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
MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL: HOW ART TRANSFORMED A NEIGHBORHOOD by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell Illustrated by Rafael Lopez (HMH Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
My praise might be late in coming, but my love is not. Maybe Something Beautiful, a picture book from this past spring, simply stole my heart. I first saw it at the bookstore where I work and it was truly love at first sight. It happens with books, the great ones anyway and this is a great book.
Based on a true story, this picture book chronicles the transformation of East Village near downtown San Diego. Rafael and Candice Lopez helped turn their neighborhood from a drab, gray place into one full of vibrant color. That’s exactly what you see in this book. The vibrancy of color washes over the dull world of one little girl named Mira. Her own room is full of light and color, even if her neighborhood is not.
As Mira begins giving pieces of her art away to people, the world becomes a little less gray. Mira herself is a child that seems to have come straight from a gorgeous box of paints. Her joy and life are seen visually in the brilliant colors with which she is depicted. Joyous paint splotches leave a trail behind her like pixie dust as she gives her art to more monotone community members. Still, how much gray can one person transform on her own? Enter one magical artist with a plan. A pocket-full-of-paintbrushes man, an artist, asks Mira what can she imagine being on a gray wall?
“Then, just like that, he dipped a brush into the paint. BAM! POW! The shadows scurried away. Sky blue cut through the gloom. The man’s laughter was like a rainbow spreading across the sky.”
The Muralist and Mira happily go on painting the city’s walls, attracting a growing crowd of neighbors who all join them in painting just about everything. Soon that gray has no place to go! It was all something beautiful until a policeman arrives, looking quite stern. Not to fear, all is well as the policeman just wants to join in all the painting fun! The book ends with the whole city born again in colors and light. Mira wonders if just one more miracle is possible as she tries to paint a bird, a real bird, thinking maybe, just maybe that could happen too.
When you’re done reading the enchantingMaybe Something Beautifulthe colors stay with you, and so does Mira’s story. I find myself thinking, “Maybe something beautiful can come out of any gray day. Maybe today will be a full color day.” After all art, the great liberator, comes to visit any day I want. I just need the courage to practice it. So today was my full color day because I got to practice my art of writing. This makes me think that I need to splash a little color on those who made this book that I enjoy so much.
Campoy and Howell’s text makes the story burst into life! The short scene with the police officer added just enough shadow to make the story interesting, but not enough to ruin the fun. Lopez’s illustrations are amazing as always, his use of color replenishes my heart. The way his artwork shows the neighborhood and the people in it all absorbing the color around them is captivating. It makes me want to get a brush and join them. This is a wonderful book for anyone. What it taught me is that beauty is everywhere, but if you don’t see it then you need to be the one who makes it apparent. See some gray? Don’t look for a problem, but rather, see a canvas of possibility. Maybe something beautiful will come of it.
Reviewed by Hilary Taber
Visit the website for Maybe Something Beautifulhere. Visit F. Isabel Campoy’s website here. Visit Theresa Howell’s website here. Visit Rafael Lopez’s website here.
This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few. Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.
Hammer and Nails Written by Josh Bledsoe Illustrated by Jessica Warrick (Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.
If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.
Beard in a Box Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8) Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.
When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.
Dad School Written by Rebecca Van Slyke Illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7) Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.
“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.
Monster & Son Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Joey Chou (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4) Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.
Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Sonusing well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers Written by Avi (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up) This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.
Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.
Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.
Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.
Papa Seahorse’s Search by Anita Bijsterbosch (Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4) A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.
Superhero Dad Written by Timothy Knapman Illustrated by Joe Berger (Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7) Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.
Gator Dad Written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7) If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.
NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL Written by Karlin Gray Illustrated by Christine Davenier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 6-9)
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Stillintroduces us to Nadia Comaneci in the village of Oneşti, Romania, when Nadia is a young girl. In the humorous, vibrant illustrations, the reader experiences Nadia’s love of climbing trees and her impatient and fearless attempts at roller skating and bicycle riding. When Nadia clambers up the family’s Christmas tree and sends it toppling over, Nadia’s parents sign her up for gymnastics lessons.
From there, Nadia is spotted one day at school by gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi, and joins his new gymnastics school. Six-year-old Nadia diligently practices her moves until she masters them. We are shown her failures during early competitions but Nadia perseveres and makes the 1976 Romanian Olympic team. In this competition, though Nadia shines, the audience is astounded when her score reads only 1.00. We soon discover the scoreboard had not been programmed to display numbers above 9.99. Instead of a 1.00, Nadia had scored a perfect 10.00! She goes on to repeat her astounding score seven more times, winning five Olympic medals.
Though parents may be familiar with the story of Nadia Comaneci, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Stillretells Nadia’s story in an approachable manner for a new generation. Children will follow Nadia’s journey up to age fourteen, when she wins Olympic gold. Nadia grows from a girl who can’t sit still to one who learns to harness and direct that energy. She gives new meaning to the old adage, “practice makes perfect.”
