
(National Geographic; $16.95, Ages 2-5)

If your young kids are into aquariums and learning about sea life then don’t miss this counting book. The beautiful underwater nature photographs match perfectly with the simple yet informative text. There is a little “Did you know?” section on each page with an interesting fact. Basic counting from 1-10 is so enjoyable with this book, plus in the back matter there’s a counting up and counting down page to review the numbers and the respective quantities with children.

 

 

Ten_Pigs_Bath-Adventure
Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure
by Derek Anderson
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

This humorous bath adventure from Little Quack illustrator Derek Anderson, will have your kids cracking up! One cute little pig is taking a bath with his rubber ducky when others start to barge into the tub. The text has great rhythm and the illustrations are both cute and extremely funny! I would highly recommend this book for young kids and I know the adults reading it will also find it amusing. You have to find out how the original bathing pig gets the tub all to himself again.

 

 

 

Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action Mice_Mischief
Written by Caroline Stills
Illustrated by Judith Rossell
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 3-6)

Mice get into a lot of interesting and impressive mischief in this book! Mice Mischief offers a refreshing take on learning the different amounts that make 10. For example, as they get ready in the morning “8 mice cook. 2 mice juggle. 8+2=10.” It’s an engaging way to count and add with your little ones. The adorable illustrations complement the spare text perfectly. I hope they make a board book version since I think this book would be great for babies all the way up age 6.

 

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

MrHappyMissGrimm-cvr.jpg

 

First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH WITH
SWING SISTERS:
THE STORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM
Written by Karen Deans
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Swing-Sisters-cvr.jpg

In 2014 and 2015 readers have been treated to a number of fantastic narrative nonfiction picture books. Today’s review features yet another add-it-to-your-collection book, the story of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as recounted in the impressive Swing Sisters.

Back in the very early 20th century, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones established an orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life. It was here that he would ensure African American children could thrive and he did so not only by letting kids be kids, but also by having them do work at the school “to earn their keep.” Using this same philosophy, he organized a school band “just for girls,” to “help raise money for the school.” Anyone involved in the band had to consider their role as an additional job on top of school work and other responsibilities at Piney Woods.

The girls played a kind of music called swing. It was jazz music that brought people to their feet, “that music was filled with energy!” It also touched people from all walks of life because it made them feel alive and excited. The girls’ group, named The Sweethearts by Dr. Jones, eventually left Piney Woods to launch a career starting in Washington, D.C. They traveled by bus and performed all over America. Their hard work and dedication helped them hit the “big-time,” at one point playing to a crowd of thirty-five thousand at the Howard Theater in Washington!

By this point the band was known as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and though America’s Sweethearts were consummate entertainers, they still encountered gender and race discrimination. The Jim Crow laws meant they couldn’t work together with white people, so for the most part they played “for black audiences.” Since their band was multi-racial, they were essentially breaking the law in certain states. There was even one occasion when white band members had to flee or risk arrest. I was happy to learn that during WWII, the USO “arranged a six-month tour for the band to travel to France, Belgium, and Germany.” But at the same time I’m disappointed that, despite having played for the troops abroad, the group’s USO tour is something we rarely hear about.

L.A. local Cepeda’s acrylic-and-oil artwork, with its retro woodcut look and expressiveness, is a bonus. He’s captured the era through a rainbow of colors that dazzle and delight. And, how lucky for us that Deans has chosen to shed light on this group of talented and committed female musicians who were throwing rocks at the glass ceiling way before other women thought it was even possible. Their days on the jazz circuit made inroads for countless women performers who would follow in their swinging footsteps. There’s not a dull sentence in this story thanks in part to the subject matter, but also owing a great deal to Deans’ talent. She’s brought the experience of being a trailblazing band to life in a richly crafted picture book that begs to be shared with early school goers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read an enlightening interview with author Karen Deans.

Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America by Russell Freedman

Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
by Russell Freedman
(Holiday House, $20.00, Ages 10 and up)

Because-They-Marched-cvr.jpg

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus & Booklist

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama’s state capital) to secure voting rights for African Americans. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional, and the presence of the Alabama National Guard, paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists’) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. Nothing, not even Ku Klux Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.

