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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah!
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”

And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale had me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.

When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.

All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“

I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.

Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

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New Halloween Books for Kids 2020

NEW HALLOWEEN READS

A ROUNDUP

 

pumpkin freeclipart

 

 

This seven-book roundup covers wickedly wonderful Halloween season reads. From a gentle book about the fall season to spooky ghouls, goblin-witches, ghosts, vampires, a witch’s hut, and a haunted house, we’ve got you covered.

 

The Little Kitten coverTHE LITTLE KITTEN
Written and illustrated by Nicola Killen

(Paula Wiseman Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Review – Kirkus

With whimsical art in blacks, whites, and grays offset with oranges and foil accents, The Little Kitten embodies the spirit of autumn. Leaves blow across the pages, bringing movement that propels Ollie on her adventure. As promised by the title, there is a little kitten, but also Ollie’s cat, Pumpkin. Nicola Killen’s art and storyline

beautifully convey the playful, loving spirit of this book. It’s a pleasure to see a gentle story that’s engaging and fulfilling—it even has a surprise ending, shh!

She Wanted to be Haunted cvrSHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED
Written by Marcus Ewert
Illustrated by Susie Ghahremani

(Bloomsbury; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I’m a sucker for a great book title and just had to read Marcus Ewert’s She Wanted to Be Haunted—plus, what a great idea! As promised, Clarissa, an “adorable and pink” cottage finds herself disappointed with her appearance. Her father is a castle and her mother a witch’s hut, but Clarissa got the short end of the broomstick with her undeniable cuteness. “Daisies grew around her, / squirrels scampered on her lawn. / Life was just delightful! / —and it made Clarissa yawn.”

What kid hasn’t felt bored when things were mellow and nice? Susie Ghahremani’s hand-painted artwork brings Clarissa to life in (dreaded!) upbeat colors. Inside, on Clarissa’s fuchsia, wallpapered walls, we sneak a peek at her family’s photos and, yes, she’s surely the oddball of the bunch. My favorite scenes involve the surprise ending. If you want to know if Clarissa’s attempts to gloom-down her appearance work, you’ll have to read the book. Trust me, the ending is awesome! Click here for a coloring page.

Scritch Scratch coverSCRITCH SCRATCH
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 9-12)

Scritch Scratch—the title of this middle-grade novel by Lindsay Currie will get under your skin as all good spooky books should. Because, of course, this sound is made by the ghost haunting Claire. Prior to this, science-minded Claire absolutely did not believe in ghosts and found her Dad’s ghost-themed bus tour and book embarrassing. So why did this ghost choose her? Claire’s too afraid to sleep and should have plenty of time to solve this mystery. However, since her BFF’s hanging around with the new girl, Claire may need to figure it out alone.

I’ve never been on a haunted bus tour, but, after reading this book I want to if they’re all as interesting as the one in this story. “Forgotten” facts about Chicago are cleverly woven in—what a great way to sneak in a history lesson! Click here for a discussion guide.

Embassy of the Dead cvrEMBASSY OF THE DEAD
Written by Will Mabbitt

Illustrated by Taryn Knight
(Walker Books US; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

This book opens with a warning from the Embassy that “[b]y signing, you hereby accept all responsibility for any death, dismemberment, or condemnation to the Eternal Void that results from reading.” How irresistible! When Jake Green receives a kind of creepy package in error, a fun adventure ensues dodging bonewulfs and their master Mawkins (a grim reaper). Accompanied by ghosts Stiffkey, Cora, and, an adorable fox named Zorro, the unlikely group tries to avoid being sent into the Eternal Void—a fate worse than death.

Will Mabbitt’s well-developed characters are very likable and Taryn Knight’s art plays up the humor. I appreciate the Embassy of the Dead’s new ideas about ghosts and their companions such as Undoers (someone who helps a ghost trapped on the Earthly Plane move on to the Afterworld). Mabbitt nails a perfectly written ending. I’ll gladly follow Jake and his friends onto the next book in the series. Click here to read a sample chapter.

Ghostology coverGHOSTOLOGY: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings
Written by Dugald A. Steer; Lucinda Curtle
Illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert; Garry Walton; Doug Sirois
(Candlewick Press; $27.99, Ages 10+)

Fans of the beautifully made Ologies series won’t be disappointed in the latest addition, Ghostology. Packed full of stories, this book will keep you haunting its pages because there’s so much information from psychics and mediums, to fakes and frauds. Want to know what’s in a ghostologist’s field kit (sketchbook, accurate timepiece, and, of course, a ghost-detecting device, just to name a few items), or how to hunt ghosts? You’ve come to the right place. Pay attention to the “Types of Ghosts” chapters.

Beyond reading, the book is a sensory experience with its sealed pages, official documents envelope, flaps, and textures. If there’s such a thing as a coffee table kid’s book, this is it. The icy blue color scheme of the cover is offset by a large faceted red “gem.” Raised letters just beg you to run your hand over them and invite you to look inside. The thought and detail in this book are phantom-astic!

beetleandthehollowbone cvrBEETLE & THE HOLLOWBONES
Written and illustrated by Aliza Layne
Coloring by Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora
(Atheneum BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

In Aliza Layne’s middle-grade graphic novel, Beetle & the Hollowbones, Beetle is a twelve-year-old goblin-witch being homeschooled by her gran. Beetle, however, would rather hang out with her current BFF Blob Ghost at the old mall (where they are inexplicably trapped). When Beetle’s previous BFF, Kat Hollowbones, returns home after completing her sorcery apprenticeship at a fast-track school, their friendship isn’t the same. Kat’s aunt Marla is the wonderfully drawn skeletal antagonist.

