This excellent sixth edition of Ann Bausum’scomprehensive coverage of our nation’s presidents aptly titled Our Country’s Presidentsmakes this the go-to book for at home or in school. It also includes the 2020 election so readers will be up-to-date if using the book as reference material. While Joseph R. Biden was recently elected 46th President of the United States, this book spans all the way back to the nascent days of the U.S. presidency with fascinating facts, all meticulously researched and presented in 224 color pages.
Our Country’s Presidents can be read in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons and can be enjoyed by children as well as adults. I appreciate how at the start readers are provided with a full page describing how to use the book. This follows a Foreward by author and 60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson and an Introduction. Then the book is broken down into six historical time periods from 1789 to the present making it easy to jump around depending on the era or president in question. There is an illustrated timeline at the start of each section to help frame all of the events that impacted the period, from “wars to inventions, explorations to protests.”
Additionally, those keeping up with current events can learn about the electoral college, the role of the vice presidency, the two-party system, plus first ladies, the White House construction and things you didn’t even realize you wanted to know! ” I decided to look up different presidents I knew little about and found interesting facts: Did you know that Martin Van Buren, our country’s 8th president, was the first one to be born a U.S. citizen? Previous presidents had been born during colonial America making them British subjects at birth. Or that Andrew Johnson, our 17th president, went on to become a U.S. senator? He was the only one to do so after his presidency.
Key features include:
Information about the 2021 president-elect and the 2020 election results as of the publication date
A brand-new thematic spread on the impeachment process and its history
Revised terminology around the language of slavery and analysis of early presidents who benefitted from and relied on enslaved labor
Comprehensive profiles of all the former presidents along with timelines and descriptions of crucial events during their terms
Thematic spreads covering a variety of topics from the history of voting rights to how to write a letter to the president
Full-page portraits, famous quotes, and fascinating facts to help kids get to know each leader
I have always been a fan of National Geographic nonfiction books for kids and this one is no exception. You may have to wait your turn to read it because I bet your tween will be hooked. It’s entertaining, educational, timely and is packed with 400 illustrations, famous quotes, presidential portraits and nicknames and so much more. Our Country’s Presidents provides the chance to find out about a plethora of presidential “scandals and shining moments” you won’t soon forget.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel e
Click here to read a review of another middle grade book for Presidents’ Day
Fans of the Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator will love Ethan Long’s latest, Fangsgiving, which celebrates family and giving thanks in a most unusual and often kind of gross but ghoulisly good way. The Fright Club folks are cooking up a delicious holiday feast when unexpected family members show up. It seems Uncle Gus, Aunt Bessy and their boys have a better way to make the meal and that means changing a lot of the ingredients. Garlic mashed potatoes get eyeballs and earwax added, the turkey gets burned to a crisp and the pumpkin pie gets maggot meatballs thrown in. YUCK! Vladimir is not happy but is determined to look on the bright side given the holiday. But when the dining room goes dark because Uncle Gus can’t handle the daylight, his dog Spike has “devoured everything!”
Fortunately this provides a way for the Fright Club and family to team up to create another meal and make the most of their time together. Long’s laughter inducing illustrations bring the revolting repas to life and will bring smiles to many young faces eager to see how the Fright Club fares under trying circumstances. This clever approach to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and holiday, though rather unappetizing, makes for a refreshing and fun new read this season. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Child’s poem turned song, Over The River and Through the Wood, is a perennial favorite at Thanksgiving time, but to be honest I never heard it in its entirety so I’m grateful to have this lovely paper-over-board picture book! In Randall’s version, the siblings, who I always imagined were in a great big sleigh beside a slew of family, are taking in nature’s beauty as they sleigh their way alone to Grandma’s house. But not for long. There are moose, beavers, foxes and bunnies to behold in the winter wonderland as well as majestic purple mountains. Soon dusk arrives but the horse knows the way so young readers don’t have to worry the children will get lost. It also appears in Randall’s illustrations that the animals are accompanying the kids on their journey, an added bonus when reading the book aloud and sharing the art. While it’s blistery cold outside, Grandma’s house is warm and welcoming inside, just the kind of place any child would love to visit. I was surprised at the ending when everyone sits around a table outside including a couple who are likely the children’s parents, but I don’t think kids will mind one bit. In fact, that way the animals are portrayed around the table makes the meal look extra special. Enjoy this festive read with family for a special holiday tradition. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Colleen Madden’s brought this common holiday dilemma to the fore with her humorous take on sitting at The Kiddie Table, a fate worse than death for tweens or anyone for that matter who feels they should be seated with the adults. This fancy dressed young girl of eight is unhappy at having to share a table with little ones. Adding insult to injury is the sippy cup with a lid she’s been give along with table manners of the toddlers. One of my favorite lines, “Why am I stuck with this pacifier crowd?” drives home the point that the age and maturity range of the kids she’s sitting with leaves something to be desired. Told in slightly uneven rhyme, the story still resonates. When is a good age to move to the big people table? She doesn’t think it’s cool to be with a bunch of drooling, messy kids and that makes perfect sense. Only stewing in the situation doesn’t help.