The impact of this march was immediate. Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative, Freedman places the march and preceding events in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. With the aid of powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, the book conveys to young readers the challenges and the dangers black people faced when demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen images further underscore the marchers’ courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Because They Marched is an invaluable resource for helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people who sacrificed dearly to obtain democratic rights for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this nonfiction book a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”

Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and teaching resources.

Read more about Russell Freedman at the National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring the author.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

The Mayflower by Mark Greenwood

The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood
and illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Holiday House, 2014. $16.95. Ages 4-8)

A Voyage to the First Thanksgiving

The-Mayflower-cvr.jpgIn 1621, a group of nearly 100 people, many of whom experienced religious persecution, left England to find a place where they could worship freely. After an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean–which included violent storms and the birth of a child, they sighted land and eventually founded a settlement near Plymouth Harbor.

Their troubles were not over. Arriving late in the year, they faced a cold and difficult winter. Many were ill. However, in early spring, Squanto, a native from a local tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize the fields with fish. That fall, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and 90 of his warriors joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration, our first Thanksgiving

Greenwood’s narrative in this picture book can be read aloud to young children to introduce them to the traditional Thanksgiving story. Complex issues, such as religious persecution and the Mayflower Compact, are briefly, but clearly expressed in language young children can understand. The hardships the Pilgrims faced are not overdramatized and the author weaves in interesting “kid friendly” facts about daily life aboard the ship: food, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.

Lessac’s colorful gouache illustrations, reminiscent of folk art, enliven the narrative and create a vivid and dramatic visual of the journey and the settlement. A stunning two-page spread of a beautiful, calm night at sea, the sky full of stars sparkling around a full moon, belies the dangers the ship would soon face on its journey to the new world. Sure enough, a month later, the Mayflower and its passengers and crew sail into the stormy season, which Lessac stylistically portrays with a pinkish sky dotted with dark storm clouds. Jagged bolts of lightning and torrents of rain fall from the clouds. The image of the ship rolling in the rough sea further demonstrates the ocean’s frightening power and the hardships the crew and passengers faced on their way to the new world.

An excellent and colorful read aloud to introduce younger children to the origins of our Thanksgiving celebration.

Visit Australian author Mark Greenwood’s website for more information about his books.

Illustrator Frané Lessac’s website is a must-see for her artwork and a video about how the illustrator works.

Click here for Holiday House’s Educator’s Guide for this book.

Enjoy this dramatic book trailer for The Mayflower.


– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez

Today We’ve Got a Throwback Thursday Picture Book! Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House, 2013, $16.95) and highly recommended for children ages 3-7.

“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O … Señor Pancho had a rancho, cha cha cha cha cha …”

Senor-Pancho-Had-Rancho-cvr.jpgNow if twelve children chanting “cha cha cha cha cha” to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm doesn’t get your body wiggling and your toes tapping, then nothing will.

Old MacDonald and his neighbor, Señor Pancho, have the same animals on their farms who, while they look similar, speak different “languages.” While Old MacDonald’s dog barks “woof, woof,” Señor Pancho’s pero yaps “guau, guau” (wow, wow). A rooster on Old MacDonald’s farm crows “cock-a-doodle-doo,” while Señor Pancho’s gallo (GAH-yoh) squawks out “quiquiriquí” (kee-kee-ree-KEE), and so on. Finally, a cow and una (OON-ah) vaca (VAH-kah) are introduced. Both happily understand each other’s “moo” and “muu” (moo). Soon, ignoring the fence that divides the two properties, all the farm animals and the two farmers join the cow and the vaca for a rollicking dance.

Each double page spreads shows an illustration of Old MacDonald’s farm on one page with the English verse and Señor Pacho’s rancho on the opposite page with the same verse in a blend of Spanish and English.

Elwood Smith’s multimedia illustrations use subtle colors and small touches to distinguish the characters, but overall, each animal (and human) looks and behaves the same way. The illustrations are hilarious, lively and wonderfully convey the energy, joy, and silliness of the song.

Laínez notes “This book is a celebration of languages. In every celebration, we need music and dance (author’s note).” Lainez and Smith capture the idea that the joy we experience from music, dance, and companionship is universal.

This book was a 2014 International Latino Book Award finalist in the Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book – Bilingual category.

A helpful glossary of the Spanish words used in the book and how to pronounce them is included.