With well-developed characters and plenty of action, this fast-paced book will bewitch you. The struggles of moving through school and friendships falling apart are accurately depicted. The panels, grouped into chapters, capture your attention with their fantastic illustrations, engaging colors, and lively text. I like how Layne includes some concept art at the end, inspiring other artists with a behind-the-scenes peek.

vampiresnevergetold cvrVAMPIRES NEVER GET OLD: Tales With Fresh Bite
Editrixes: Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker
Other authors include Tessa Gratton, Rebecca Roanhorse, Julie Murphy, Heidi Heilig, Samira Ahmed, Kayla Whaley, Laura Ruby, Mark Oshiro, Dhonielle Clayton, and Victoria “V.E.” Schwab
(Imprint/Macmillan; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite is a YA short story anthology with the goal to “expand on and reinvent traditional tellings.” How awesome is that?? Editrixes Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Porter’s story, “Vampires Never Say Die,” is a suspenseful, modern tale about a teen and vampire who meet online. They also provide the introduction and insightful commentary after each piece, delving into the many areas of the vampire myth. There are so many wonderful things in this collection; I’ll give you a few nibbles to whet your appetite.

“Bestiary” by Laura Ruby is set in a near dystopian future; Jude works at the zoo and has a special connection with animals. This story stood out for me because the reader must piece together the truth. It’s quite a different twist on thirst and the theft of blood and humanity.

“Seven Nights for Dying” by Tessa Gratton opens with the line, “Esmael told me that teenage girls make the best vampires” (because they’re “both highly pissed and highly adaptable, and that’s what it takes to survive the centuries”). We follow Esmael’s chosen girl through a week of uncertainty as she considers joining the undead. This cleverly layered story demands to be reread to truly appreciate Gratton’s well-crafted words.

Weaving in old superstitions, “The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig expands upon the Victorian tradition of burying their loved ones with a bell (allowing them to call for help if mistakenly buried alive). Set at the turn of the century, Will is a graverobber for all the right reasons—he wants to become a doctor, and “acquiring” freshly buried bodies allows him to trade for a spot at the back of the amphitheater where dissections take place. With only a few glimpses at Will’s thoughts, we find out volumes about his struggles.

This anthology breathes life into the short story and lets readers appreciate the many perspectives and styles from a very talented array of writers. My favorites tend to have unexpected endings. There’s something for everyone. Just read it already!

 

  •  ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS FROM RONNA
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    IT’S HALLOWEEN, LITTLE MONSTERIts Halloween Little Monster cvr

    Written by Helen Ketteman
    Illustrated by Bonnie Leick
    (Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
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    When I began reading It’s Halloween, Little Monster, one of the Little Monster series of picture books, I thought I was reading about the first time I took my son out trick-or-treating 15 years ago. All he had to do was see one or two kids in scary costumes and he hightailed it home before anyone could say boo! I’m so glad Helen Ketteman wrote this picture book because I’m sure it’s going to help make the first Halloween experience for reluctant little ones a lot easier.

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    In this gentle rhyming story, Little Monster heads out for Halloween accompanied by his dad. The reassuring presence of a parent sets the tone. Dad will be right there to calm Little Monster’s fears no matter who or what they encounter. “Don’t fret Little Monster. / See there in the street? / That’s not really a ghost / it’s a kid in a sheet!”
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    Together the pair see all kinds of spooky creatures while trick-or-treating, but the dad anticipates what might frighten his child and is always one step ahead. I like how the papa monster not only comments on assorted pirates, witches, and vampires but scary sounds, too. Leick’s muted blue and purple toned palette of the detailed illustrations will only add to the enjoyment of this charming Halloween read. It’s an enjoyable pairing of prose and art. By the time the surprise ending happens, Little Monster’s smiling just like the children having this story read to them.
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  •  OTHER RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN SEASON READS:
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    CHRISTOPHER PUMPKIN by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet with art by Nick East
    (Board Book for Ages 0-3, Little Brown BYR)
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    THAT MONSTER ON THE BLOCK by Sue Ganz-Schmitt with art by Luke Flowers
    (Picture Book Ages 4-8, Two Lions)
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    THE REVENGE OF THE WEREPENGUIN by Allan Woodrow with art by Scott Brown
    (Middle Grade illustrated novel for Ages 8-12, Viking BYR)
  • Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/26/20

 

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Young Adult Book Review – Elysium Girls

ELYSIUM GIRLS

Written by Kate Pentecost

(Little Brown Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 14+)

 

Elysium Girls cover

 

Kate Pentecost’s YA novel has the wonderfully ironic title, Elysium Girls. There’s nothing paradisal about Elysium, Oklahoma, during the 1930s Dust Bowl. One moment it’s a regular town, the next, the goddesses Life and Death use it to play a decade-long game: from next to nothing, the citizens must build a city and a society which is good and responsible, setting aside one-third of all crops as a Sacrifice. If the Elysiums do this, at the end of ten years, their society will continue; if not, everyone perishes. Dust Sickness soon begins to claim lives.