When the miffed eight-year-old eventually melts down, yelling “This is the WORST Thanksgiving I’ve ever had in my entire life!” all the little ones erupt by throwing food and the grownups look aghast at the goings on. Luckily tween’s mom explains that asking to switch seats would have been a better approach than yelling but she also acknowledges how being seated with the babies might not have been easy. Ultimately things fall into place for the girl when she leaves the kiddie table and chats with an older cousin amongst the adults. As the evening comes to an end, the tween assumes more responsibility like cleaning up and helping the youngsters prepare to go home. Madden’s artwork is full of festive colors and expressions and reactions that pop off the page. I got a kick out of the girl’s face getting angrier and angrier and also when she yells so loud even a pregnant guest’s baby kicks! The cover alone made me want to dive in. The emotional build up of the art flows a bit better than the prose, but the essence of the story, about self-advocacy and that awkward in-between age rings true and something many children will relate to. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages is wealth of information for kids interested in food, history, trivia, or cooking. From the Prehistoric Era through the Future World, a variety of facts are communicated in manner that’s easily understood. Each section opens with “A Bite-Size History” segment and concludes with a fun-filled short quiz.
Laid out in colorful panels, the data is abundant and accessible. Thirty kid-tested and historically inspired recipes have captivating names such as Roast Mastodon on a Stick (mastodon not required), Rosie the Riveter’s Chocolate Bread Custard, and, just in time for the holidays, Astronaut Fruitcake.
A recurring column “Table Matters” tells us why, for example, kids sit at a different table for the Thanksgiving meal. “Yucky Habits of Yore” delights with disgusting dishes such as the popular Ring-Around-the-Tuna which, yes, involved a whole can of tuna, stuffed olives, celery, and onion encased in wobbly lime Jell-O. Kids who enjoy fact-filled books or cookbooks will lose themselves in these pages.
National Geographic Kids does not disappoint with gorgeous photos throughout. Best-selling author and global food industry leader Tanya Steel is a former editor at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, former editorial director of Epicurious, Clean Plates, and Gourmet.com, and an originator of “The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner” hosted by former First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House (a national recipe contest for kids aged 8 to 12 from 2012-2016). – Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt, writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com, @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS A ROUNDUP – PART THREE
Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!
Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.
The story begins on the cover flap: “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result, the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.
In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.
Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight. • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Luluto Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided. “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True!series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:
This Little Reindeer Written by Aly Fronis Illustrated by Luke Flowers (Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)
Christmas Eve Annie Auerbach (Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)
Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )
HOLIDAY GIFT BOOK IDEAS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY A ROUNDUP
Every year Good Reads With Ronna selects a variety of gift books we think will make everyone in the family happy to receive. We hope you find something here or in one of our Christmas book roundups that will please a family member or friend this holiday season.
We’ve all at one time looked up at the sky at night and wished on the first star. Maybe it brought back the memory of the childhood song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Perhaps as we got a bit older, someone pointed out the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), or even Orion’s Belt, and a sense of wonderment came over us.
