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An Interview with Author Rajani LaRocca

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

RAJANI LAROCCA

AUTHOR OF

WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET

(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)

MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS

(Little Golden Books; $5.99, Ages 2 to 5)

THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU: ALL ABOUT YOUR DNA

(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Where Three Oceans Meet coverWhere Three Oceans Meet, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

A child, mother, and grandmother travel all the way to the end of the earth in this picture book that celebrates multigenerational love—perfect for fans of Drawn Together and Alma.

“I want to see what’s at the end of the earth!”

Sejal, Mommy, and Pati travel together to the southern tip of India. Along the way, they share meals, visit markets, and catch up with old friends.

For Pati, the trip retraces spaces she knows well. For Mommy, it’s a return to the place she grew up. For Sejal, it’s a discovery of new sights and sounds. The family finds their way to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet, and delight in making it to the end of the earth together.

This own voices picture book celebrates the beauty of India and the enduring love of family.

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Kamala-Harris LGB coverMy Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Ashley Evans

Help your little one dream big with a Little Golden Book biography all about the first female Vice President Kamala Harris! The perfect introduction to nonfiction for preschoolers!

 

This Little Golden Book about Kamala Harris–the first woman, first African American woman, and first Indian American woman to be elected Vice President of the United States–is an inspiring read-aloud for young girls and boys.

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

The Secret Code Inside You coverThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA, written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Steven Salerno

Learn about the secret code that is DNA in this vibrant and informative picture book!

Why can’t humans breathe underwater? Why are some people tall and others short? Why do we resemble our parents and grandparents? This book explores all this and more in flowing, rhyming text, explaining cells, DNA, and genetics in a way that is simple and easy for children to understand. Colorful and brilliantly illustrated, The Secret Code Inside You illustrates that while DNA may be the blueprint for how a person looks, what you choose to do with your body is entirely up to you!

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Rajani, congratulations on an incredible three years! As a big fan of your work––and of you as a person––it has been such a joy to watch your career take off. You burst onto the kidlit scene in 2019 with your deliciously fun middle-grade novel Midsummer’s Mayhem and followed it up with the picture book Seven Golden Rings in 2020. Now, in 2021, two more highly acclaimed MG novels, Red, White, and Whole and Much Ado About Baseball, and two wonderful picture books, Bracelets for Bina’s Bothers and Where Three Oceans Meet, have already hit bookshelves. Plus, two additional picture books, My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris and The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA are coming out in the next few weeks! You are a book-making machine, Rajani! But, seriously, are you a book-making machine? 

Rajani LaRocca: Haha, not really! I do love writing, and I try to write a lot. But having six books come out in one year is mainly due to a combination of good luck and coincidence. Some of those stories I wrote quickly, and others took years. Of my books publishing in 2021, two were sold in 2018, two in 2019, and two in 2020! I’m incredibly fortunate!

 

OCEANS Illustration 1
Interior spread from Where Three Oceans Meet written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

CP: Ok. So you’re mortal like the rest of us. In that case, what would you say are the five most important productivity tools, mindsets, or life hacks that enable you to be such a prolific writer while also working as a primary care physician? 

RL: Ooh, this is such an interesting question! I would say:

  1. Write a lot. Capture ideas when they come to you, and when you feel like writing, do it—even if you only have a few minutes. I like to have multiple projects at various stages going at once so when I’m “stuck” on one thing, I can move forward on something else. Productive procrastination!
  2. Figure out what’s hard for you, and save your “clear head” time for that. I find writing novel first drafts challenging, so I try to work on my drafts in the morning, before I get caught up with work and email and my brain turns to mush. But I’ve found that I can revise at almost any time, including the evening and late at night. And I can also work on picture book manuscripts at any time.
  3. Give yourself time if you need it. Some stories need years to take shape … and that’s ok!
  4. Set deadlines for yourself. This can be as simple as an upcoming critique group meeting you want to submit something for, or a workshop or conference that you need to prepare for.
  5. Exercise, walk, shower, meditate, and do other things that get your subconscious mind going. That will help you figure out your stories!

 

CP: That’s all such great advice. Thank you! So, what does a typical day look like for you? 

RL: It depends on whether I’m in the office seeing patients. On those days, I try to get up early, write or exercise (depending on what’s more urgent), head to work, and then squeeze in some writing after dinner. On days I’m not in my office, I try to write early, then walk the dog, exercise, and keep writing in between checking messages for work and doing other errands, cooking, etc. 

 

CP: In the author’s note for Where Three Oceans Meet, you mention that, though the book is fiction, it was inspired by a childhood trip you took when you were visiting extended family in Bangalore, a city in Southern India. What was it like to see such a deeply personal story come to life through Archana Sreenivasan’s illustrations?

RL: Archana lives in Bangalore, where most of my extended family lives! She is such an incredible illustrator — from her first sketches, I knew she was the perfect person to illustrate this book! As a South Indian woman, she was able to depict the clothing, the scenery, and the food in such an authentic way.

She put a lot of details about her own grandmother into the art, so this is a very meaningful book to both of us. 

 

Kamala LGB spread 4
Interior spread from My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Ashley Evans, Little Golden Books ©2021.

 

CP: It sounds like you were both really lucky to come together on this project. It was clearly meant to be! I grew up with Little Golden Books (The Poky Little Puppy was my favorite!), so I was really excited to see you’d written a Little Golden Book about Kamala Harris. What was your favorite Little Golden Book and how did the Kamala Harris book come about?

RL: I grew up on Little Golden Books — The Poky Little Puppy was my favorite, too! I love that generations of readers have grown up reading these stories.

I was so thrilled to be able to write a Little Golden Book about our remarkable Vice President! When the publisher approached my agent in November 2020, I had to say yes! But they needed my draft the next month, so it was an extra fun challenge to research and write a book in that time frame. They signed on the incredible illustrator, Ashley Evans, and then the book came together very quickly! 

 

CP: How amazing that it all came together so fast! In another one of your picture books, The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA, you explain DNA to the youngest readers––which already sounds tricky––but you do it in rhyme. What an impressive feat! Tell me about the process of writing this book. Was it a rhyming text right from the start?

RL: This was the first picture book I ever wrote! It was always in rhyme, which is not easy, especially with a nonfiction book explaining the basics of genetics to young readers! I tried very hard to un-rhyme it, but the book persisted (and perhaps insisted?) on staying in rhyme. It wasn’t until years later, after the book had been sold, that I realized why my brain insisted that the book be written in rhyming verse. DNA nucleotides always pair up in the same way: adenine with thymine, and cytosine with guanine, which is similar to the “pairing” that occurs with rhyming words! 