Seventeen-year-old Sal Wilkerson loses her mother and doesn’t fit in, overcome by unfulfilled predictions. As the game’s conclusion draws near, the town’s self-declared witchy leader, Mother Morevna, chooses Sal as the Successor. Finally, it seems Sal’s time has come, but an outsider named Asa arrives and unintentionally upsets things. For me, Asa stole the show as much for his charming personality as for the fact that, even though a nonhuman character, he’s so very relatable. Over the course of the book, his life changes dramatically as he deals with one unknown after another.

Outside the Elysium walls, a band of kick-butt girls survives fire coyotes and other wicked things by using their ingenuity. The different realities are fascinating: inside the walls, outside, above, and blips from the real Depression-era world. In addition, there are many appealing character elements including friendship, girl power, and family. Romance isn’t limited to boy and girl, or human and human. Put it all together and you’ll see why Elysium Girls is as hard to shake as a dusty Oklahoma day.

Read about author Kate Pentecost here.

Read an excerpt here.

 

Click here to order a copy of Elysium Girls.

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/12/20

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Middle Grade Book Review – The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter

THE INCREDIBLY DEAD PETS OF REX DEXTER

Written by Aaron Reynolds

(Little Brown BYR, $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

Make room on your bookshelves for The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter, the middle grade novel debut by Aaron Reynolds. Sixth-grader Rex Dexter always wanted a dog. A chocolate Labrador to be exact. For his birthday, Rex’s parents give him a chocolate cake shaped like a Lab with chocolate ice cream and—finally!—his gift is in a box with air holes so it must be . . . a chicken?! When Rex complains that a chicken isn’t a pet, it’s a Happy Meal, he’s told this is his practice pet. So he does what any kid would: puts a leash on his chicken and heads out with his best friend, Darvish, to buy pet supplies. Then the strangeness begins.

int spot art deadpets
Interior art from The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter written by Aaron Reynolds, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

With a nod to the Tom Hanks movie, Big, Rex finds a vintage carnival game called the Grim Reaper. Thanks to some chicken pee, Rex loses the game and receives a cryptic curse. But, it may be worse news for the chicken who, in Rex’s care for about an hour, has a run-in with a steamroller; the steamroller wins. Rex failed to keep his practice pet safe but, no worries, Rex will have plenty of time to make amends when the squashed, “ghostly fritter” of a chicken returns to haunt him—though the chicken believes their besties and wants to just chill. The now-named Drumstick is merely the first dead animal to accompany Rex through this hilarious story.

Aaron Reynolds is a master at comedy and this middle-grade novel is no exception. He had me at the title. If you like a mysterious ghost story that’s not very spooky, then this is the book for you. Kids will enjoy trying to figure out “who done it” as endangered animals in the zoo start meeting their demise and showing up in Rex’s bedroom as ghostly nuisances. More than two dozen black-and-white images scattered throughout add to the humor.

I’m a big fan of Reynolds’s books and read his releases hot-off-the-press. My favorite book of his had been (picture book) A Creepy Pair of Underwear but The Dead Pets of Rex Dexter is now tied for that spot.

Click here to read an excerpt.

    • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to order a copy of The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/21/20

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Children’s Picture Book Review – You Don’t Want a Dragon!

YOU DON’T WANT A DRAGON!

Written by Ame Dyckman

Illustrated by Liz Climo

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

YDWADragon_cover

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You Don’t Want a Dragon!, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, is a follow-up to You Don’t Want a Unicorn!, which I haven’t been able to get my hands on during the pandemic. However, as an Ame Dyckman fan, I feel confident recommending both. You Don’t Want a Dragon! is a conversation between the narrator and a child who has just successfully wished for a dragon. And even if you haven’t read the first book, it is quickly clear that this same kid previously wished for a unicorn, and it didn’t go so well. Apparently, the unicorn multiplied until there were many glittery, colorful copies (who make cameo appearances in this book). There also may have been some unicorn poop, which seems to be cupcakes! Now the kid has wished an adorable dragon into his life.

 

YDWADragon int1
Interior spread from You Don’t Want a Dragon! written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

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Dyckman’s books are always fun to read aloud. I called the book a “conversation,” but in fact, the youngster in the book doesn’t say anything. Using second person, the narrator addresses, and engages, the main character: “NOW you’ve done it! I TOLD YOU not to wish for a dragon!,” while the boy in the illustrations answers with action. He plays with his new pet through several happy spreads until the dragon starts behaving like a troublesome canine. The narrator warns that he’s also becoming “GINORMOUS … You just don’t have the space for a dragon. In your heart, yes. But in your house … no.”

Climo is a comic artist for The Simpsons and also wrote and illustrated several books before collaborating with Dyckman on You Don’t Want a Unicorn! and You Don’t Want a Dragon!. The kid’s world is drawn in thin outlines filled with gentle colors; the dragon is a soft green with a purple tummy and wings. And don’t forget to note the child’s t-shirt in the cover art. While the illustrations show their kinship with The Simpsons, they are more comfortable than wacky, reminiscent of the Clifford the Big Red Dog books but with more attention to detail and scale. 

