If you’re looking for a board book that’s full of feathered fun this holiday season, look no further than 24 pages of The Twelve Birdies of Christmas. Little ones will want to see the pictures again and again as a bunch of birdies recreate their own version of the beloved Christmas carol while getting up to all sorts of silliness across the pages. The 3 French hens illustration is my favorite and I also laughed at the 7 swans-a-swimming, but I’m sure your children will choose their own while singing along to Sattler’s new lyrics. If you want some context, the original version is included in the back of the book.
Calling all dino and transportation fans. The winning combination of dinosaurs and heavy-duty utility vehicles featured in Dinosaur Christmas will entertain the youngest revelers in your household. The premise is a simple one that will be satisfying to children. Santa’s stuck in the Northpole on Christmas Eve and only his dino pals have the brawn required to set his sleigh free. But the best part is the variety of transportation modes they use to get through the stormy weather to mount their rescue. There’s lots of repetition and onomatopoeia to add to the read-aloud experience of this sweetly illustrated picture book. “Team Dinosaur arriving. Arriving and starting to dig. Starting to dig out Santa’s sleigh. Scoop! Scoop! Scoop!” My son and daughter used to memorize books like this when they were little and no doubt your children will too. Kids can search the art for hidden polar bears and study both the front and back endpapers for pictures and names of all the dinosaurs and vehicles included in the story.
Ideal for blended families, but definitely delightful for anyone to read, Laktes for Santa Claus is a clever Hanukkah meets Christmas spin on leaving cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Even if it’s not Chrismukkah (when Christmas and Hanukkah overlap), this picture book still shows a way for Jewish children living with a non-Jewish step-sibling and/or step-parent how fun it is to share a bit of their Jewish holiday traditions during Christmastime. Emaus introduces readers to Anna, who is Jewish, as she emails Santa who she guesses must be tired of the same old cookies every year. She promises to leave him a special treat and then sets about to make that happen. Anna just has to figure out what Jewish food will work. Her step-brother Michael, intent on baking cookies, points out how most of Anna’s ideas will require a utensil which Santa will not have after coming down a chimney, hands full of presents. What can she offer that won’t make a massive mess? When she realizes that latkes can be noshed as finger-food, she’s excited to put them out along with Michael’s cookies. When the siblings discover all the food gone on Christmas morning, Michael is eager to work together with Anna to plan something unique for the next Christmas. The back matter includes recipes for both the latkes and the cookies so kids can try their hand at baking with an adult. I love how the cover features a menorah on the mantle as well as a Christmas tree welcoming readers of all faiths to dive into this fun story. There is some rhyme and onomatopoeia for reading aloud enjoyment and at 40 pages, the story flows quickly complemented by the colorful, comic-style art. Despite the title giveaway, young readers will want to see the process as Anna narrows down her choices for Santa. I enjoyed every page of this charming new picture book because it showed how there is not only room for compromise in every family, but how easily a new tradition can be created bringing everyone closer.
This story brought to mind the classic, Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street. That story, about Big Bird buying a bouquet of flowers but ultimately giving them all away to his pals on his way home, is about the joy of sharing. The beauty in Nellist’sLittle Mole’s Christmas Giftis the selfless generosity of the main character which exemplifies the true spirit of the holiday. Little Mole finds the perfect, “biggest, most beautiful” mushroom to bring home for his mother’s Christmas gift but along the way encounters forest friends in need of food, a pillow, an umbrella for protection. Mole knows his mushroom can make a difference, so rather than ignoring the cries for help, he offers part of the gift to each animal. He presents what remains of the mushroom to his grateful mother. Mama Mole understands and appreciates the kind-hearted gesture her child has made and that is indeed the greatest gift a mother could ask for. Garland’s charming illustrations bring a warmth and richness of color to the winter setting and will make kids want to read her other book in the series. A free Little Mole activity pack is available for download on the website too.
Santa.com is a picture book that feels like an episode from children’s television and is certain to engage youngsters who might ordinarily prefer TV over books. Authors Hicks and Cubberly have come up with a neat storyline for a 21st century Christmas. At Santa.com gifts get handled robotically and are “delivered by peppermint drones.” Things run smoothly until the system gets hacked by a cyber Scrooge. Luckily Yo-Yo the elf knows from his Grandpa’s stories that Santa still exists and, with the help of his elf pals, might be coaxed out of retirement to solve the problem. I found the ending really the only slightly ambivalent part and leave it up to readers to come to their own conclusion about how Christmas got saved. I enjoyed the energy and movement Garcia’s art conveyed and the adorable characters he’s imagined. For tech-loving kids, this modern take on Christmas is an original read for the holidays.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read Christine Van Zandt’s roundup of seven new Christmas books she loves by clickinghere.
Welcome to our annual Christmas books roundup. Today author, editor, and reviewer Christine Van Zandt has chosen seven of her favorite new books for you to enjoy. We hope it gets you in a festive mood.
Tomie dePaola’s death this year hit the children’s lit community hard. Reading his posthumous Hurry, Santa! is bittersweet. The clever title led me to think that, certainly, all kids want Santa to hurry to their houses, yet, the twist here is that once Santa’s suited up, he faces the same dilemma that many bundled up kids do: he forgot to go potty before suiting up.