The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA explains the basics of genes and chromosomes and discusses why baby animals look like their parents and we look like our family members. But it also touches on the limits of DNA, and how our choices also determine who we become. It contains back matter with more DNA facts and an experiment that kids can do at home!

 

SECRET CODE Illustration 5
Interior spread from The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Little Bee Books ©2021.

 

CP: I LOVE that experiment and I can’t wait to try it and that makes perfect sense about why it had to rhyme! You host a fabulous podcast with Artemis Roehrig called STEM Women in KidLit which has featured Melissa Stewart, Vicky Fang, Kirsten Larson, Jennifer Swanson, Stacy McAnulty, and so many more incredible authors! Have you noticed any similarities between all these STEM-focused women?

RL: Thanks so much! Artemis and I have had such a wonderful time doing the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast and talking to a wide variety of women with STEM backgrounds who write or illustrate books for kids. One of the common themes we’ve noticed among these creators is that they all have a sense of wonder about the world we live in and how it works, and they feel compelled to share this wonder with young readers. Another common theme is that these creators are willing to try different things and risk failure—because hypothesizing, experimenting, and learning from failure are all part of the STEM process as well.

 

CP: Of course! That makes perfect sense. At the start of this interview, we talked about making room for the different parts of your work life. I wonder if you’d mind talking about making room for different parts of your emotional life, as well. I know you lost a beloved family member to Covid-19 and it happened at a time when you were having so much success in your writing life. It must have been difficult to balance the sorrows and joys brought on by two such wildly contrasting life events. What helped you through it? 

RL: This has been such a difficult time for the entire world. All I can say is that there is still joy to be found in the midst of sorrow, and the people we love stay with us long after they’re gone. One side effect of all this time spent at home with family is that we try to enjoy the little moments and live in the present. It’s not always possible, but we keep trying.

 

CP: Thank you, Rajani. What powerful reminders. So, what’s next for you?

RL: I have a picture book and another middle-grade novel coming in 2022!

I’ll Go and Come Back will be published by Candlewick on March 29, 2022. It’s a picture book about a little girl named Jyoti who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, Jyoti makes her feel better. This story, which is close to my heart, is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return. It’s the first book I sold, way back in March 2018.

 My next middle-grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other.

 

CP: Those sound terrific! I can’t wait to add them to my growing Rajani LaRocca collection. Thanks for making time to chat and best of luck with all your upcoming books!

RL: I loved chatting with you, Colleen! Thanks so much for having me and for asking such great questions!

 

Rajani LaRocca Author 3
Photo credit: ©Carter Hasegawa.

BRIEF BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning novels and picture books, including Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Red, White, and Whole (2021), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks.

 

 

 

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BUY RAJANI’S BOOKS HERE:

WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET

SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS

BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS

MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS 

THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Website: www.RajaniLaRocca.com

Twitter and Instagram: @rajanilarocca

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rajanilaroccawriter

 

MORE ON RAJANI LAROCCA:

Writing Like a Doctor, Doctoring Like a Writer MG Book Village

SummerThyme Chocolate-Chunk Cookies with Citrus ZestThe Book Hive

Out to the Ballgame with Rajani LaRoccaKirkus Reviews Interview

How I Managed to Get Six Books Published in 2021Writer’s Digest

Reading with…Rajani LaRoccaShelf Awareness

One to Read: Rajani LaRoccaStory Monsters Ink

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

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Our Five Fave New Valentine’s Day Books for Kids 2021

A ROUNDUP OF OUR FIVE FAVE

 VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS FOR KIDS

Valentine Heart FreeClipArt

Another year, another wonderful bunch of new Valentine’s Day Books for kids. There’s something here for every little reader in your family so share a book and spread the love!

 

LittleBlueTrucksValentine cvrLITTLE BLUE TRUCK’S VALENTINE
Written by Alice Schertle
Illustrated in the style of Jill McElmurry
(HMH; $13.99, Ages 4 and up)

Little Blue Truck’s Valentine, the latest installment in this popular series, finds Blue delivering cards to all of his friends on the farm. But after delivering all the cards, Blue is sad as he thinks he is not going to be getting any cards in returnor is he? Children will delight in the rhyming text which bounces along as each animal receives a personalized card: an egg-shaped one for Hen, a sail-boat floating one for Duck, and so forth. With the sounds the animals make in bold and in the same colors to match the color of the cards they receive, children will absorb color concepts and animal sounds while enjoying a sweet story of friendship about giving and receiving on this holiday. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili


Bear Meets Bear coverBEAR MEETS BEAR

Written and illustrated by Jacob Grant
(Bloomsbury Children’s; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

What could be cuter than Bear having a crush on Panda? In Bear Meets Bear, the third book in the Bear and Spider series, that’s exactly what happens to the tea-loving bear when Panda shows up on his doorstep. This lovely delivery person bringing him his new teapot also brings him a fluttering heart.

Finding himself lost for words, Bear watches with dismay as she goes away. Spider, Bear’s BFF, watches as his pal becomes besotted with Panda, ordering teapot after teapot just to see her again. Despite Spider’s encouragement to invite Panda over for tea, at her next appearance, Bear again is speechless. When his final teapot order comes, it’s not Panda but a “gruff raccoon.” Bear cannot bear the pain. He yearns to see Panda so his little friend sets off to find her.

When at last he locates Panda, Spider is now the delivery person as he hands her an invitation. The very next day she reappears at the front door and, on Spider’s urging, Bear welcomes her inside for his favorite spot of tea. Love blossoms, but not over tea this time in a charming surprise ending. In the funny final two-page spread readers will enjoy the trio sharing togetherness while a bunch of animals check out assorted tagged teapots in a yard sale. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU
Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Alette Straathof
(Words & Pictures; $18.95, Ages 4-6)

Between the stunning artwork and the variety of animals featured whose varied ways of expressing their love is fascinating, Ways to Say I Love You is a beautiful book to help spread the love.

Singer’s rhyming story introduces young children to nine creatures including bower birds, cranes and dance flies to peacocks, whales and white-tailed deer. “Furry, finned, or birds of a feather, how do critters get together?” While learning about animal courtship, children will also see a comparison of how of kids, teens and adults show their interest in finding a mate whether by bringing flowers or warbling “love songs, too.”

Straathof’s art, textured and with a muted palate, likely digitally created, blends its warm water-color quality across every page. I was drawn to the appealing folk art style, too. Backmatter details how the nine animals find their mates.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Porcupine Cupid coverPORCUPINE CUPID
Written by Jason June
Illustrated by Lori Richmond
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Porcupine is on a mission in the charming picture book Porcupine Cupid. Determined to spread the love for Valentine’s Day, he sets off to find some forest friends for a bit of matchmaking. I just love how we see them hiding from Porcupine in the second spread. Making tracks in the forest then gently pricking his pals with his quill, poor well-intentioned Porcupine only manages to irritate them. Therein lies the humor in this story that works wonderfully with the funny illustrations to convey what the spare text purposely does not.