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YDWADragon int2
Interior art from You Don’t Want a Dragon! written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, Little Brown BYR ©2020.

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I expected to enjoy this book and was not disappointed. There’s lots of Dyckman’s trademark humor, and it fits so well with Climo’s art. For example, Dyckman writes that stories about dragons “never mention … WHERE charcoal comes from. DON’T mention this at your next barbeque.” Climo’s drawing? The dragon sports a toilet-paper-roll bracelet and a proud grin while the kid, wide-eyed, stands next to a grill with flaming briquettes piled high. 

Eventually, the narrator convinces the kid to wish the dragon away. Kids aren’t meant to have magical creatures for pets. “It’s for the best.” You might wonder what the kid will wish for next, except there’s a twist: he finds a completely ordinary pet.

Or does he?

   • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

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Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters

PRIDE MONTH PICKS

 

The Derby DaredevilsTHE DERBY DAREDEVILS: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team
Written by Kit Rosewater
Illustrated by Sophie Escabasse
(Amulet Books; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

In Kit Rosewater’s middle grade book, The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, fifth grader Kenzie Ellington has spent the past three years watching her mom skate in Austin’s roller derby league wanting to join in too. Fortunately, her BFF, Shelly, finds a junior league being formed. The girls eagerly prepare for tryouts, ready to show off their signature Dynamic Duo moves. However, to keep from possibly being split up, they must form a five-person team in only one week.

Finding other skaters proves harder than expected; the girls they’re asking can’t even skate. Shelly wants to recruit Bree, Kenzie’s skateboarding neighbor, but Kenzie struggles with her complicated secret-crush feelings toward Bree. Then, as the team comes together, Kenzie worries when Shelly welcomes new members and seemingly replaces Kenzie.

Sophie Escabasse’s art brings to life the story’s emotions as well as the humor and camaraderie. Even readers who know nothing about roller derby will feel comfortable with this book’s easy explanations of the sport and accompanying illustrations—just take a glimpse at the dynamic cover.

Fans of the graphic novel Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson will enjoy this tale which also focuses on friendship and girl power. The six girls depicted in this book are realistic representations of the fifth graders I know. I applaud Rosewater for showing us a diverse group of girls who sword fight and play basketball. Girls can be any combination of things. I look forward to book 2, out in September. Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal

 

Burn book coverBURN
Written by by Patrick Ness
(Quill Tree Books; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

In 1957 rural Washington state, Eisenhower’s being sworn in for his second term in office, the Russians ready to launch a satellite into space, and dragons are hired for farmwork having forged a no-kill policy with humans. Against her father’s wishes, fifteen-year-old Sarah Dewhurst begins to interact with their laborer dragon, Kazimir. However, Kazimir has his own agenda, needing Sarah for prophecy fulfillment.

Nearby, FBI agents chase teen assassin Malcolm as he rushes to complete his secret mission for a radical pro-dragon group called the Believers. Nothing sways Malcolm’s devotion to leader Mitera Thea and his probably suicidal mission until his path crosses Nelson’s (who has been thrown out by his mother). Against his training, Malcolm envelops Nelson into the folds of his dangerous world. Yet his ghastly tasks threaten their blossoming relationship.

Best-selling author Patrick Ness once again delivers a complex, action-filled story in Burn. We can relate to Sarah who still aches from her mother’s death and the ongoing prejudice because of their skin color. Sarah’s boyfriend, Jason Inagawa—the only other nonwhite kid in their area—lost his mother to pneumonia during their three-year forced stay in an internment camp. Ness seamlessly blends historical elements with fantasy.

This fast-paced story, told in alternating viewpoint, takes you on a wild journey that includes an alternate universe. Cleverly crafted text amplifies the suspense, allowing for successful verbal sleight of hand. Burn wraps up dramatically, while leaving room to expand into a series. I couldn’t put this book down and look forward to the tale’s continuation in whatever world(s) where I hope to meet more wonderful—and wonderfully awful—dragons.
Starred Reviews Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly

 

Witches of Ash and Ruin cvrWITCHES OF ASH & RUIN
Written by E. Lattimer
(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

When seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh isn’t struggling with OCD, she wants nothing more than to ascend from witchling to full witch. Dayna has strong familial bonds with her coven yet her biological family is disjointed: a religious father and a mother who was mysteriously sent away thirteen years ago to Camp Blood of the Lamb. Mix in witches from another coven plus a nearby serial killer and you’ll get an idea of this fantastic brew of a book.

Latimer’s Witches of Ash & Ruin unfolds in multiple viewpoints providing glimpses inside the heads of others (witchlings, Dayna’s ex-boyfriend, and a witch-hunter named Dubh). I found it interesting that the book opens with Dubh stating his evil intentions—that seemed to solve the puzzle from the start—but knowing the bad guy in no way slows the suspense.

Speaking of tension, the heat between Dayna and a witchling from the other coven is palpable. You’ll root for them to be alive and together at the end.