This 14-page board book gives Santa just enough time to get dressed and undressed again. As dePaola has in more than 260 children’s books, his art delights us. This book is a lighthearted farewell to his devoted fans. Note: Book says it was previously published as Get Dressed, Santa.
Sandra Boynton’s books are best-sellers because of her fun rhyme and lively art. Her 32-page board book, Christmas Parade, is another resounding hit. Kids will enjoy hearing the animal band boom boom and rat-a-tat-tat through town. I love that “chickens with silver bassoons [are] followed by piggies with Christmas balloons.” And Santa is (of course!) a rhino.
Emma Dodd’s 24-page picture book rhyming Christmas Is Joy shares holiday enthusiasm from a reindeer family’s perspective. As with Dodd’s other books, this one is beautifully crafted using minimal words to convey emotion. Heartwarming art captures the book’s cheerful theme; metallic silver accents add fun by evoking glistening snow and ice. This book is part of Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series.
The book’s smaller size (eight x eight inches) helps little hands easily hold on. Like a perfect cup of cocoa, the story comforts you: “Christmas is happiness, / smiles of surprise, / the warmth of affection / that lights up your eyes.”
Tracey Corderoy’s rhyming picture book, Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, uses Clement Clarke Moore’s famous first stanza to launch into a different direction, telling us “it wasn’t quite so” that not a creature was stirring. Rather, little Mouse prowls about, wishing he “had a friend to give gifts to.” The story cleverly weaves in some original lines while spinning a new tale.
The art by Sarah Massini warms wide spans of white or gray with muted, lively colors. A nostalgic touch makes Mouse, Santa, and the town seem welcoming and familiar. My favorite scene is the surprise ending where the story reduces to two characters enjoying each other’s company—Mouse is irresistibly cute!
A Jim Benton Christmas book—yes! If you’re like me and your shelves have more Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein books than you can count, then Benton’s Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer is the holiday book for you. In the beat of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Benton’s story gives a glimpse of the mayhem at Santa’s workshop. When Comet breaks up a fight between two elves, Stinky and Stanky, he ends up with a broken leg, unable to fly. In the confusion, Santa forgets the toys, so Comet must figure something out.
The rhyming text flows easily when read aloud and Benton’s art keeps you laughing as cast-wearing Comet tries saving the night—if only Santa would answer his phone! Luckily, Comet’s a trouper when faced with the humungous bag: “He tried with a lever. / He tried with a hoist. / He tried till his forehead/ was reddened and moist.” Go, Comet, go!
When it comes to Christmas, I always think of opossums—what, no I don’t! But, why not? “Milo’s family never missed the big Christmas parade. His passel came for the popcorn, sticky nuts, and bits of peppermint sticks. / Milo came for the view.” He’s fascinated with the parade and how people work on building it year-round. Readers will hope Milo’s dream of being in the parade comes true.
Milo’s Christmas Parade boasts adorable art, from the opossum wearing an ornament on his tail to his close-knit family helping out in the shop. Extra points for the book having a different (secret) image under its jacket.
If you enjoyed Emily Gravett’s Meerkat Mail, then check out Meerkat Christmas. When Sunny, a meerkat who lives in the Kalahari reads about what it takes to achieve the Perfect Christmas, he leaves the desert in search of the supposed elements to achieve holiday excellence.
While on his travels, he corresponds with his family back home. The seven festive lift-the-flaps (designed to look like Perfect Magazine and Sunny’s cards) feel realistic and are a fun way to tell pieces of the story.
Gravett’s vibrant art captures the humor as Sunny encounters obstacles around the world. My favorite holiday treats are the Kalahari candy canes. The recipe calls for 25 assorted snakes, red paint, white paint, and paintbrushes! “Bend each snake into a candy cane shape and hang on tree or cactus.” This book stands out for its interactive design and clever, hilarious art. Peek under the jacket for surprise alternate back and front cover images.
Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.
I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.
HELLO, ELEPHANT! Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton (Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)
Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.
This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.
Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.
While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.
Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.
Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.
BABY SLOTH: Finger Puppet Book Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang (Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)
Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.
The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.
Princess Alice always takes her soft, warm and snuggly blankie to bed until one day it goes missing in Have You Seen My Blankie? The picture book, told in rhyme, is written by speech and language therapist Lucy Rowland, with colorful full-page illustrations by Paula Metcalf.
The book opens to Princess Alice’s bedroom with purple walls, a large canopy bed and more toys than most kids would know what to do with. But the toys aren’t as important to Alice as her white and orange blankie she is shown cuddling on her bed. “This blankie was so cuddly! So soft and warm and snuggly!”
“But one day … it went missing!” Metcalf shows Princess Alice searching under her bed, the piano, the couch pillows, and even inside the toilet (she stands on a stool for this drawing!) Each illustration shows her princess crown on top of her head which I found adorable. Princess Alice hurries to the palace door and asks her brother, who is upside down swinging on a tree (but his crown doesn’t slip), “Do you have my blankie, Jack?” Jack explains that after he used her beloved blankie as a curtain, a giant took it from him and wouldn’t give it back! Rowland offers some laugh out loud brother sister dialogue kids will love.