Crinkle, Crinkle, Little Star, A Read-and-Touch Bedtime Book will engage and delight star-gazers young and old. It takes a beloved lullaby and turns it in to an opportunity to explore the constellations with even the youngest reader. This interactive board book is visually appealing with friendly-looking animals adorning the jewel-toned night skies and twinkling silver foil accents. Tiny fingers will enjoy the tactile and auditory experience as they trace their fingers over the crinkly foil in this beautiful Read-and-Touch Bedtime book. Not only is this a terrific holiday gift and ideal stocking stuffer, it’s a unique new baby gift as well. • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
Adapted from the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this collection of My First Little House Books is beautifully packaged as A Little House Picture Book Treasury. What a perfect introduction to the beloved stories so many of us know from either the long running television show or from the popular book series we read as children. Christmas is a great time to share the stories with the next generation who will be enchanted by tales from Wilder’s childhood in 19th century America.
These six pioneer stories include “A Little Prairie House,” “Going to Town,” “County Fair,” “Sugar Snow,” “Winter Days in the Big Woods,” and “Christmas in the Big Woods.” Kids will enjoy meeting and getting to know Mary, Laura, Ma, Pa, baby sister Carrie and bulldog Jack as they begin a new life on the Wisconsin prairie. Youngsters will feel Laura’s excitement visiting a nearby town and entering its general store. They’ll experience a county fair along with Almanzo (Laura’s future husband) where he enters a pumpkin competition. Children will learn what it was like to grow up in a log cabin without all the conveniences we have today, a time when getting maple syrup meant collecting it in wooden buckets from maple trees. And not a day went by without some kind of chore needing to be done, especially before winter set in. Pa would tell stories or play his fiddle as the family gathered around the fire and it seemed like Ma was always cooking something delicious that the girls could help her with. But at Christmastime, when the cousins would visit, it was time to play hard then fall fast asleep, rising early to check “what was in their stockings. In every stocking was a pair of bright red mittens and a stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy.” Life’s simple pleasures pop off the pages with Graef’s stunning illustrations that were inspired by the original artwork of Garth Williams. Keep this special volume to cherish year round. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
What a clever and easy new way to enjoy reading together with your kids! Using the Novel Effect app adds another layer of interactiveness to enhance the story time experience. Music and sounds follow along as you read out loud from your favorite kid’s books. Getting started is easy. I know because I’ve downloaded the free app and tried several of the stories I was provided to sample as a reviewer including Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin. I found the experience quite magical. I just have to wait to be grandmother to take advantage of it.
Here’s how it works. First download the free app, watch the video and then try out the sample story included. After that you can go ahead and choose a book from Novel Effect’s library or use the search feature to find the book you want to read. “Be sure to have your own copy of the book ready to go!” Once you’ve chosen your book’s cover image, you simply tap “Read Book.” A new black box will appear at the top of your screen. You should see lines in this box squiggle, indicating the system can hear you. “Now you are ready to read your physical book out loud (you do not have to hit any buttons),” says Novel Effect CMO Carmela Orsini, Esq. “Our technology will respond to what you read with sound effects and music, based on what words/where you are in the book, so feel free to jump around in the story!” That was really the most amazing part of this technology and it worked beautifully.
For a really immersive experience, the company recommends using bluetooth speakers to help make you feel like you’re in the story. According to Orsini, the Novel Effect app works with physical or e-books, and they’ve built an impressive library of books that many families and schools already have on their shelf (as well as some fun new titles to explore). “However,” adds Orsini, “we do include three free e-books in the app so that everyone can enjoy reading with us even without a book.” Those are The Tale of Peter Rabbit , The Night Before Christmas, and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. Novel Effect currently has plans to expand these free e-book offerings through their existing publisher partnerships and by adding additional public domain titles. Novel Effect has partnered with well known publishing companies including Hachette Book Group, and well-known authors like Todd Parr, R. L. Stine, Ame Dyckman and Jane Yolen in a library that includes over 100 titles to charm even the pickiest of readers. In addition to availability on the iPhone, use the app with iPad, and iPod Touch from the App Store.