If you like complex stories without tidy endings, you’ll enjoy this sweeping tale. Some parts are bloody, but that’s expected with a murderer on the loose and a witch or two dabbling with the dark side. Unless you’re fluent in ancient Celtic mythology, pay attention when gods and their histories are mentioned.

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Invisible Leash

THE INVISIBLE LEASH:
A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet

By Patrice Karst

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Invisible Leash cover

 

 

When Zack’s four legged best friend JoJo gets old, sick and dies, he is left heartbroken until his friend Emily explains that “an invisible leash connects our hearts to each other. Forever.” Author Patrice Karst, and illustrator Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, of the bestselling The Invisible String, tell a heartwarming story about permanent loss in the companion book The Invisible Leash, that pulls on the heartstrings of all ages.

 

The Invisible Leash_ nt1
Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

The rich colors of the book’s main characters contrast wonderfully throughout the story with the soft almost translucent colors of their deceased pets depicted alongside them. This succeeds in showing the reader that the pets are always with them as the two friends take an enlightened journey through their neighborhood. Zack’s multicultural parents try to comfort him, but “Zack stomped off and when his bedroom door slammed, it shook the whole house with sad.” Such a strong emotion conveyed with just one evocative sentence.

 

The Invisible Leash Int2
Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

Lew-Vriethoff shows Zack folding his arms in disbelief listening to Emily explain, “But Zack, don’t you believe in the wind? Even if you can’t see the Invisible Leash, you can feel it.” Zack listens with annoyance coming up with reasons the invisible leash theory could not be true. Emily’s excitement is shown in the illustrations as she stretches her arms wide and tells him that, “when you love an animal and they love you back, that gives the Invisible Leash the magic power of infinity to stretch from here all the way to the beyond.” Zack wants to believe his beloved dog JoJo is close by. “I wish I could believe, Emily. I wish that so much.”

Karst’s writing takes the reader on a poetic journey as she writes, “Warm winds swirled around the two friends gazing at the evening sky. Frogs croaked and crickets started chirping as the stars began to gather. Soon, a smile widened across Zack’s face.”

We see drawings of JoJo and Emily’s cat Rexie touching paws with invisible leashes circling all the friends. Emily holds her heart in excitement as she realizes that the pets can see the same moon that they see. The pets’ faded images snuggle by their best friends, while the friends look up at the moon and we feel the love they all have for each other.

 

The Invisible Leash int3
Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

As the children sleep, dogs, cats, birds, deer and bears that left this world run free throughout the night. “It was the still of night, Zack, Emily and the rest of the world’s children were now fast asleep in their cozy-comfy beds. And as the moon smiled down upon them from high above, it lit up the millions and billions of Invisible Leashes … connecting them ALL.”

The Invisible Leash was given to me at a time when I was mourning the loss of my own beloved dog, Charlie, who left me way too soon. I picked up this book and I cried. I then read it to my adult son and once again I cried (I believe he was also touched). When I picked up the story for a third time I had a smile on my face. I feel my Charlie sitting by my side with his face resting on my leg as I write this review, and feel him connected by his Invisible Leash. Karst explains at the conclusion of the story that this book is dedicated to her precious dog CoCo. She says she always knew the Invisible Leash was real, but now gets to share her news with the whole wide world. Thank you, Patrice Karst, I’m glad you did.

Parents and teachers looking for additional tools to help kids and students with their grief can complete activities in the The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm and Connect by Patrice Karst and Dana Wyss, PhD and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.

The next book in the franchise, The Invisible Web, goes on sale April 14.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Solution-Seeking Girls Star in Debut Books The Breaking News & Doll-E 1.0

Smart, capable, solution-seeking girls star
in two new picture books
from debut author-illustrators reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

THE BREAKING NEWS
Written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

&

DOLL-E 1.0
Written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

The Breaking News cover illustration THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul brings us a glimpse of a community struggling to cope with upsetting developments, and highlights the role that a girl fulfills to restore and heal them. The book opens with a family happily engaged in potting plants at the kitchen table. But a television in the background interrupts with unsettling news, distracting the parents and disrupting the normal rhythm of life. The little girl, round-eyed and tender-hearted, notices the changes all around her. She becomes determined to act and restore balance to her family, school and community. 

Advised by her teacher to look for helpers, our heroine undertakes big and small acts of generosity and kindness. Bold gestures – washing dishes, putting on a silly show, and inventing imaginary force fields – fall flat. But slowly she discovers that many small gestures performed with love and care – tending to the dog, reading to her brother, caring for the recently-potted plant – begin to make a difference.

THE BREAKING NEWS is a helpful, heart-filled book. It bridges the gap between acknowledging distressing events and supporting the family circle where children learn to cope and counter sadness and fear. Reul’s balanced blend of warm and grey toned illustrations underscore the message of empowerment and hope. Reul brings together a brighter future and stronger community by the book’s end, making this a timely, helpful resource for families to discuss broader community issues.
Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

cover illustration from Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskeyIt’s techno-trouble for clever Charlotte, the heroine of DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey, because she doesn’t comprehend the purpose of her new toy, a doll. With her trusty canine sidekick Blutooth, Charlotte is constantly on call for fixing the gadgets and devices that break and baffle her family. However, her constant coding and tinkering spark concern from her parents, who want Charlotte to unplug a bit.