I shared this book with my K-1 classes and the timing was perfect as they were learning animal names in Spanish class. Reading (and singing) this book helped reinforce the children’s learning and introduced the Spanish words for the animal sounds. We had a ball.

Visit Salvadoran René Colato Laínez’s website for more information about the author, his books, awards, activities and more.

Learn more about illustrator Elwood Smith at his website and at Elwood’s World; the Art and Animations of Elwood H. Smith, a pdf of an engaging catalog prepared for a 2011 exhibition of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The publisher, Holiday House, has information on Common Core State Standards, reviews, and an activity sheet. Find those here.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Backwards Moon by Mary Losure & Giveaway

An Enchanting Story from Mary Losure

Backwards-Moon-cvr.jpgWhen my daughter was 7 or 8 she became infatuated with fairy and witch stories. But that was 13 years ago and the selection wasn’t very exciting. I’m happy to say that now there are so many more interesting books featuring assorted magical creatures and Mary Losure’s Backwards Moon (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 7-10) is one of them. This recently published middle grade novel is perfectly suited for tweens who want action, adventure, fantasy and a satisfying conclusion, all in just 134 pages.

Cousins Nettle and Bracken are the two youngest witches in a coven made up of mostly older witches (“They were not just old, they were very old. Some were hundreds of years old.”) who live in a hidden valley being encroached upon by humans. The book opens on the very day that the girls discover something has gone terribly wrong with the magic Veil, originally spun to shelter their community from the outside world.

Suddenly it’s looking like the carefree days of playing Catapult are over. Things are about to change forever, thrusting Nettle and Bracken into a mission to save their coven by traveling to the human world. There the witchlings will attempt to find untainted Wellspring Water, crucial for the damaged Veil spell. They’ll also eventually seek out the Door leading to a safer world for all witches, far from the menacing presence of humankind.  Even though the older, more experienced witches would seem like the natural choice to make this dangerous journey, the fear of Fading, or loss of magical powers caused by the proximity to humans, stops them from trying. The cousins’ youth, while providing them with increased protection from the Fading, does not guarantee immunity putting them at considerable risk as well.

Losure_Mary 2014

Backwards Moon Author Mary Losure. Photo credit: Don Losure © 2014

Losure has created a believable world where only young humans can see the witches, initially complicating matters, but ultimately helping the girls on their quest. I found it fascinating how the author was able to convincingly convey the collision of the witch world with that of humans, in fact she had me at Seeking Stones. (magical rocks that will assist the witchlings). There are several engaging characters who help Nettle and Bracken including a young human girl named Elizabeth, a Witchfriend named Ben and a caring raccoon. Losure has included a nemesis for the cousins to evade, as well as many close calls that will keep tweens entranced. In 21 short chapters, we’re whisked away to a wonderfully imagined world where wishes can be used up and time is not necessarily on the side of the plucky main characters. All that makes for a more layered read and a desire to follow Nettle and Bracken into the safety they seek behind the Door, perhaps in a second book? I can wish, too!

Click here to read an excerpt from Backwards Moon.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Buy the book from Indie Bound by clicking here.

GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway will be a bound book giveaway, sent to the winner from Holiday House. The winner must be a U.S. resident and over 18 years of age (parents/guardians can enter for children if they’re interested).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, $18.95, ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this Landmark Civil Rights Project

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Booklist & School Library Journal

“I am determined to become a first class citizen … I am determined to get every Negro in the State of Mississippi registered (Fannie Lou Hamer, p 1).

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Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin, Holiday House, 2014.

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of several biographies and books on the Holocaust (see her website: www.susangoldmanrubin.com), has written a dramatic account of the efforts of civil rights organizations and volunteers, mostly college-aged students, who worked together during the summer of 1964 to educate African Americans in Mississippi about their voting rights. While greeted warmly by African Americans, who also opened their homes to the young students, volunteers worked in an intense and dangerous environment. Prior to arriving in Mississippi, volunteers, who hailed from all across the country, received one week training in how to behave and dress so as to avoid physical harm. They learned that “no one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night …” (pp. 6-7). Volunteers were advised to sleep at the back of the house and listen for sudden car accelerations as that might signal a bombing. Contrary to what they had been taught in the North, Southern police were not their friends.