Once he sees that his quills haven’t had the effect he wanted, Porcupine must find a new way to spread the loving spirit. As a ruse, clever Porcupine pins a poster to a tree alerting all to a town meeting where they can air their grievances. When children realize that his ultimate goal is really to help everyone including Bear, Bunny and Raccoon unknowingly find a mate, they will be pleased as I was at the adorable end results. They may not be matches made in heaven, but the woods is close enough!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Love is Powerful coverLOVE IS POWERFUL
Written by Heather Dean Brewer
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Love Is Powerful, inspired by The 2017 Women’s March, is written by art director Heather Dean Brewer, who participated in the March, along with illustrator and Caldecott Honor recipient, LeUyen Pham. It brings home the message that there are all kinds of love including love for people of every race, gender, and religion, from all walks of life.

Readers are greeted with Pham’s eye popping water-color illustrations showing women, men and children creating signs in the windows of their New York city apartments. Turning the page we see our main character, Mari, at her table with crayons. Mama is seated behind her computer, when Mari asks her what they are coloring. “Mama smiled. A message for the world.”

Pham draws people marching passed Mari’s apartment while Mari presses her nose against the window watching with curiosity. “Mari asked, How will the whole world hear?” “They’ll hear,” Mama said, “because love is powerful.”

The loving teamwork of Mama and her daughter working together to create the signs is beautifully conveyed with both Brewer’s inspiring words and Pham’s evocative drawings. Through Mari’s thoughts, we see illustrations of people from all over the world creating their own signs in various languages but the same message is felt. Signs read “Girl Power,”We will not be silent” and the John Lewis’ quote “We may not have chosen the time. But the time has chosen us.” Ahh, so powerful and so true for today’s political climate.

The streets are packed with more people than Mari could imagine, so again she questions how their message will be heard. “Mama said, ‘They will, little Mari.’” Mari is lifted up on Mama’s shoulders and drawings of red hearts are displayed across the crowd’s heads. We know they are surrounded by like-minded people and lots of love.

Brewer writes, “Mari bobbed above the crowd like a canary fluttering over trees. She felt as tall as one of the buildings.” Holding up her handmade crayoned sign with the words “Love is Powerful,” Mari begins to shout these words then “Through the roar, her voice was heard and someone shouted the message back. Mari yelled again, and more joined in. Again she yelled the message.”

The backmatter displays a letter and photo from the real-life Mari, who explains that she was only six-years-old in 2017 and knew that people were feeling scared and angry. She felt the power as she shouted “Love is Powerful” and the crowd shouted back. This moving and uplifting story needs to be read to children everywhere. Brewer explains that she often felt quiet and small, and felt like no one could hear her. Well, her powerful message of love has been heard now, and she is correct when she says that even the smallest voice has the power to change the world.   • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Click here to read a book we reviewed last year for Valentine’s Day.

 

Additional Recommended Valentine’s Day Reads

See Touch Feel Love cvrSee, Touch, Feel (Volume 1)
by Roger Priddy
(Priddy Books; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

 

 

This Little Cupid coverThis Little Cupid
Nursery Rhyme Board Books Series
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Barbara Bakos
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)

 

How to Help a Cupid
Book #6 of Magical Creatures and Crafts
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo
(Sky Pony; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

 

Love coverLove 
Written by Corrinne Averiss
Illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman
(Words & Pictures, $18.95, Ages 4–6)

 

 

the major eights 6 the secret valentine cvrThe Major Eights #6: The Secret Valentine (paperback)
Written by Melody Reed
Illustrated by Émilie Pépin
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 6-8)

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Mootilda’s Bad Mood

MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call

Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci

(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has.  And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture book Mootilda’s Bad Mood.

 

Int Spread Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

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The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her dolla cow, what else?fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.

The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.

 

int art Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

 

Ranucci’s illustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorfulthe exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.

The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartz and Call have taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.

• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz.
Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.

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Earth Day Books for Kids – A 2020 Roundup

RECOMMENDED READS FOR EARTH DAY

A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.

 

One Little Bag coverONE LITTLE BAG: AN AMAZING JOURNEY
by Henry Cole

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, eBook available, Ages 4-8)

One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.

In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.

Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo!  Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE:
THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit fills in the blanks.

Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.

The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.

This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. Starred Review – Foreward Reviews

 

THE GIRL WHO SPOKE TO THE MOON:The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon cvr
A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND LOVING OUR PLANET
Written by Land Wilson
Illustrated by Sue Cornelison
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Kindle eBook available, Ages 4-8)

Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”

Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.

The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.

 

Christine’s also reviewed If We Were Giants, a middle grade novel ideal for Earth Day reading.

Read an illustrator interview here for Greta and the Giants.

Click here for another recommended read for 🌎Earth Day.

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Five New Christmas Books for Kids – A Roundup of Our Faves

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

– A ROUNDUP –

PART TWO

candy cane free Christmas clip art

 

Jane Foster's Christmas board book cover artJANE FOSTER’S CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Jane Foster
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Illustrator and designer Jane Foster helps make spirits bright with her new board book, Jane Foster’s Christmas. This smartly designed and graphically bold concept book will familiarize babies and toddlers with all the signature items we associate with Christmas. From Santa Claus and sleigh, to gingerbread house and hot chocolate, each spread features a word on the left in black typeface and an illustration on the right. Additional subtle graphic elements on the word pages, like polka dots, waves, trees and stripes are visually pleasing too. The vibrant colors used add to the book’s appeal as does the shininess of the art and text. This board book is sure to get little ones excited for the holiday with its choice of cheery images presented as beautifully as her 10 previous books in the series such as Things That Go, Animal Sounds and First Words. Need a stocking stuffer? Give this to the youngest readers in your house this holiday season.

 

 

All is Merry and Bright board book cover illustrationALL IS MERRY AND BRIGHT
(A Shine Bright Book)

Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Don Clark
(Little Simon; $24.99, Ages 1-4

Here is an oversized, thick and bedazzling board book that needs no wrapping and just begs to be opened like a present. As I turned each page I was treated to a parade of pizzazz, foil and color. The glorious graphics jumped off the page filling me with light and delight. The embossed designs also feel fab to touch so let little fingers wander as they wonder what comes next. The text, spare, but lyrical, promises “joyful smiles” and multiple reads to soak up all the positive energy emanating from between the covers. It’s less a story and more a celebration of the joy that Christmas brings. A glowing review for this shiny, happy book that you can feel confident when adding to your Christmas reading list!