THE HOLE STORY OF THE DOUGHNUT Written by Pat Miller Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 6-9)
In The Hole Story of the Doughnutby Pat Miller,the beloved doughnut’s history is traced back to 1847. Hanson Crockett Gregory, an American born in Maine, was only thirteen years old when he went to sea. At age sixteen, while working as a cook’s assistant on the Ivanhoe, Gregory decided to try something new. Their typical breakfast of sweet fried dough was known as “sinkers” because the middles remained raw and heavy with grease, making them “drop like cannonballs” in the stomach. Using the lid of a pepper can, Gregory cut holes from the center of the dough. By lightening them up, they emerged from the bubbling lard fully cooked, browned, and sweet.
These new treats became known as “holey cakes;” Gregory’s mother sold large batches of them on the docks to hungry sailors. To offset the simple origins of the doughnut, sailors invented wild tales about how Captain Gregory’s invention occurred while he was wrestling with stormy seas or rescuing sailors who had fallen overboard.
The colorful pages of The Hole Story of the Doughnut utilize a doughnut-shaped theme and lively illustrations to depict historical scenes with interest and humor. The tale brings us full-circle in Gregory’s life. In an interview with Gregory at age sixty-nine, he seemed amazed at the fuss over his now world-famous invention claiming he had merely invented “the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.” A hole which has made a mighty impression.
Both children and adults should find this history of the doughnut to be a fun and interesting read. The next time I eat a “holey cake,” I’ll think back upon the story of Captain Gregory and be thankful we’re not still eating “sinkers.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY! Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies (Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5) Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM Written by J.J. Austrian Illustrated by Mike Curato (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5) Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
Making a List and Checking it Twice! Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks
Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!
What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon Written and illustrated byJarrett J. Krosoczka (Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.
Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!
A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.
This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!
This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!
Once Upon a Cloud Written and illustrated by Claire Keane (Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.
What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!
This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.
Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.
A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.
How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.
How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!
Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.
This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!
We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!
– Reviewed by Hilary Taber
Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.
Pamela Zagarenski’s The Whisper, a beautifully illustrated, brilliantly conceived story, will wow readers of all ages who marvel and wonder at the mystery inside the pages of a book.
Our young heroine borrows a book from school that her teacher assures her is magical. As she runs home clutching the treasured tome, a cloud of letters – all the words from the book – spill out behind her. Although she doesn’t see this happen, a beautiful fox carefully collects them all from the air in a delicate, long-handled net.
Finally opening the book, she is puzzled to find that the beautiful pictures are wordless.
It’s just not a book of stories, without any words, she thought.
But a whisper on the wind encourages her to use her imagination, look at the pictures closely, and weave a few simple words into the beginning of a story that is hers alone.
With each page, the girl’s stories become more colorful and complex, demonstrating her growing skill and confidence in her ability to interpret the images. It is an inspiring demonstration for those just beginning to explore ways to “read” and think about wordless books and their use in sprouting imaginary tales.
There is much to praise about Zagarenski’s paintings and imagery, as evidenced by her two prior Caldecott honors. The layers of light, rich color and depth, cleverly paired with repeating symbols that will delight little eyes, make this book perfect to pore over and discuss. Crowns, bees, foxes, a tiny rabbit and a golden orb in many incarnations are tucked here and there as part of each illustration. Imagining how and why they are connected is a delightful exercise in fantasy and storytelling that echo the young heroine’s tale.
After she falls asleep, the girl’s dreams swirl with the stars, winds and gentle creatures in the book, bringing her mysterious and enchanting story full circle. The fox who captured the book’s words in a net re-appears at the end, and makes a special, charming request. The Whisper is a tender book to enjoy with the heart and mind, reminding us that our own stories are the most potent and powerful of all.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of The Whisper from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.
The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.
Amigo (Taco Truck)
What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!
Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!
Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.
Dare to add the haban~ero/If you like it REALLY hot!
Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)
The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!
Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.
Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.
Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.
In Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.
Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?
This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.
In Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.
My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.
The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.
Before I read this fascinating nonfiction picture book about the history of the first Ferris Wheel, I had no idea of the backstory; the competition to find and build a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would be taller than the Eiffel Tower, the lack of financial support for its construction, the grueling work on the foundation in the dead of winter, the tight timeline in which to complete it, and the lack of faith professionals and the public had in the project. I’m thankful to Kathryn Gibbs Davis for opening my eyes to innovator, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.
“George had an idea, an idea for a structure that would dazzle and move, not just stand still like the Eiffel Tower.”
What wonderful feats of engineering and willpower enabled Ferris to prove all the naysayers wrong! Over 1.5 million naysayers to be precise, the amount of people who rode on the wheel at 50 cents apiece in the “nineteen weeks” that it was in operation. And they said it couldn’t be done. Not only did Ferris change the public’s mind, but he changed history by building out of steel, what is now a staple of amusement park rides.
“George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal — steel.”
