Written by Kelly DiPucchioand illustrated by Raissa Figueroa, Oonaintroduces us to an adorable mermaid whose adventurous spirit is “sweet … and a little bit salty, like the ocean where she live[s].”
In fact, Oona was born to be a treasure hunter when she was “no bigger than a scallop.” Her curiosity for finding bigger and better valuables puts her in some precarious situations but with trusted pet Otto by her side, she safely discovers all kinds of gems.
One item, though, is particularly impossible to collect: an “extra sparkly” crown “stuck deep in [a] rift.” Oona’s resourcefulness and determination motivate her to try and try again, but natural forces in the sea-plus a terrifying, toothy surprise-hinder her efforts.
A ship plank that bumps her head “(hard!)” is the last straw. Oona quits trying to get that crown and deserts her beloved sea; yet, she knows in her heart that’s where she belongs.
When treasure washes up on the seashore, Oona’s passion for tinkering is reignited. With her homemade invention, she braves the depths of the rift to try for the crown once more. But the real treasure she finds is experiencing what she’s capable of creating.
The beautiful and lush illustrations completely submerge us into Oona’s underwater world. Shapes are soft, edges rounded, and the jewel-toned color palette is gentle and calm, all echoing Oona’s quiet confidence. I particularly enjoy the way light emanates from the background of the illustrations giving hope and energy to Oona’s searches.
Oona is a treasure trove of multiple layers to hook in a wide range of readers. Mermaid fans, marine life enthusiasts, explorers, and crafters will undoubtedly enjoy this message of persistence and self-belief.
Young readers will be easily charmed by Li’l Rabbit. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, now available in a paperback edition, was originally published in 2010 but its story is timeless.
Despite being frustrated during Kwanzaa for multiple reasons in addition to being told he’s too little to help, Li’l Rabbit still looks forward to his favorite part of the weeklong holiday, Karamu, the festive meal served on the sixth night.
But Granna Rabbit is sick and can’t prepare the meal. “Kwanzaa,” Li’l Rabbit recalls his granna telling him, “is a special time when we help each other.” Her words set him off on a search for a Zawadi (gift, often homemade) to cheer her up. During his quest, various forest friends ask him what he’s doing, and after he explains they all remark how they, too, wish there was something they could do to help. It seems Granna Rabbit has always made time to help out these animals and her good deeds have meant so much to them. When Li’l Rabbit returns home empty-handed and disappointed, he is surprised to see the animals he’d encountered celebrating with food, fun, and friendship. What a surprise for Li’l Rabbit to learn from his granna that her spirits have been lifted not only because of what their thoughtful neighbors have contributed but most of all because Li’l Rabbit’s dream made it happen.
Evan’s buoyant illustrations bring the Kwanzaa festivities to life with their rich colors, patterns, and energy. This picture book will resonate with any child who has ever felt left out or too small to make a difference. I appreciated the back matter including The Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa as well as a glossary of words that were used in the story.
Many kids want to pick out books they can read by themselves to improve their skills and feel successful. Parents, teachers, and librarians can’t argue with that. Why not take a look at the Spot (an imprint of Amicus) Holiday series geared to emergent readers? The photographs are beautiful and the text is purposefully simple to encourage beginners while providing an engaging way into diverse cultures and traditions.
In Mari Schuh’s Kwanzaa, as well as all the other series’ books, children can enjoy a search and find feature at the beginning (see the art below), with pictures and words.
“The text uses high-frequency words and repeating sentence structures” empowering new readers while introducing them to new vocabulary via holidays many of their classmates, friends, and neighbors celebrate. Other books in the series include Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukkah, Easter, and Christmas. I’m glad to have discovered this series and look forward to sharing more Amicus books in the future.
Read a review of another diverse holiday picture book here.
It’s hard to imagine that our 16th President, who faced one of the toughest challenges in American history, was at one time a curious, barefooted boy roaming the “hills and hollows” of his hometown, Knob Creek, Kentucky. In Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, author Shari Swanson and illustrator Chuck Groenink depict a gentle boy whose tenderhearted rescues of vulnerable animals shed light on Abe’s early and strong sense of justice.
To adults like Mr. John Hodgen, the miller, Abe seems irresponsible for “‘fool[ing] [his] time away,’” stopping to right the wrong he sees all around him. But to young Abe the “‘many little foolish things’” are the harm and injustices he must counter: a frog trapped inside a snake’s mouth, a possum stuck “‘in a hollow stump,’” and a honey-colored dog whimpering from a broken leg.
Abe shows kindness for rescuing the dog he befriends and names Honey. Loyal friends, the two become inseparable and share many adventures. One such adventure turns particularly perilous as Abe gets stuck between two boulders inside a cave. Honey returns home alone to get help and leads the search party to the cave. Assisting Abe’s rescue in this way, Honey pays Abe “‘back for mending his broken leg’” confirming the young boy’s belief that Honey will always do “‘good things’” for him.
Accompanying this comforting story is Groenink’s soft and muted color palette. Many illustrations place either Abe or the natural surroundings of the Kentucky woodlands at the center of the page, emphasizing the close relationship between the two. Equally, Swanson’s words engage us readers with the terrain. Mr. Hodgen uses “his cane-pole whistle” to call out to Abe in the cave. We see Abe’s resourcefulness and experience when he uses the “soft bark of a pawpaw bush to wrap around the sticks” that help set Honey’s leg. Undoubtedly, the surrounding wilderness deeply influences young Abe’s character.