Despite the never ending climate of fear and the murder of three of the workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner), students and community members continued their heroic efforts to establish Freedom Schools and register voters. The Freedom Schools were enormously successful: with enrollment of over 2000 adults and children. Voter registration, however, proved to be much more challenging due to African Americans fears of physical violence and obstacles such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent them from voting. However, these efforts led to President Johnson’s 1965 Civil Rights Act and, by 1966, registered African American voters soared from 6.4% to almost 60% (p. 97).

Rubin’s compelling and gripping account includes primary sources: interviews with surviving volunteers and community members, reproductions of period photos, FBI posters, newspaper articles and other documents. End material includes a bibliography, timeline, recommended websites, and appendices of original documents. The book also includes illustrations by Tracy Sugarman, an American artist who illustrated important historical events. At 41, he was the oldest volunteer and shadowed the volunteers to chronicle their work in art (see PBS’s “Freedom Summer” web pages for more information on the documentary and Sugarman and his illustrations: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer). Highly recommended for middle graders thru high school, as a readable narrative as well as a compelling way for teachers and librarians to meet Common Core standard in how researchers use primary sources to bring historical events to life. In an interview with Holiday House (see below), Rubin expresses her hope that this book will inspire students to seek out their community’s stories.

Visit the publisher at http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823429202
for links to educators’ guide, transcripts of the author’s interviews, video interview with author, and more.

Can a Dog Save The Day? Immortal Max by Lutricia Clifton

IMMORTAL MAX by Lutricia Clifton is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Immortal Max by Lutricia Clifton, Holiday House, 2014.

Middle school can be such a tumultuous time. The difficulties are only compounded when your dad dies, your mom is trying to make ends meet with three children, (one of whom is about to go to college), and wealthy city kids are infiltrating your world and turning your town into the haves and have nots. Thank goodness it’s summer, right?

In Immortal Max by Lutricia Clifton, (Holiday House, 2014, $16.95, Ages 8-12), Sam, a twelve-year-old boy, gets a summer job walking dogs in a gated community so he can save money and buy a purebred, sable colored German Shepherd puppy – the dog of his dreams. The only problem is that Sam already has a dog. Max is a drooling, smelly, supposedly on his last legs mutt, who Sam’s mother thinks will not survive a playful puppy. To top things off, the school bully and Sam’s arch enemy, Justin, will stop at nothing to foil Sam’s plan, including trying to get him fired. It doesn’t help matters that he lives in the wealthy community where Sam will be walking the dogs.

Clifton captures the emotions of the reader with her ability to bring to life, not only the main characters, but the minor players in this tender, though sometimes intense, middle grade novel. Watching Sam grow and develop from a boy with a goal to a young man who has his priorities straight -well, let’s just say, I teared up more than once.

If you’re looking for a book with diverse characters, (Lee, Patel, Wysocki, and Pierce. cheerleaders, geeks, etc.) look no further. This book has them all. As in real life, none of the characters are all good or all bad, they’re perfectly imperfect humans trying to make it through life while having a little fun in the process.

Oh, and then there’s Max. Old, faithful, not-so-scruffy after all, Immortal Max. Before you even open the book, notice how Chris Sheban’s muted gray, green, and gold jacket art focuses on Max’s perspective. In this middle grade story told from the aging dog’s point of view, Sam has always been and always will be the boy of Max’s dreams, but will Sam get the dog of his dreams? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Toe Shoe Mouse by Jan Carr

See how one tiny mouse’s life changes from cats, claws, and sewers, to ribbons, sequins, and roses in this beautifully written and illustrated picture book, Toe Shoe Mouse (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8) written by Jan Carr, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, and reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Toe Shoe Mouse by Jan Carr with illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell, Holiday House, 2014.

After being chased through the sewers of the city, a mouse finds himself at the ballet on a comfy velvety cushion. He enjoys the music and dance so much, that he decides to stay…until a patron claims his seat, and a chase for the little mouse ensues. Luckily, for our adorable rodent friend, he can squeeze into places no human can, and is able to narrowly escape sword-wielding soldiers by squeezing through a small space and into a room. Tuckered out from his recent close calls, he snuggles down into a “… small, satin crevice. It was just the right size for hiding and was padded with a soft bed of lamb’s wool,” and falls asleep.