 

 

If Animals Celebrated Christmas book cover illustrationIF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by David Walker
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

The latest in Ann Whitford Paul’s charming series of rhyming stories, If Animals Celebrated Christmas, ponders what each particular animal would do for the holiday. Koala lovers will be happy these marsupials feature prominently in this tale as do penguins, cranes, buffalo, turtles, owls, oryx, beaver and hedgehogs. Crustaceans also grace the pages. “Crabs would scamper from the deep, dark sea, and build a seashell Christmas tree.” Illustrator Walker’s topped that Christmas tree with a starfish, making it my favorite spread. If you’re curious what the others get up to, be sure to include this book in your holiday shopping. It’s a recommended read-aloud that provides a fun jumping off point for a discussion about what other creatures might do to make the holiday their own.

 

 

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? book cover illustrationWHERE DO DIGGERS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Christian Slade
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

If you’ve got an “all things tractors, diggers and cranes” fan at home, make sure to add Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? to your holiday collection. While in some places the rhyme meter felt slightly off, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture book. In fact I was rather impressed how Sayres came up with such clever ways for vehicles to celebrate. And in case kiddos didn’t know it, diggers, cherry pickers, forklifts, mixers, cranes, tankers, tow trucks, tractors, food trucks and even Zambonis celebrate Christmas by doing the exact same things they do. That means stringing lights, singing Christmas carols and even sharing egg nog with their families. Illustrator Slade’s put a mouse on the pages too, so children can watch out for what the creature gets up to in every spread. Wheels are the way to go in this charming, feel good Christmas story.

 

A Tuba Christmas book cover illustrationA TUBA CHRISTMAS
Written by Helen L. Wilbur
Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Who knew that tuba Christmas concerts were a thing? Now that I know about them, having read A Tuba Christmas, I cannot wait to attend one! Unlike my family, the family members in this picture book all play an instrument, and when the story begins, it’s time for the youngest child, Ava, to choose an instrument, too. Everyone is surprised, however, when Ava decides to take up the tuba. She’s helped along by lessons from Rodney, a compassionate high schooler in the marching band. When the tuba’s challenges (it’s clearly rather cumbersome) get to her along with the kids at school (as well as her brothers) teasing her about the tuba, Ava’s ready to call it quits. But Rodney’s not concerned about her progress and invites her to participate in a tuba holiday concert at her school at just the right time. Being part of an ensemble is exactly the kind of supportive and spirited musical environment Ava needs. The audience is enthralled and impressed with the concert including Ava’s performance and she’s over the moon. As Rodney like suspected, rather than giving up on the instrument and her instruction, Ava feels proud of her accomplishment and decides to continue playing. Back matter details the history behind Tuba Christmas concerts and will likely have readers seeking out the nearest one this holiday season. Uhles’s cheerful illustrations pair wonderfully with the exuberance of the tale and perfectly capture Ava’s up and down moments. Wilbur’s written a special kind of Christmas story to share because, in addition to centering around the holiday, it’s also a heartwarming tale about perseverance and how wonderful and motivating it feels when someone (in this case Ava’s instructor) has your back. 

 

  • Reviews by Ronna Mandel


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker

lllustrated by AG Ford
Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Oliver Elephant 
Written by Lou Peacock
Illustrated by Helen Stephens 
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Click here to see Part One of our 2018 Christmas book suggestions.

 

 

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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.

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Fun New Characters Feature in The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

THE THREE LITTLE PUGS
Written and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

THE LITTLE RED FORT
Written by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The following pair of pleasing picture books, The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Fort feature updated and revitalized tales with fresh characters and wonderful word choices in two debut stories sure to delight young readers.

 

Cover art of pugs and cat from The Three Little PugsPugs replace pigs in Crittenden’s humorous THE THREE LITTLE PUGS, while the huffing-puffing wolf becomes a snoozy-sleepy cat who takes over the pugs’ cozy bed. Playing off the traditional story’s theme to build with straw, sticks or bricks, the pugs employ familiar household substitutes. Drinking straws, drumsticks and snaplock toy bricks don’t help the pups oust the cat from their wicker bed basket. How can the pug trio broker a lasting peace with the snoozing intruder?

Crittenden’s light, bright illustrations are perfectly suited to the short, sweet text full of rhyme and repetition. There is plenty of action from the busy and resourceful pups to keep the pages turning quickly. While this pug-a-licious tale could convince a few toddlers to embrace their nap schedules, the twist ending also lends itself as a fresh bedtime story selection perfect for a cuddle and a snuggle, pug-style.

 

 

Cover art from The Little Red FortThe Little Red Hen becomes an able, ambitious little sister in Maier’s THE LITTLE RED FORT. Young Ruby wants to build a backyard fort, but her brothers refuse to help. When they say “You don’t know how to build anything,” Ruby shrugs and responds “Then I’ll learn.” She forges ahead with drafting plans, gathering supplies and cutting boards. Along the way she is skillfully assisted by the adults in the family (parents and a grandmother!) Once the fort is finished, Ruby is satisfied with some peaceful solo playtime until her brothers express an interest in her awesome project. Will they find a way to make it up to Ruby after scorning her efforts? The clever twist ending is modern, engaging and satisfying for all.

Sánchez puts bold colors and loose, sketchy lines to vibrant use, portraying pig-tailed Ruby with determination and enthusiasm. The large, textured images are well-matched to Maier’s subtle patterned prose, echoing the traditional text in format and expanding the storyline to contemporary sensibilities. Determination, cooperation and creativity are powerful themes woven into the story with care while simple childhood fun and warm family life will be foremost in readers’ minds.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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I Am Famous & Shark Nate-O: A Double Dose of Luebbe and Cattie

I AM FAMOUS
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
&
SHARK NATE-O
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Daniel Duncan
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

A delightful double dose of picture book pleasure reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

I Am Famous cover imageKiely, surrounded by devoted family and friends, is confident that her celebrity status is widespread and well-deserved in I AM FAMOUS, the first picture book from prolific story sisters Luebbe and Cattie.

Kids will cackle at super-cool Kiely’s misperceptions. She continually interprets the behavior of her doting family – posting videos, taking photos, indulging her whims – as signs of her special stardom. But what will the spunky mini-diva do when she stumbles and stops sparkling in the pressure of the spotlight? The intersection of fame and family is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a wink to modern parents about over-sharing the ordinary achievements of their spirited progeny.

Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations deftly bring Kiely’s personality to life from cover to cover. Dazzling accessories and bright, bold colors spring off the page. Touches of borrowed glamour pair well with Kiely’s expressive face and energetic motion, keeping young readers entertained and amused. There is a lot of fun and flair on display enhancing the confident, snappy text. Diva-licious!