The new “human-shaped pillow” doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm until a hidden battery pack is revealed. Charlotte tackles a doll upgrade, much to Blutooth’s dismay. Will his doggie destruction thwart Charlotte’s creative coding and clicking, or will it lead to a new appreciation for her technological ingenuity?

This STEM-friendly tale will appeal to young readers who appreciate and alternate between toys with and without power buttons. McCloskey’s action-filled, colorful characters are expressive and engaging. The scratchy, sketched appearance balances a sophisticated use of cartoon-panels. Full page illustrations pace the story nicely. Speech bubbles blend dialogue smoothly with text, while background details hint cleverly at Charlotte’s tools and organized interests. DOLL-E 1.0 is a smart, engaging and creative story with lots of contemporary charm.

  • 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.

Read another recent #Epic18 set of book reviews by Cathy Ballou Mealey here.

 

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Books Kids Will Love for Valentine’s Day – Part One

BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS 2018
A ROUNDUP – PART ONE

Double Heart motif clip art

 

Check out the variety of Valentine’s Day books that are available this year to share with your kids. Whether you’re seeking something traditional or offbeat, sentimental or silly, we’ve got you covered! Make tracks to your nearest independent bookseller and pick up several copies using our list below. Nothing goes better with a bouquet than a book!

 

 

This is NOT a Valentine cover image This is NOT a Valentine
Written by Carter Higgins
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Chronicle Books; $14.99, Ages 4-8)  

This may NOT be your mother’s Valentine’s Day book but it is your children’s! Higgins has taken the typical holiday book and turned it on its head as only an author who is also a school librarian can. Prepare for quirky yet charming in this nothing hearts or pink or gushy debut picture book. This is NOT a Valentine celebrates friendship and the kind of love worth getting excited over when you find a friend which whom you have so much in common or adore simply because of who they are and how they make you feel. With kid-centric, feel good artwork that starts with the title page and takes readers through a school day, Cummins’ illustrations demonstrate how the two friends enjoy each other’s company. And while this book may not be a Valentine, it sure feels like one. And that’s okay, even without glitter, cursive writing or dainty lace.

Cover image from LOVE Love
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Loren Long
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Love comes in many shapes and sizes, and is anywhere and everywhere. De la Peña’s Love lyrically and gently conveys the many ways that love manifests itself. Long’s soothing and superb illustrations add to the reassuring nature of this story. Sure to provide comfort to children experiencing growing pains, doubts and fears, this much lauded story also honors the buoyant bonds of family and friends with loud and quiet moments of steadfast love and devotion. Love can be “the smell of crashing waves, and a train whistling blindly in the distance …” or it can be found “in the arms of a loved one who bends to your ear and whispers, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s love.'” It’s tenderness, touching and togetherness rolled into one powerful picture book. Love is filled with ample white space to contemplate the radiant artwork while soaking up the the words slowly and then beginning all over again. Stunning spreads show upbeat slices of life such as a dad and daughter dancing on a trailer home rooftop and youngsters playing with a policeman in the mist of “summer sprinklers.” There are also moments of discord such as a couple fighting and disaster shown on a TV broadcast. “One day you find your family nervously huddled around the TV, but when you ask what happened, they answer with silence and shift between you and the screen.” Reading Love is a visceral experience that will move adults reading the story aloud to squeeze their children a little tighter and plant extra kisses on their cheeks. Four letters say so much.

Cover image of young boy from I GIVE YOU MY HEART I Give You My Heart
Written by Pimm van Hest
Illustrated by Sassafras De Bruyn
(Clavis Publishing USA; $32.95, Ages 6 and up)

In van Hest’s I Give You My Heart, young Yuto’s instincts take him to an old shop where the elderly owner gives him a box, a gift that will positively influence him throughout his life. At first the special box won’t open, but when it does,  a seed grows from inside which one day Yuto must plant. Eventually, as the tree grows, so does Yuto who finds the tree plays an important role in his life—a solid, steady force offering him comfort and stability that he wants to share with his wife, children, and when the time comes, another young child just like Yuto was when he was gifted the box. This beautiful, poetic picture book demonstrates another aspect of love as depicted in the circle of life and nature. Don’t miss this stunning 56 page gift book full of wonderfully impressive laser cutouts in addition to all the other moving illustrations.

 

Cover image What The World Needs Now is LoveWhat the World Needs Now is Love
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt
(Penguin Workshop; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Those of us of a certain age will remember way back in 1965 when the song, What the World Needs Now is Love reached Billboard’s Top 10 and was playing on radios everywhere. The controversial Vietnam War was raging, protestors were picketing and Civil Rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery. And the more things change the more they stay the same. In a brief intro to this song turned inclusive and encouraging picture book, composer Bacharach says, “When Hal David and I wrote this song in 1965, it was an observation on what was going on in the world, and we thought it was an important statement to make. Now, decades later, the song’s meaning has become much more powerful. We’re so glad we wrote this song, and are delighted that you can now enjoy it as a book.” Originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, this song made an indelible impression in my brain because it’s so upbeat and yet so simple. It’s pulled together by McDevitt’s hand-lettered song lyrics and vibrantly illustrated diverse images of children from all walks of life, playing or simply hanging out together. Show you care this Valentine’s Day by giving loved ones a copy of this small (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″) 32-page book that’s as colorful as it is charming and packaged with a red ribbon enclosure.