On almost every spread, Davis has managed to weave in assorted facts about the wheel’s invention in a way that will keep youngsters as engaged and enthralled as I was. The story itself flows easily and the artwork is simply lovely to look at. Ford‘s fabulous jewel-toned illustrations of 19th century Chicago took me back in time to an era in the industrial age when even electricity in homes was not yet commonplace. But as the sun set each evening, Ferris’s wheel, with is 3,000 electric light bulbs, lit up the night sky and was visible “as far away as forty miles.” I was happy to learn that after the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, in 1894 “the next Ferris wheel appeared in California on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”
How sad I was to discover in the back matter (where sources are quoted, and a bibliography along with helpful websites are provided) that a New York Times obituary says Ferris passed away on November 23, 1896 while still in his thirties. I can just imagine all the other innovative contributions he could have made to society had he lived longer. As it is, the enduring popularity of his ride is a testament to Ferris’s genius, and Davis has done a terrific job conveying that in a most readable, enjoyable way.
WIN A COPY! Leave a comment below about your favorite carnival ride then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this must-have picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 11, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 12, 2015. If you do not leave a comment you will forfeit your chance to win.
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)
Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture bookby Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:
From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pick and snare,
then find a roost that’s snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.
The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.
Very Little Red Riding Hood, the first in a series of three picture booksby Teresa Heapy with illustrations by Sue Heap, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, $16.99, Ages 4-8), is quite possibly the most adorable retelling of a classic fairytale.
Just as in the original fairy tale, Very Little Red Riding Hood is going to visit her Grandmama. In this version, Red, a wee toddler, is taking her suitcase and red teddy bear with her for a sleepover. Along the way, Red meets Wolf, but instead of being afraid, she’s excited and gives him a big hug. Heapy chooses her words wisely, and masters the voice and diction of a toddler. Heap’s illustrations show the wide-eyed innocence and playful antics of a child that age.
Red captures the wolf’s heart and wraps him around her very little finger. They pick flowers for Grandmama, but “Foxie” as she calls the wolf, doesn’t get it right.
“NOOO!” screamed Very Little Red Riding Hood. “Not LELLO flowers. RED!” So they picked some red flowers.
Between carrying her suitcase and the flowers, and playing chasing games all the way to Grandmama’s, Wolf is tired out by the time they arrive. Red is still bubbling over with energy. Grandmama is reluctant to let the wolf into her house, but Red, like many toddlers, manages to get her way again. The wolf comes in for a cup of tea, and stays to play hide-and-seek, to dance, and to draw. Grandmama and Wolf are very tired and want Red to go to sleep. But, Red misses her Mummy, bursts into tears, and can’t be consoled by her Grandmama, who turns to the wolf for help. Wolf gives it a try, and just when you think he’s going to eat Red … well, that wouldn’t be a very good ending for a children’s book especially just before bedtime, now would it? Not as sweet an ending as a good tickle, a lot of laughter, a sleeping toddler, and a happily ever after.
Click here for a Very Little Red Riding Hood Activity Kit
NOTE: This is the first book in a must-have read-aloud series of three, followed by Very Little Cinderella, and Very Little Sleeping Beauty.
Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.
Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)
This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”
With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”
Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.
CREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection
Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually …
Dear red squirrel:
Does that fur on your ears helpyou hear better?
children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.
No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.
There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of. Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.
Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.
But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”
I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure. And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?
A Boy and a Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by CáTia Chien is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
Starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.
“Moving and sweetly resonant.” —Kirkus Review, starred review
Alan Rabinowitz, author of the new nonfiction picture book A Boy and a Jaguar(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 2014; Ages 4-8), grew up as a stutterer, someone who has trouble forming words and getting them out. His difficulties speaking, and a lack of understanding by those around him, caused him to feel “broken” and separate from people. As a boy he spent much of his time with animals. They never hurried him or made fun of him for stuttering. In fact, when he spoke to animals, he didn’t stutter at all! He makes a promise to his pets and to his favorite animal, a sad caged jaguar at the Bronx Zoo.
“…if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.”
In A Boy and a Jaguar, illustrated by CáTia Chien, Rabinowitz has found his voice. By doing so, he has given hope to people of all ages, that no matter what their personal obstacle, with hard work and a sense of purpose, that obstacle can be transcended, and great things can be achieved.
While in college, Rabinowitz finally learned to speak without stuttering, but still didn’t feel whole. He enjoyed his study of bears in the Smoky Mountains, but found that he was more comfortable in the jungles of Belize tracking and studying jaguars than he was anywhere else. Rabinowitz never forgot the jaguar at the zoo from his childhood, or his promise to the animals, and so he convinced the prime minister of Belize to set up a preserve to save jaguars from the trophy hunters who were killing them. Quite an accomplishment, stutterer or not!
By the end of the book, Rabinowitz speaks fluently, feels whole, and has a very special close encounter in nature. This is a beautiful inspirational story in and of itself, but Chien’s use of charcoal pencil and acrylics enhances the mood of the book. Solemn grays and blues, peaceful forest greens, and bright and cheery golds compliment the metamorphosis that occurs for Rabinowitz.
Bonus: There is a Q&A with the author himself on the back cover flap, where we discover Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has devoted his life to being the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, whether animal or human.
Here’s a link to Publisher’s Weekly interview with Rabinowtiz.