 

Cover image from Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky CattieNate is a shark fanatic, but must learn how to swim before he can transform into the one and only SHARK NATE-O in this pool perfect fish tale from Luebbe and Cattie.

Obsessed with sharks, Nate fills his world with shark facts that he can’t resist sharing and even acting out, much to his older brother’s chagrin. But when it comes to light that Nate can’t swim, he isn’t put off for long. Enrolling in swim lessons, Nate learns to prove his water-worthiness by blowing bubbles, using a kickboard, and eventually swimming solo. Will Nate’s determination and persistence pay off in time to challenge his brother in tryouts for the ultimate prize – membership on the Shark swim team?

Duncan’s fun illustrations make a splash in noteworthy settings by incorporating plenty of shark décor and pool puns. Filled with heart and humor, Nate’s expressions and body language invigorate the appealing story with clever, imaginative elements. The authors include more shark facts at the end for readers who just can’t get enough of this jaw-some tale perfect for enjoying between summer swims. Download an activity kit here.

 

Read about another debut #Epic18 picture book review by Cathy here.

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Kids Halloween Books Roundup 2017 Part Two

 MORE HALLOWEEN FAVES

 

Herbert’s First HalloweenHerbert's First Halloween book cover image
Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Steven Henry
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 2-4)

I’ll never forget my son’s first Halloweens. He was dressed up as pirate and ready to join the ranks with a seasoned pro, his older sister. But before we stepped foot out of the front door, a trick-or-treating ghost rang the doorbell. When we opened the door to offer candy, my son dashed behind me and refused to leave the house. Even the prospect of candy couldn’t get him to budge. I’ll hand it to the father in Herbert’s First Halloween, he has a gentle way about him to help ease his little one’s apprehension. As the story unfolds, “Herbert was not sure about Halloween.” Readers can see the reluctance in his eyes as Henry’s illustrations so warmly depict. At the same time, the passion and excitement about the holiday are written all over Herbert’s father’s face. He’s determined to make this first Halloween a special one for his son, even sharing photos of when he was young dressed up like a cowboy. Soon, Herbert’s more engaged, asking questions about costumes and his dad is all too happy to accommodate his son’s desire to be a tiger. On Halloween the pair encounter neighborhood kids in what is perhaps my favorite spread in the book. There’s something magical about that first time taking to the streets under the glow of street lamps, candy bucket in had, trying to figure out who is who behind the masks and zany outfits. Though it’s a pretty simple story, it’s totally age appropriate. There’s a genuine feel-good quality about Rylant’s prose when coupled with the old-fashioned picture book style off-white paper, choice of font and Henry’s charming artwork. When seeking a book to help lessen a child’s fear of Halloween, Herbert’s First Halloween, is a terrific tale to turn to.

 

cvr art Little Skeletons Canticos WorldLittle Skeletons: Countdown to Midnight/
Esqueletitos: Un Libro Para Contar En El Dia De Los Muertos
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $19.99, Ages 4-8 )

Whether you’re interested in buying this accordion style bilingual board book for Halloween or Day of the Dead, it won’t matter to your kids. They’ll love the artwork, the book’s layout and reversibility from English to Spanish and vice versa, the interactive clock face and the rhythm of the tune which when translated from Spanish is called “The Skeletons Come Out of the Tomb.” The origins of this song remain a mystery, but that won’t stop parents from finding a fun beat to share with youngsters when reading out loud. The book comes packaged in a sturdy box and while all the interior artwork is black and white, there’s a touch of color on both the box and book covers. Count up to 12 with Esqueletitos and teach the time too with the help of all the adorable skeletons. In addition to the two-books-in-one feature, there’s also a free sing-along app to accompany the book. 

In a Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories: In a Dark Dark Room and Other Scary Stories I Can Read 2 cvr image
I Can Read! Level 2/Guided Reading Level J
Retold by Alvin Schwartz
Illustrated by Victor Rivas
(HarperCollins Children’s; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

This hard cover book is labeled a high interest story for developing readers. It instantly took me back to my days at camp where scary stories were always told around a crackling fire and then afterwards I was the only one who couldn’t fall asleep. Why do counselors do that? Anyway, depending on your child’s fear level, you may want to consider reading this in the daytime. There are some classic tales that I recognized and got such a kick out of reading again, especially as engagingly recounted by Schwartz and illustrated vividly by Rivas. For example, The Green Ribbon is the tale of a charming girl whose head was attached to her body with said ribbon which is why she never removed it until her deathbed. Perhaps the most chilling of the seven poems and stories is The Night it Rained. Here’s a story many adults may recall about a driver picking up a rain soaked young boy and loaning him his sweater only to discover the next day that the boy was a ghost. There’s also a foreword and back matter about the author, the illustrator and where the stories originated.

 

Cover art from Ella and Owen The Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight Bk 4Ella and Owen: The Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight (Book #4)
Written by Jaden Kent
Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 6-8)

Ella and Owen are twin dragons who, while seeking adventure, always end up in some kind of mess. In this, the fourth book in the series, the siblings end up being out at night while trying to escape some trolls. A light in the distance, however, doesn’t end up leading them to safety. Instead it turns out to be from candles belonging to the nasty Pumpkin King. Exasperated, the siblings just want to find a way out of the Terror Swamp and so the orange body-less guy offers them a deal. If they can recover his body from the local witch, he’ll give them an escape map. Jaden Kent, a writing team of two authors, has the dragons encounter obstacle after obstacle while peppering each of the nine brief chapters with humor and language first and second graders will enjoy. I mean what kid doesn’t like the idea of a pumpkin pie fight? Bodnaruk’s spiced up this pumpkin themed story with plenty of black and white illustrations to entertain young readers and help them feel accomplished as they fly through this book. There’s a surprise love angle to this particular volume providing LOL moments with dialogue such as, “Okay. This just got really weird,” that kids will relate to. A bonus is a sneak peak at book #5 Ella and Owen: The Great Troll Quest which I’m sure will be as engaging as this one.
Find more Ella and Owen books here.

 

Don’t Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True StoriesDon't Read This Book Before Bed cover image NatGeoKids
Written by Anna Claybourne
(National Geographic Kids; $14.99, Ages 10 and up)

If you want to get older kids scared, this 144 page book should do the trick. After deciding I wasn’t brave enough to read the stories rated over a five in the Fright-O-Meter provided, I braced myself, chicken that I am, and made my selections using that number as my guide. For a tween who gets spooked easily, suggest something else, but if they’re the sort who truly finds the creepy stuff cool, the two-paged table of contents can provide a tantalizing tease with titles like The Real Life Dracula, Telepathic Twins, Island of the Dolls and The Green Children of Woolpit. NatGeoKids.com does these almanac-style paperback books better than anyone else with their great images, creepy fonts and fascinating factoids that your kids will want to share with friends. Pages six and seven explain how to use the book which was where I learned about, and was grateful for, the Fright-O-Meter. On top of the visual fright fest and the accompanying tales, there are six quizzes scattered throughout the book, a great way for kids to catch their breath which they may not have realized they were holding. My recommendation: bring this book to a Halloween party. Why be the only one awake at night? Seriously though, this one’s a year round treat.