Love the World by Todd Parr cover image Love The World
Written and illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

The one place that love should start, emphasizes Parr’s rhyming text in Love The World, is within ourselves. This meaningful message from Parr seems to jump out from every vibrant and boldly illustrated page that also shout Parr from near and far. Children continue to embrace his signature colorful style and positive outlook and it’s easy to see why. If you love yourself then you can easily share that love with friends, family, those in need. And let’s not forget our planet and everything on it. The repetition of “Love Yourself. Love the World!” throughout the book serves to reinforce Parr’s inspiring central idea that we’re all worth the effort. “Everything and everyone deserves love,” says the copy on the back jacket cover and it’s so true, only it doesn’t end when the book closes. Youngsters will feel energized and enthusiastic after hearing the rhythmic words and will be motivated to spread sone love and kindness around.

 

Cover image Bagel in Love by Natasha WingBagel in Love
Written by Natasha Wing
Illustrated by Helen Dardik
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Finding love (and winning a dance contest no one thought he could win) is the sweetest revenge for Bagel who’s got the moves but no dance partner when Bagel in Love first opens. In fact, he can’t get a break. He’s peachy keen on entering the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest, but it seems Poppy, Pretzel, Croissant, Doughnut and Cake all think he’s not cut out to compete like Fred Éclair. And they let him know it in pun-laden prose good for giggles and grins. Wing’s wordplay is wonderful as is Dardik’s delightful digital artwork that animates the downer desserts with pinks, purples teals and tons more colors that pop off the page. Some of my favorite lines include, “Matzo flat out told him no,” and “Call me flaky,” said Croissant. “But those moves are totally stale.” When a toe-tapping cupcake comes along and steals bagel’s heart, the two carbs gel, making the best Éclair and Cherryse moves this side of Hollywood. A sparkly cover and final spread are “just icing on the cake” for kids who love a story with a happy ending.

Cover image from I Love You for Miles and MilesI Love You for Miles and Miles
Written by Alison Goldberg
Illustrated by Mike Yamada
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 2-6)

As I read Goldberg’s debut picture book, I Love You for Miles and Miles, I kept thinking how much my children would have enjoyed this story when they were little. They could not get enough of truck, train, excavator and emergency vehicle books and this one fits that bill in every way with a bonus of love tied to each one depicted. The super cool mama bear, talking to her child, conveys the extent of her love with comparisons to big rigs “Stretching side to side, Hauling loads of every shape and size.” And it doesn’t stop there! Her love is faster than a fire truck and higher than the highest plane. No matter where these various tough, strong and resilient modes of transport go, this mama bear’s love goes there too. Yamada’s illustrations are cheerful and bright, always bringing the focus onto the mother and her child. This book is ideal for bedtime reading and, while bursting with love, is not just for Valentine’s Day but all year long.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Check out a review of Love, Mama
Check out our Part Two of our New Books for Valentine’s Day Roundup
Check out a previous Valentine’s Day Roundup

 

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The Darkest Dark by Astronaut Chris Hadfield

 

 

THE DARKEST DARK
Written by Col. Chris Hadfield
Illustrated by The Fan Brothers
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

 

the-darkest-dark-cvr

 

The Darkest Dark takes place on July 19, 1969—the night before Apollo 11’s Moon landing. We meet Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield when he was a boy. Chris can’t sleep because “his room was dark. Very, very dark. The kind of dark that attracts the worst sort of aliens.” These creatures, a combination of shadow and imagination, appear on the book’s cover and throughout the story.

Young Chris believes he is an astronaut and, of course, “an astronaut’s work is never done, so astronauts do not like to sleep. But their parents do.” Chris’s parents kick him out of their bed and dutifully check his room for aliens. Finally, the possibility of missing tomorrow’s special event helps Chris fall into his favorite dream.

 

the-darkest-dark_interior1
Interior artwork from The Darkest Dark by Col. Chris Hadfield with illustrations by The Fan Brothers, Little Brown Books For Young Readers ©2016.

 

The next day, most everyone on Stag Island crowds into a neighbor’s living room to watch the Moon landing. When Chris discovers that “outer space was the darkest dark ever,” he views his house’s darkness differently. Chris now understands that “the darkness of the universe was so much bigger and deeper than the darkness in his room.”

The Fan Brothers’ lively and whimsical illustrations creatively blend reality and fantasy. Many pages feature Chris’s pet pug and the not-so-scary mysterious aliens.

The Darkest Dark concludes with biographical information about Chris Hadfield’s journey to becoming an accomplished Canadian astronaut. His personal message and photographs encourage young readers: “The dark is for dreams—and morning is for making them come true.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

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Best Children’s Books for Father’s Day Roundup

BEST FATHER’S DAY BOOKS ROUNDUP 2016

 

This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few.  Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.

 

Hammer And Nails Book CoverHammer and Nails
Written by Josh Bledsoe
Illustrated by Jessica Warrick
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.

If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.

Beard in a BoxBeard_in_a_Box by Bill Cotter Book Cover
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.

When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.