Novel Effect’s smart voice recognition stays in sync with your reading style, if you skip ahead or read a favorite part again. Impressive, right? I don’t know how they do it, but as long as it does the job while entertaining and inspiring youngsters, what’s not to love?! Custom composed music and sounds treat each story with care to honor the spirit and tone of every cherished book. I thought it worked extremely well in Dream Animals and and Duck! Rabbit!Novel Effect offers a monthly Book Club. For $25 a month you receive two paperbacks or three board books to read along to. Give it as a gift and spark a lifetime love of reading. Visit the website here for more details. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Parents, this sturdy, imaginative and interactive new board book is great for gifting to your little space enthusiast. They’ll find it hard to resist helping the three dimensional plastic rocket zoom “on an internal track from front to back, up and over the pages.” Not only is it easily detachable and attachable, it’s able to function on its own to explore our solar system and travel through wormholes as an added bonus. The illustrated spreads are colored in vibrant hues and the text is rhyming and upbeat. However, I do recommend Rocket for the 4-6 year old age group because 7-8 year olds can appreciate a more sophisticated story. That said, it doesn’t mean any older child won’t enthusiastically join in play when a younger sibling takes out the book because I have a strong feeling they will. Visit the Workman website to see sample pages from this engaging book that I’m hoping will be the first of many more Journey Through the Pages books. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
From Anchorage to Washington, D.C. and lots more in-between, 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a feast for the eyes and intellect of any map and facts fan. This delightful book is a terrific new addition from the team that created the best-seller, The 50 States. In 112 colorful pages packed with over 2,000 facts, Balkan takes us across the country in alphabetical rather than geographical order. Not a page from the end papers onwards is wasted when there is so much info to impart. Starting with the helpful two page introduction which explains how to use the book, it’s easy to see why young readers will be inspired to return again and again to discover more interesting details about these cities. The book is unique in that it focuses on many different aspects of a city, from streets, neighborhoods, inspiring people, industries, experiences and nature spots. “We want this book to be the key that unlocks the door of your imagination, and makes you curious to travel further.” I particularly like the brief Welcome box provided for each city and love that it offers names of books to read that were written by city natives or take place there. The back matter features several pages of additional cities to visit, an index, a resource guide and a cool Can You Find spread to test your observation skills. While 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a children’s book, adults will no doubt find it fun to get lost in the pages as well. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The best thing about National Geographic Kids books is that they are consistently top quality, full of entertaining and enlightening info for children, and the photography is fabulous. This volume just begs to be taken on the road with families this holiday so no one ever runs out of conversation material. Whether you seek Bizarre Facts About the Human Body or Mind Bending Facts About the Brain, Cool Facts About Castles or Ultracool Facts About the Unseen World, the NatGeo editors know just what weird, wild and wacky info satisfies tween reader. From an outhouse race in Anchorage, Alaska to an English Breakfast Hat at Ascot in England, no far-out fact has been overlooked. Our family has been reading these types of books for years and I am constantly amazed how much new material can be found and how learning all this seemingly silly stuff just never gets old. I imagine books like this one can help future Jeopardy players increase their overall knowledge. See sample pages here. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
This stunning anthology appropriately covered in purple with silver accents will appeal to long time faerie lovers as well as anyone seeking to connect for the first time with their inner faerie. The 240 silver-edged pages are divided up into four parts: Flora & Fauna, Fashion & Beauty, Arts & Culture, and Home, Food & Entertaining. User friendly, The Faerie Handbook can be read in order, section by section, or according to one’s fancy. The artwork alone makes this book gift worthy so that when coupled with the captivating content, it’s a treasure to truly cherish! Be sure to put a bookplate in your copy if you plan to lend it to a friend. Its very presence is enticing and you want to be sure it gets returned.
Curious about fairy clothing, fairy houses, or how to make a fairy terrarium, fairy dust, fairy crown, or fairy tea cakes and tarts? It’s all in here. Wondering how and where to find faeries? That’s in here, too. In fact A Gardener’s Guide to Fairy Husbandry and also Fairy Portals and Pathways were two of my favorite chapters. When we lived in London, my daughter would leave notes for the faeries in our garden and on many occasions she would receive notes back from them, written in a golden script on gossamer-like paper. Maybe woodland creatures who interact with faeries intrigue you or perhaps you want to learn more about various fairy legends? Well, the editors of Faerie Magazine will not let you down.