A “Timeline of Abraham Lincoln and His Animal Encounters,” an author’s note, and a map of “the area around Hodgen’s Mill where Abe grew up” in the endpapers add fascinating (and funny) details to Abe’s early and later life. We learn further of his fights against animal cruelty and his bringing in many animals into the White House (goats included!). We also learn the author’s source of this story, a book written by J. Rogers Gore who wrote down the many tales Austin Gollaher, Abe’s childhood best friend, shared about his and Abe’s adventures.
Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is a perfect book not only for little ones who love animals and adventures, but also for parents who can learn a thing or two about lending grace and understanding to a most curious child.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Find a fun activity kit and curriculum guide here.
LOVE & OTHER TRAIN WRECKS Written by Leah Konen (Katherine Tegen Books; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
★Starred Review – Kirkus,School Library Journal
This twenty-four-hour whirlwind journey in Love & Other Train Wrecks begins with Amarantha “Ammy” West and Noah Adler seated in the same Amtrak car. Their first impressions of one another are stiff and uncomfortable. Noah, eighteen, travels, pink roses in hand, to surprise his ex-girlfriend with fancy dinner reservations and a heartfelt poem. An optimistic, good-looking guy, he attempts to engage Ammy in conversation, but she bristles against his easy-going personality.
Seventeen-year-old Ammy is escaping from the mess her life has become since her father left and her mother plunged into anger and anxiety attacks. Though Ammy’s trying to be supportive of her mother, she seems to hit it off with her new stepsister Kat. Attending her father’s commitment ceremony (before the divorce is even final) tests Ammy’s allegiance to Team Mom. Ammy surely doesn’t want to share any of her personal drama with an annoyingly friendly stranger like Noah.
When the Amtrak train stops due to mechanical error, Noah and Ammy, determined to reach their respective destinations on time, disembark into a snowstorm. GPS makes a bus station seem an easy walk, but, instead, the frozen trek filled with mishaps turns into an adventure of a lifetime.
All the while, Ammy and Noah contemplate their places in the world including what it means to make your own decisions and then face those consequences. Konen’s choice to write alternating viewpoint chapters works well to show what each character shares or conceals. The chapters are also fast-paced and consistently satisfying. As the attraction between the main characters builds, Ammy struggles to come to terms with how romantic relationships can hurt friends and family and how to handle those conflicts of interest. Falling (and staying) in love, while wonderful, isn’t necessarily easy.
In this Halloween-themed rhyming picture book, Goblin Hood and the gremlins of Scarewood Forest work together year-round making candy. “In the forest of Scarewood, where gremlins made sweets, a creature named Goblin Hood guarded their treats.”
Everything is going well . . . until a witch swoops by, stealing the candy and turning the gremlins against Goblin Hood. Silly illustrations depict the witch directing gremlins to bag it all up and load it on her broom while she reclines on a mountain of candy, feasting on the spoils.
Lurking outside, the Halloween hero of Scarewood Forest, Goblin Hood, plans. Soon, he leaps into action, capturing the witch using licorice, taffy, and gum stashed in his pack.
Goblin Hood reprimands the witch, “You’ll have to make up for the things you did wrong. And help make the Halloween treats all year long.” Not a bad deal for the witch.
The morale of the story: work together while fostering friendships—even with candy-stealing witches. And, don’t disappoint those cute trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.
Piper Thibodeau’s vivid, funny illustrations in Goblin Hood are a treat for a young child with a sweet tooth and sense of humor.
Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch Written by Diana Murray Illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
In Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Grimelda wants to make pickle pie, but cannot find her pickle root. “She used her broom to fly, not sweep. Her floors had dirt six inches deep.”
Clever wordplay leads us through Grimelda’s house as she searches for the missing ingredient. We discover her scream cheese spread and rot sauce, but no pickle root—not even in the swamp out back where she finds last summer’s bathing suit.
As any cook knows, it’s critical to use right ingredient. Grimelda flies over to the general store where, alas, pickle root is sold-out and, “All Baby Dragon Sales Are Final.”
Reluctantly, Grimelda sweeps up. When the clutter clears, along with the pickle root, she discovers her long-lost comb. Finally able to untangle her locks, another surprise enables her to return her house to disarray. “Grimelda breathed a happy sigh. At last, she’d make that scrumptious pie!” Or, will she . . .
Heather Ross’s ingenious illustrations show a spider sneaking off throughout with the pickle root—sure to be a favorite with kids who notice subtly hidden pictures. Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch provides a wealth of images for young readers to explore.
Hubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night, the first book of a new middle-grade series, contains three stories: The Super-Spooky Fright Night, Teddy Trouble, and Granny Makes a Splash. On the opening pages, we are introduced to Pandora and her witchy grandmother, Granny Crow whose ideas are, well, “just a bit . . . different.”
The tales follow Pandora and Granny Crow from Halloween party with musical broomsticks to birthday party where stuffed animals talk, and, finally, on a delightful school trip at a swimming pool. With each occasion, we find Granny ready with her wand, casting spells to help out: “It was time to liven things up a bit, Granny style!” Of course, her well-meaning ways have funny consequences.
Joe Berger’s illustrations on every page make the book visually bewitching. Black, white, and orange ink enlivens the text with color. The abundance of images may help advance picture-book readers to chapter books with these visual clues.
I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.
Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,
Next, you put on fancy clothes. Wear a fancy hat. Underwear does not count as a hat.
and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”
The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!