Read part one of this Halloween roundup here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Painting Pepette

PAINTING PEPETTE
Written by Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by Claire Fletcher
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Painting_Pepette cover image

 

You don’t have to be a Francophile to fall for Painting Pepette, a charming new picture book by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher. Journey back with me to 1920s Paris to meet the adorable Josette and her stuffed animal rabbit, Pepette.

 

Painting_Pepette_Interior_Image2_the_great_room
Interior spread from Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher, Little Bee Books ©2016.

 

Young Josette adores her plush pet Pepette, but realizes that among all the lovely family portraits hanging in the great room at #9 Rue Lafette, there is none of her beloved rabbit. Determined to change that, Josette heads to the most popular place for a 1920s Paris artist to paint, high up in scenic Montmartre.

There amidst the assorted artists’ imaginations, easels and colorful atmosphere, Josette crosses paths with Picasso, Dali, Chagall and Matisse. Each of these famed artists is eager to capture the likeness of Pepette in their own unique way. The only catch is that Josette feels the completed artists’ masterpieces do not quite convey the true Pepette she knows and loves. And naturally, Pepette agrees. Clearly the only thing left to do at this point is to paint the portrait herself!

Lodding’s use of rhyming words like Josette, Pepette, Lafette and even the family schnoodle, Frizette, along with un petit peu of French words make Painting Pepette a recommended read aloud story. Her selection of artists allows her to have fun with the little girl’s search for the perfect portrait painter. Lodding even includes a brief Author’s Note to explain the time period when these four famous artists painted.

 

Painting_Pepette_Interior_Image5_meeting_Picasso_in_Montmartre
Interior spread from Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher, Little Bee Books ©2016.

 

Fletcher captures the essence of 1920s Paris in every illustration and introduces children to the unique artists and their signature styles. Picasso’s take on Pepette includes two noses and three ears. Dali envisions the rabbit as a variation of The Persistence of Memory. Chagall paints Pepette up in the clouds like a star, et bien sûr, Matisse employs a plethora of color on his palette, “But Pepette isn’t pink,” notes a disappointed Josette.

Together, Lodding and Fletcher have created a picture book that, after entertaining them, might very well inspire children to get out the water colors or acrylics and get into some serious portrait painting of all their favorite stuffed animals. Dabble on!

Don’t miss:

Painting Pepette Trailer

Downloadable Activity

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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ABCs of the Web and Web Design for Kids

We’re Talking All Things Web Today
With ABCs of the Web & Web Design for Kids

 

Math maven Lucy Ravitch is back to share two books about the web which she says are sure to be a hit with parents who want their youngsters to be “in the know” with the computer world and what makes it tick.

ABCs of the Web book coverABCs of the Web, written by John C. Vanden-Heuvel, Sr. and Andrey Ostrovsky, MD, with illustrations by Tom Holmes ( Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 4-8), has recently been released as a board book and it’s brilliant! The sturdiness of the pages is ideal for the age group geared for this primer. The catchy rhythm that goes along with it reminds me a bit of Dr. Suess’s ABC book. Just listen…

A is for Anchor tag
Attach with A.
Explore with A.
What begins with A?
Anchor tag brings elements together for a day.

I think it’s a wonderful idea to teach kids at an early age. In its clever approach, the book teaches the basics of a lot of internet lingo and elements. It would be an interesting activity after reading the book to go on the web with your child and look up examples of some of the alphabet letters presented. Even if the child doesn’t understand all the terms, the book is laid out in such a fun way with simple and sleek illustrations I feel kids will ask for it to be read again and again. In fact, it even kept me engaged as a parent! Using such simple words, the authors did a great job of teaching complex topics. Though it’s recommended for ages 4-8, I think you could even introduce this book to younger children.  Concepts are: Domain, Elements, Function, Google, HTML, Internet, JavaScript, Keyword, Link, Mozilla, Node.js, Open Source, PHP, Query, Ruby, SEO, Tag, URL, Virus, WordPress, XML, YouTube, and Z-index.

Web Design for Kids book coverAfter reading Web Design for Kids: Coding for Kids Series, also written by John C. Vanden-Heuvel, Sr., with illustrations by Cristian Turdera (Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 4-8), I’d say this 2.0 Geeked out Lift-the-flap edition is more suited for a bit of an older child than the previous title. While it has fewer pages than the other, the pages are more text heavy and the lift-the-flaps seem suited more for an older kids who will be more careful not to pull too hard. Topics included are HTML, CSS, and Javascript. They are each briefly explained and creatively illustrated along with several elements taught within those topics.

Since there is a lot of information in the book, perhaps it should be taken a couple of pages per sitting (even though your child will probably want to lift every flap). My four-year-old daughter enjoyed the pictures and wanted to go much faster than I could read all the information as she was busy flipping open the flaps. I thoroughly enjoyed Web Design for Kids and frankly learned a lot of info myself. While my techie oriented family found the book fun, I recognize it may not be for every child. If your child likes nonfiction books and learning new things though, this is definitely a fab find. Overall, both books are clever and engaging, providing an entertaining and educational way to talk about the elements of the world wide web and web design.

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch
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Little Bee Books Mother’s Day & Father’s Day Giveaway

CELEBRATE MOTHER’S DAY & FATHER’S DAY
WITH LITTLE BEE BOOKS
CUDDLES FOR MOMMY & THE BEST PART OF DADDY’S DAY

Reviews and Giveaway

 

LittleBeeBooks

BOOK REVIEWS

Cuddles_For_MommyCuddles for Mommy
Written by Ruby Brown
Illustrated by Tina Macnaughton
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a read aloud picture book moms won’t tire of sharing with youngsters on Mother’s Day or any day. What kind of cuddle do you like best? There are all kinds of cuddles and in the pages of this sweet picture book, Little Owl is wondering which one’s her favorite and decides to try them all. Mommy Owl is on the joyful receiving end of all the hugs.