I definitely could have used this book when planning my wedding, especially since all kinds of edible flowers were explained and that’s something unique I wanted to serve to guests. As a Cicely Mary Barker Flower Fairy devotee, I chose to have nasturtium appetizers at my reception. The centerpieces were Victorian-style topiaries, suitable accommodations for even the most discriminating of faeries.
Another chapter delves into the infamous The Cottingley Fairy Hoax That’s when two young girls claiming to have photographed faeries in Cottingley, England managed to get even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wondering about their authenticity. The book ends with acknowledgements, resources, a bibliography, plus photo and illustration credits. Comprehensive and engrossing, The Faerie Handbook might just make a believerof the most hardened skeptic in your life. Enjoy! Click here to read a sample. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael H. Cottman (National Geographic Kids; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred review – Booklist
A fascinating and fast read, Michael H. Cottman’s compelling Shackles From The Deepwill open middle grade readers’ eyes and minds to the abhorrent “international business” that was the slave trade. In 22 brief but gripping chapters, Cottman, an avid scuba diver, goes in search of the dark history behind the 17th century slave ship called the Henrietta Marie. Through diving below the surface and delving above the surface with the help of a dedicated team of professionals, Cottman learns not only about “the bitter past” that shrouded the ship, but about himself and the African people forced into slavery who could very well have been his ancestors.
Possibly the world’s oldest slave ship discovery, and certainly the oldest in North America, the Henrietta Marie and its bounty of watch bell, iron cannon, and iron shackles helped shed light on the inhumane industry that ripped West Africans from their homes, separated families, and brought them against their will to places such as Barbados and Jamaica to work on plantations. This slave ship, found accidentally while looking for a different wreck, had been torn apart during a hurricane off Key West in Florida in the 1700s.
Cottman’s journey to find answers about the individuals who captained the ship, commissioned the ship’s slave cargo, and made the shackles and weapons on board led him to three continents over four years. And though he was never able to find definitive proof of who exactly might have been carried below deck in wretched conditions for months on end, Cottman did meet a family in Jamaica whose roots likely could be traced back to the Henrietta Marie if those records were available. One of the most moving parts of Shackles From The Deep was when Cottman travelled to Senegal and toured Gorée Island. There he visited the House of Slaves, built in 1526, and home to the infamous Door of No Return named as such because those enslaved Africans leaving through it never ever came back.
Cottman felt it was important to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie would have taken and, by taking us along with him as engaged readers, we quickly learn why. Tearing families apart and treating them like animals made no sense as one missionary’s account detailed:
The English take very little care of their slaves and feed them very badly …The overseers make them work beyond measure and beat them mercilessly…and they seem to care less for the life of a Negro than a horse.
Ending his journey in Africa where it all began after those earlier visits to Barbardos, Jamaica and England, provided a way for Cottman to return through that Door of No Return on behalf of all the unfortunate souls who never had the chance. The story ends, having come full circle from the initial discovery, with the author’s visit to an underwater memorial at the wreckage site of the Henrietta Marie.
“I had learned that the site of the wreck is a place where I am never really alone, a place where I feel connected to my past and ancestors. I had learned that lasting friendships can be forged––regardless of racial backgrounds––even while exploring a sunken slave ship.”
There are several ways for readers to approach this well-written narrative nonfiction novel. From the sheer storytelling perspective, it is completely absorbing and satisfying, in fact I read it in one sitting. As a page turning detective novel, it’s rich in detail with Cottman’s journalistic abilities highlighted as he asks the right questions and tracks down individuals around the globe to piece together the puzzle that is the Henrietta Marie. When children read Shackles From the Deep they will gain a better understanding of slavery and the dehumanization of people that was perpetrated for 300 years, and hopefully be the force to prevent such cruelty from ever happening again.
It’s very easy to understand the ongoing popularity of the Weird But True! fact-filled paperback book series. They’re inexpensive, portable, packed with fab photos, and are always excellent entertainment. Likely “weird” is a word you hear often at home from your 8-12 year olds, so why not give them this book to help them refocus their energy onto things genuinely incredible or unusual.