Dad SchoolDad_School book cover
Written by Rebecca Van Slyke
Illustrated by Priscilla Burris
(Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.

“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.

 

Monster_and_Son book coverMonster & Son
Written by David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Joey Chou
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4)
Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.

Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Son using well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.

 

The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and GrandfathersThe_Most_Important_Thing by Avi book cover
Written by Avi
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.

Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.

Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.

Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.

Papa Seahorse’s SearchPapa_Seahorses_Search book cover
by Anita Bijsterbosch
(Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4)
A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.

 

Superhero_Dad by Timothy Knapman book coverSuperhero Dad
Written by Timothy Knapman
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.

 

Gator DadGator_Dad by Brian Lies book cover
Written and illustrated by Brian Lies
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.

 

Additional recommended books include:

Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) 
Written by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen
Illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Little Brown BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

THE GOODBYE BOOK
Written and Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6)

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The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Todd Parr, with his signature bold and bright style, gently approaches one of the toughest experiences of life with hope and the assurance of healing in The Goodbye Book.

Saying goodbye is never easy and sorting out the myriad emotions that arise from such an experience can seem impossible. At first glance, I felt Parr’s touching book was simply making the  “7 stages of grief” more accessible to children, but, in fact, the book deals with the issue of loss in a more in-depth and complex manner.

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Interior artwork from The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Parr establishes a safe distance for children to relate to such scary feelings through his main character, the goldfish. As readers, we immediately sense the feeling of sadness after the goldfish is separated from his friend. Supporting characters, a girl and black & white dog, are also grieving. Through the simplicity of their expressions, you can feel a multitude of emotions; they don’t merely look sad but confused and even emotionally numb. At the same time, it’s important to note- herein lies the beginning of healing because the sadness is shared among friends.

But the pain of the loss is very fresh in the fish’s heart, so the range of emotions is wide: “You might be very sad. You might be very mad.  You might not feel like talking to anyone.” Your daily activities, like eating and sleeping, may be interrupted. You may also withdraw from activities you once enjoyed, like going to a birthday party. When you’re grieving doesn’t it seem everybody else is happy and living a perfect life? The celebration makes your sadness even more painful, and you think you’ll never be able to experience that kind of joy again. So when the goldfish drops the party hat and swims away from the party, we know exactly what he’s feeling.

The most touching page for me is when the fish sets a table for two “pretend[ing] it didn’t happen.” The expression on his face is heart wrenching, but through his sadness we readers realize–the fish is beginning to accept what has happened.  Through the passage of time and the memories of good times shared he “eventually …start[s] to feel better.”  We see positive changes in our fish’s behavior.  We see him reaching out to someone, talking to his friend, the dog, and expressing his feelings through drawing.  Most importantly, our hero’s actions show us there are things we can do to help with the coping process.  We need not feel ashamed of our feelings and can open up whenever we’re ready.  

The Goodbye Book can be used by parents and educators alike to talk about the spectrum of loss: from leaving behind a friend or relative who lives far away to the final farewell we experience when a loved one dies. As Parr shows us, healing is not a linear path from grief to happiness; acceptance takes time. In the end, the assurance of love is all we need to cope and recover. We find comfort in knowing that someone we love will be there to listen to us and hold us.

A gentle and loving approach to the tough subject of loss, Todd Parr’s The Goodbye Book is ideal for healing hearts.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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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.

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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.

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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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Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman

WOLFIE THE BUNNY
Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6 )

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, SLJ, Horn Book & Booklist

I lovc a picture book that makes me laugh out loud which is exactly what happened when I read Wolfie The Bunny. Plus, this book has got it all: humor, suspense, endearing characters, and super artwork, so it’s easy to adore.

Little Dot, the bunny, is with her parents when they find an abandoned wolf baby left on their doorstep. Dot’s parents welcome this discovery, and proceed to fall head over rabbits’ feet for sweet Wolfie despite Dot’s frantic warning, “He’s going to eat us all up!” I cracked up at OHora’s illustration of Dot, wide awake with a head lamp shining on her sleeping new baby bro. In the end pages, OHora explains that his former neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn served as inspiration for the story’s setting. Those scenes really ground this tale. Kids (and adults) will get a kick out of all the different expressions on Dot’s and Wolfie’s faces depicted throughout the book. Wolfie’s drools added an extra element of tension and I’ll admit I enjoyed not knowing where Dyckman was going with the plot. In other words, I had no trouble continuing to turn the pages. That will definitely keep younger readers glued to ythe book, too. Was the wolf going to devour Dot and her folks or would his love for his adopted family outweigh his growing appetitie? At the same time, Wolfie’s actions indicated a doting sibling:

“Everywhere Dot went,
Wolfie went, too.”

Dyckman’s included just the right amount of repetition of the line, “He’s going to eat us all up,” to keep it fresh and fun. And Dot’s parents’ admiring comments of “He’s a good eater, “He’s a good sleeper,” and “He’s a good drooler!” clearly demonstrated their unconditional love. What worked best in this tale was how Dot’s initial fear of being gobbled down disappeared when Wolfie was threatened by a bear. Stepping up to the plate as big sister, Dot defended her little brother and found that fighting for her family member’s safety brought her closer to Wolfie and dashed any fear of being on the menu for dinner.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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