 

The good morning – a wake up time cuddle.
The good-bye – a leaving for school cuddle.
The “I’m sorry” – a way to apologize for doing something wrong cuddle.
The “I’m scared” – when mommy’s reassuring hug helps quell fears and makes nightmares go away.
There are also the thank you cuddle, happy cuddle, the proud cuddle, the “I’m sick” cuddle, and the good night cuddle. But the best kind of cuddle for any time or any place is the Mommy Cuddle “Just because I love you!” And that’s sure hard to argue with. Brown has picked cuddles for her book’s subject and it works wonderfully. She’s created a feel good picture book that’s great for story time or bedtime. And since it’s just the right length, Cuddles for Mommy will leave lots of time for some quality cuddling at the end. I hadn’t ever considered how many cuddles and hugs we give to one another, but I’m glad Brown did. Macnaughton’s chosen a variety of background colors to highlight her illustrations that also add a cheery mood to this story. Plus, with her depictions of Little Owl and Mommy Owl, she’s found a way to make the cuddling of the two owls look believable without turning their bodies into cartoon characters. An endearing story for a special holiday, Cuddles for Mommy would make a great gift for Mother’s Day.

Cuddles_For_Mommy_int_art
Interior artwork from Cuddles for Mommy written by Ruby Brown with illustrations by Tina Macnaughton, Little Bee Books © 2016

 

The_Best_Part_of_Daddys_DayThe Best Part of Daddy’s Day
Written and illustrated by Claire Alexander
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
The strong message of love in both Cuddles for Mommy and The Best Part of Daddy’s Day is an important one for young readers. I may have guessed the ending in Alexander’s new picture book, The Best Part of Daddy’s Day, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying every page and remembering my son feeling the same way at the same age as Bertie, the narrator. Bertie wishes he could spend the day with his dad, but dad’s a builder and must make tracks to work while Bertie goes to school. Throughout the course of Bertie’s school day, he finds himself thinking about his dad and trying to recreate the experience of being a builder. Sometimes he has success and other times he doesn’t – like when a classmate gets footprints on Bertie’s artwork of a crane like the one his dad operates. The highlight of Bertie’s school day is climbing to the top of the jungle gym where he is certain he can see his dad up in the crane constructing a skyscraper. When school ends it turns out Bertie’s daddy has had quite similar experiences at his job, even spotting his son on the jungle gym! But during a bedtime story, Bertie’s dad reveals that the best part of his day isn’t actually when he’s at work. No, it’s when he comes home and gets to snuggle up close to his son. Bertie agrees that the feeling is mutual. Alexander’s written a delightful story for budding builders and those who dream of following in a parent’s footsteps. The watercolor illustrations are tender yet playful, just perfect for the subject matter. Make reading The Best Part of Daddy’s Day the best part of your day and get a copy today.

The_Best_Part_of_Daddys_Day_Int_art
Interior artwork from The Best Part of Daddy’s Day written and illustrated by Claire Alexander, Little Bee Books © 2016.
  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Easter Books for Children – A Roundup

Three Easter Books for Children

A Roundup

 

FIve_Little_BunniesFIVE LITTLE BUNNIES
Written by Tish Rabe
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

(Harper; $6.99, Ages Newborn – 4)

This charming 16 page board book invites parents and children to recite every line.
The first bunny said, “We’re here! Let’s stop! Let’s hide Easter eggs. We all know how. We need to hurry. Let’s start right now!” So the bunnies make plans to hide a lot of eggs, under trees, in bushes, next to flowers. All kinds of eggs, too – striped ones, spotted ones so kids are in for a treat. The watchful, eager bunnies wait until all the little children arrive and start the hunt. With their job successfully completed, the bunnies are free to hippity hop away, leaving youngsters on the lookout for all the eggs they can find!

 

This_Little_BunnyTHIS LITTLE BUNNY
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Sanja Rescek
(Little Bee Books; 5.99, Ages 3-6)

This Little Bunny, an adorable 16 page board book, will fit right into any Easter basket and promises to bring lots of sweet smiles your way. Written with nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy” in mind, naturally the first little bunny goes to the market. The next one bakes a cake, and another makes cookies. As all the bunnies in the story get ready for Easter by decorating, painting eggs and such, one little bunny feels the need to take a break (perhaps my favorite activity or lack thereof).  Kids will love the closing line of “We … we … we … wish you a Happy Easter!” While the story ends on this high note, you’re far from finished because I’m certain kids will want you to read this one again and again. Remember to buy several copies then head – wee … wee … wee … all the way home to enjoy!

 

its-the-easter-beagle-charlie-brown-9781481461597_lgIT’S THE EASTER BEAGLE, CHARLIE BROWN
by Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by Daphne Pendergrass 

Illustrated by Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster; $7.99, Ages 3-8)

The whole gang’s here for all you Peanuts fans. And while everyone from Linus to Lucy, Marcie to Peppermint Patty, Schroeder to Sally, and Charlie Brown to Snoopy, are getting ready for the Easter celebration, Linus wonders what all the fuss and preparation is about. “The Easter Beagle does all that,” Linus announces. Poor Marcie cannot seem to get the knack of coloring eggs, Sally wants new shoes for the holiday, Snoopy is dreaming of befriending bunnies, and all the while Linus is insisting no one need worry about all the eggs gone wrong because the Easter Beagle will bring lots more eggs. But will the Easter Beagle really show up and save the gang from big disappointment, especially Lucy? Find out how Snoopy surprises everyone in this delightful new tale to share this Easter holiday.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

TadAndDad_TAD3

We really need a Father’s MONTH or even more to celebrate all the amazing things that dads do. That’s why Good Reads With Ronna dedicates this post to fathers everywhere and the kids who love them. Incidentally, this year I noticed a new theme pop up in some of the picture books I’m reviewing. It’s noises, the kinds that dads make. You’ll see what I mean soon.

TadandDadcvr.jpgTad and Dad is written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein, (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Tad the tadpole loves his dad, lots. He wants to be just like him, whether it’s making singing sounds in an echoing BUUURRPP or splashing sounds on touchdown after reaching new heights by jumping. Littles ones who have this endearing picture book read to them will also relate to Tad the tadpole wanting to spend the night beside his dad on the same lily pad. Trouble is, Tad’s growing up pretty fast and, as he grows, he naturally occupies more space … on his dad’s lily pad!

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Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

That means that at bedtime, when he asks to hop up next to Dad, any movement he makes is bound to be felt by his dad. And lately Dad’s been feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted.

“Tad!” said Dad, “When you jump in my bed, I can’t sleep because you’re always wiggling and poking, kicking and croaking!”

Kinda sounds familiar, huh? But when Tad offers to sleep all by himself on his own lily pad, Dad realizes he actually has more trouble getting to sleep without Tad by his side. This heartwarming tale of froggy affection makes its point effectively in a most delightful Stein way. That means with humor, whimsical artwork and most of all, with love.