When he wakes up, little Toe Shoe Mouse discovers he’s in the dressing room of a graceful ballerina, Celeste, who he immediately begins to secretly court for her friendship. But, our narrator is a timid fellow, and flees when he comes nose to nose with his flexible object of his infatuation. A run-in with a broom-batting custodian and then a pack of rats, has the mouse running back to the safety of his pink satin bed. The bed (a toe shoe) is missing. Instead he finds a sweet treat and an enduring, albeit unlikely, friendship with someone who shares his love of music and dance.

Toe Shoe Mouse is right on pointe with artwork by Jennifer A. Bell, rendered in pencil then colored digitally in a soft romantic palette, sure to please ballerinas of all ages. The writing is as exquisite a composition as befits a ballet. The dance of friendship … timeless. It should be noted that Toe Shoe Mouse is wordier than many current picture books, but in a good way. Jan Carr’s writing is reminiscent of the late great Beatrix Potter. Bravo!

Take a peek at some pictures here.

Three Winter Themed Picture Books

Let it Snow!
A Winter-Themed Review From Rita Zobayan.

The holidays are over, but winter is still in full force in parts of the country! Grab a blanket, your favorite warm drink, and cuddle up to enjoy these wonderful winter stories.

29226You Make Me Smile by Layn Marlow is a sweet and simple story about a little girl who makes a snowman smile. As the first snow falls, a normal day becomes special for the girl who ventures out of her warm house to create a snowy friend. She gathers her materials and builds a buddy, and while the oncoming seasons may separate them, they will once again be able to share their friendship at winter’s return.

I enjoyed the clever play of words during the description. Is the narrator the girl describing the snowman or vice versa?

You’ll be cold, cold, cold, with a radish-red nose. Your arms may be stiff, but your eyes are going to shine. A long woolen scarf around your neck should keep you warm, but the cold doesn’t seem to matter to you, because…today is the special day…when you make me…smile.

The illustrations and typography suit the story well. They are inviting and warm, even though they depict winter. Look for small details, such as the girl’s watchful father, his birdhouse, and its inhabitants. You Make Me Smile certainly brought a smile to my face.

(You Make Me Smile by Layn Marlow, Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

 

17262331In Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day by Axel Scheffler, Pip the rabbit and Posy the mouse are excited to play in the snow! There’s so much to do: leave big footprints, catch snowflakes on their tongues, make snow angels, and go sledding. But when it comes time to create a snow creature, they can’t agree.

“Snowmouse,” said Posy.

                  “Snowrabbit,” said Pip.

Posy was so mad at Pip that she threw the snow creature’s head at him. Oh, dear! Then Pip was even angrier with Posy, so he pushed her very hard and she fell in the snow. Oh, dear! Now Pip and Posy were both very cold and very sad. Poor Pip! Poor Posy!

Will they work out their differences? Can they remain friends? Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day shows children that even best friends can disagree, and that kindness and consideration are really what makes for a great friendship.

(Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day by Axel Scheffler, Nosy Crow, $12.99, Ages 3 and up)

 

Snow can seem magical—its stark purity, its delicacy as it falls, and its ability to create what can seem like another world. When It Snows by Richard Collingridge takes us on a magical journey with a little boy and his teddy bear. On his adventure, the boy finds polar bears, skiers, “the place where the snowmen live,” and the Queen of the Poles who introduces him to “tiny fairies that glow” and “thousands of elves and other magical creatures.”  But the best wonder of all is revealed at the end, and it is one that readers will hold dear.

The illustrations with muted colors and shading perfectly create a feeling of other-worldliness and capture the wonder seen through the boy’s eyes. My four-year old daughter was captivated by this book, I think, mostly because of its sense of fantasy. She even said, “I want to go in there,” pointing to the book, which just goes to show that a book dealing with snow can bring warmth to your heart.

(When It Snows by Richard Collingridge, Feiwel and Friends, 2013; $16.99; ages 4 and up)

Hanukkah Picture Book Roundup

The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Ends Tonight

I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Bear cover art by Mike Wohnoutka

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.

According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.

I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.

Click here for a Hanukkah Bear maze activity.

Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah artwork by Julie Fortenberry

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family.  The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah.  The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that  makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.

 

Eight is Great artwork by Hideko Takahashi

Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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