Here are some facts I found fascinating, funny and/or very WEIRD:
1. Mycophobia is the fear of mushrooms. Use that next time you play hangman!
2. The Carolina Reaper is the world’s hottest chili pepper.
3. Breakfast waffles inspired the co-founder of Nike to put a bumpy tread on running shoes.
4. Los Angeles recently passed a resolution encouraging people not to eat meat on Mondays. I live in L.A. and didn’t even know about this one!
5. On the International Space Station 93 percent of the astronaut’s sweat and urine is recycled into drinking water.
Consider giving your tween a copy of Weird but true! Food as an alternative to electronics. It’s educational, interesting, and a great way to amuse friends. How many of us can honestly say we knew that the Ancient Egyptians “ate ham and eggs for breakfast more than 3,000 years ago,” or that it takes “about 350 squirts from a cow’s udder to make one gallon of milk?” Udderly weird but true, and that’s okay! In fact, did you know that “okay” is the most understood word in the world? Yep, but you’ll have to pick up a copy of Weird but true! Food: 300 bite-size facts about incredible edibles! to find out the second most understood word.
Click here for the Kids’ National Geographic website for games, videos and more.
For fellow Californians, included is an evocative Haiku inspired by Bali Sardines from L.A. local, Joan Bransfield Graham:
Dancing through the waves, ballerinas of the blue — the ocean their stage.
You’ll also find poems from UCLA graduate and award winning poet, Janet S. Wong; Pulitzer Prize winning former U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan; Betsy Franco; and Kenn Nesbitt to name a few. Seeking poems about hamsters and honey bees? You’ll find ’em! Want to read about Roosters and Raccoons? They’re there, too. Eager for elephants? Look no further.
This treasury is really not just for 4-8 year-olds because the photographs are simply spectacular and ideally suited for each poem. I’m certain that even teens and adults will find themselves amazed at the variety of details, colors and moods conveyed in all 186 pages. Of course all the great poets are here to enjoy, and easy to find with the Poet Index: from Aiken to Sandburg, Frost to Madox Roberts, and Rosetti to Whitman. The helpful Subject Index, Title Index and First Line Index make this book indispensable for students. There’s also a super spread devoted to writing poems and another for resources, but the poems themselves are what we’re here for. Broken down into manageable sections, this collection divides the poems into an intro called Welcome to the World. This is followed by other sections called The Big Ones, The Little Ones, The Winged Ones, The Water Ones, The Strange Ones, The Noisy Ones, and a Final Thought in closing.
I have nothing but praise for this marvelous book that is not only an homage to the animal kingdom and its beauty but to every word used to describe it.
Our family always loves the yearly National Geographic Kids Almanac and the newest edition is no exception. With fab photos, facts, and an overall coolness quotient of 10, what’s not to love?
The best thing about the latest almanac is that it’s kept up with technology and offers readers a chance to watch neat new videos, play games and get even more facts via a QR Code you can scan with a smart phone or iPod Touch. Dinosaurs like me can also go the website.
So spend summer break the right way by packing a copy of the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2013 ($13.99, National Geographic Children’s Publishing, ages 8 and up). It’ll keep your entire family entertained while on the road or at home. It will also be a great conversation starter, a dispute resolver and something to keep returning to throughout the year.
Broken down into themed sections so fact hungry kids can devour the book in small chunks, the book begins with Your World 2013 then moves into the ever popular Amazing Animals pages packed with amazing pictures and tons of information. Did you know, for example, that there are 10, 158 vulnerable or endangered species in the world? The list even includes the American crocodile!
Next comes the Awesome Adventure section where kids can learn about different fields of exploration, hone up on their photo taking skills and even get tips on writing an engaging essay. Following is Culture Connection,Super Science and some Fun and Games. The Wonders of Nature section covers world climate, natural disasters, biomes, oceans, coral reefs and so much more. I appreciated the Going Green section with its out-of-this-world green inventions including Hotel in The Clouds lazily making its way across the Atlantic from New York to London in 37 hours. Talk about a room with a view!
The book ends with History Happens and Geography Rocks saving the best for last in my adult opinion, but kids will be delighted from start to finish. With 500 photos, maps, crafts, fun facts and a slew of other interesting tidbits, National Geographic Kids Almanac 2013 is an adventure on every page.
By the way, I just learned that London is the only city to host the Olympics three times.