IfMyDadWereanAnimalcvr.jpgIf My Dad Were an Animal is written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7). With very few words, this sweet picture book succeeds as a tribute to the many qualities that dads possess. Last month I reviewed If My Mom Were a Bird for Mother’s Day. The big difference in this companion book is that in If My Dad Were an Animal, boys and girls compare their dads to an assortment of animals. Some are like a “great, big, hairy … yak.” Or maybe stylish like a penguin. wise like a hooty owl or strong and burly like an elephant.

If My Dad Were an Animal Spread 1
Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

What works so well in this story is that Robaard has included each dad in the spread when the animals are revealed making it easy to show the  comparison with very young children. Her watercolor illustrations are not overly embellished, but don’t need to be because all her creatures are adorable and full of personality.

If My Dad Were an Animal Spread 2
Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

Parents can engage their youngsters with this tale by inviting them to think up more animals and characteristics they share with dads. The colorful pages of text contrast beautifully with the vast white space Robaard has intentionally left in order to draw attention to the child imitating his or her dad (see above).  All in all, If My Dad Were an Animal is an ideal picture book for Father’s Day and everyday.

DaddySatonaDuckcvr.jpgDaddy Sat on a Duck is written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $15.00, Ages 3-6). Read the review, then scroll back up to enter Cohn’s hysterical giveaway here. I deliberately put the giveaway at the top because I absolutely love it and wish I could enter! It’s witty, quirky and seems to target the free range parent just like his debut picture book. The book opens with a *Note to reader: Try making the noises. You won’t be disappointed. And after reading the first two spreads, I dashed off to show my husband that there was someone else with his sense of humor. The fact that they’re both New Yorkers helps, but you don’t have to be from the Big Apple to find yourself laughing out loud at lots of the main character’s lines.

Cohn has created an offbeat picture book that should definitely not be designated a Father’s Day book because it’s simply too funny to take out only once a year for the holiday. In this tale, the narrator, a little girl, keeps hearing the call of the wild (daddy), in other words, sounds such as farts, yawns, or howls that could easily be mistaken for lions, hippos, and other feral creatures big and small.

I was starting to feel like I lived in a zoo.
So I asked my best friend if she felt that way, too.
“Do YOU ever notice wild beasts in your house?”
She said, “Only once” — when her mom saw a mouse.

In reality, she’s hearing the daily noises emanating from her father’s body, noises that eventually she learns to accept as part and parcel of being around her terrific loving dad. In addition to appreciating Cohn’s clever rhyming text, readers should scan his illustrations (created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) several times so as not to miss even the smallest of details. My particular faves are illustrations of Uncle Johnny and Daddy singing and playing bass and guitar to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin,’ a penguin at the piano and Golden Doodle Louie with his shredded toilet paper tube. I’m happy Cohn’s tackled the topic of noises AND smells candidly and comically, and now look forward to what he does in his next book, Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard due out in the fall.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Best Picture Books for Mother’s Day – A Roundup

A MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. I get to kick my feet up, relax, and get spoiled for several blissful hours. Okay, who am I kidding? That actually doesn’t really happen chez moi, but that’s not what Mother’s Day is about anyway, is it? Love is really at the core of this special day. Let’s look at some picture books that celebrate all kinds of moms in all kinds of ways, because no mom is the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Are You My Mommy? AreYouMyMommycvr.jpgby Mary Murphy (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 0-3) – This lift-the-flaps board book features an adorable little light blue collared  puppy meeting lots of different animals as he asks, “Are you my mommy?” Naturally, each animal encountered replies no and explains what animal he is. “No, I’m a sheep.” The reveal is each animal’s own special baby, from a lamb to a calf, a foal and a kitten, a piglet and a duckling until the most lovely surprise, the puppy’s mommy, a purple collared dog. As little ones enjoy the colorful illustrations done in mixed media with bold black outlines, they’ll learn new words and have fun lifting all the die-cut flaps.

Mom School MomSchoolcvr.jpgby Rebecca Van Slyke with illustrations by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – What a clever idea, a school for moms! I sure could have used a class or two at this place because, while I may be great at cutting and gluing like the little girl narrating this charming story, I never had a lesson in the cool kinds of classes she imagines her mom attended. There’s the essential learning how to grocery shop without losing your child class. There’s pitching 101 so moms can toss a ball that’s easy to hit. And of course, we can’t leave out the ever popular, and delicious, cupcake baking course. Here’s one of my faves, and it’s got to be called Mom’s Mandatory Multi-tasking:

 

 At Mom School, they learn how to do more than one thing at a time,
like talking on the phone and fixing my hair, and making dinner while
listening to a song I just made up.

 

Mom School is a sweet, positive picture book not just for Mother’s Day because the skills moms acquire at this school are utilized throughout the year. The adorable, humorous pastel-toned artwork by Burris is expressive and cheerful. Kids are going to enjoy thinking of other classes that their moms are likely to have attended and perhaps, inspired by Van Slyke’s words and Burris’ illustrations, they can try their hand at drawing their own pictures to show all the neat things moms know.

If-My-Mom-Were-a-Bird-cvr.jpgIf My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7) – is such an imaginative, beautiful picture book. “If your mom were a bird,” it says on the book’s back cover, “what kind of bird would she be?” There is not a lot of text in this picture book, but the economy of words works wonderfully because the type of bird each child imagines their mother would be is perfectly presented in the artwork.

               If my mom were a bird, she would surely be a watchful … hawk.

The watercolor illustrations on the pages feel crisp, joyful and complement the traits the kids have chosen,

If-My-Mom-Were-a-Bird-Spread-1.jpg
Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

capturing the mood without a lot of description.

If-My-Mom-Were-a-Bird-Spread2.jpg
Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

 

As with Mom School, If My Mom Were a Bird is a year round story, but also just right to share on Mother’s Day.

Two other terrific picture books I’d like to recommend are:
Heather Has Two MommiesHeather-Has-Two-Mommies.jpg by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Laura Cornell (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – This is a brand-new edition of the modern classic. And for Mother’s Day, what’s better than having one mom? Having two!! There are many different kinds of families and the family depicted in Heather Has Two Mommies is a family unit made up of two moms, no dad.  What counts in families is not being just like every other family, but being loved.

 

Pete the Cat: Rock on, Mom and Dad!PeteTheCat-Rock-On-Mom-Dad.jpg by James Dean (HarperFestival; $6.99, Ages 4-8) – Kids who are crazy about the cat will go wild for this paperback which includes 30 stickers, a fold-out poster and cards. How does a grateful cat say thank you to his parents for all they do? How can he show them how much he loves them? His big, smart brother Bob tells him,

                                          “It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it.”

And in a classic example of actions speaking louder than words, Pete composes a song and plays it for his parents. He rocks it out of the park and right into their hearts.

–  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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