Princess Alice’s search begins as she tracks down Giant Jim who says, “Yes, I had your blankie but I used it as a hankie.” Each illustration depicts beautiful detail of the scene. We know Giant Jim is a chef by the apron he is wearing, and the rolling pin in his hand. His outdoor table is set for tea, and his smile shows the reader he is a nice giant.
Page by page Princess Alice continues her search for her beloved blankie. “But then she saw her blankie with a dragon who looked cranky.” Alice felt a little scared. “That’s my blankie she declared.”
Alice has an idea and works with the dragon to find him a replacement, so he will return her blankie. The detailed drawings and fun rhymes, take the listener into an imaginary world of magical kingdoms, giants and snuggly teddy bears. Princess Alice shows love and compassion for the dragon who took her blankie. Knowing how important it is to sleep with something soft and warm, she wipes away his tears. strokes his head, and promises she will find something that’s just right.
This sweet story teaches children about kindness and compassion, even for someone who may have caused them harm. They’ll be happy when two unlikely characters become friends: ” … inside a royal palace lives a young princess named Alice. And now there is a dragon who will often come to stay!” Have You Seen My Blankie? is a comforting bedtime story for any child who, while still needing a security blanket or stuffed animal to cuddle, will feel reassured to learn that even a big dragon needs a snuggle at bedtime.
With its catchy opening line of Ground Control to Major Baby, a play on popular David Bowie lyrics, Future Astronaut is off and running! You want cute? This is cute! Twenty-four pages playfully pit Alexander’s prose plus Black’s whimsical side by side illustrations of what it takes to be an astronaut against whether or not baby has what it takes to join NASA. Note its logo emblazoned on several uniforms worn by the adults. Healthy hearts, good eyes, and strong teeth are needed. Check! Baby’s passed that test. Astronauts swim and so does baby. Looks like baby’s on track so far! What about two astronauts working together as they float in orbit? Astronauts live and work in small spaces. On the opposite page are two friends playing inside cardboard boxes. Small spaces are Baby’s favorite places! My favorite illustrations show first an astronaut eating from her plastic dehydrated food packs while baby clearly enjoys playing with plastic too, though not as neatly! But cleverly, once space travel involves leaving home to visit “far-off places,” baby’s not quite ready to take the next step and Alexander wraps things up beautifully with a blissful baby ready to travel as far as dreamland.
Another fun interactive book in Aarts’s “Look, There’s a … ” series of board books, this one’s ideal for little hands of Moon and Mars minded toddlers. Ten sturdy die cut pages let youngsters peek through the holes to see what’s next while answering easy questions in the rhyming text. Look, there’s a star and some planets outside. / Can you see three comets? / What a bumpy ride! Here’s a chance to introduce space travel in a colorful way that rocketeers will find hard to put down.
The Moon has always held such a fascination for mankind. What is it like up there? Is the Moon affecting our mood in addition to our tides? How long will it take to get there? But Hill’s picture book, Moon’s First Friends, turns that curiosity on its head by presenting a story told from the Moon’s point of view.
This Moon, friendly and a bit lonely, is watching Earth and its inhabitants evolve. From dinosaurs to caveman, from bicycle riders to hot air balloonists, from early rocket engineers to the Apollo 11 crew, the Moon sees everything, hoping, waiting … until one day in July it happens. Earth men blast off into space towards the Moon. Hill’s lyrical language here capture’s not only Moon’s joy, but everyone on Earth’s too. “At thirty stories high and weighing six million pounds, the rocket rose into the air amid an explosion of flames.” Several days later the mission makes it to the Moon. Then the most amazing thing occurs in Moon’s lifetime (and it’s my favorite part of the story), men emerge from the module and walk on Moon’s surface. Nothing would ever be the same after that visit. Young readers will share the delight felt by the Moon as expressed through welcome gifts of rocks and moon dust offered to the visitors. The astronauts bestow a token of their friendship as well by leaving a plaque that reads: HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON / JULY 1969, A.D. / WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. They then plant an American flag and zoom back to Earth. The Moon is now confident others will follow suit.
Paganelli’s artwork is charming and cheerful, breathing life into the Moon and all the events leading up to July. Readers can find a selected bibliography in the front of the book as well as back matter about the Apollo 11 voyage plus a couple of photos. Another cool thing that’s been included is a scannable QR code so kids can listen to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s historic first words on the Moon!
Add Aliana Reaches for the Moon to your assortment of Moon books because, while this one’s not about that historic time in July 1969, it is about the Moon’s influence on one clever young girl.
Aliana is creative and observant, great qualities for an aspiring scientist. She tells Gustavo, her little brother, that she’s planning something secret to present him on his upcoming birthday. A calendar in the illustration that accompanies her dialogue shows that there will be a full moon on May 26, Gustavo’s big day. What is Aliana up to that involves making such a mess at home? Thankfully, her parents don’t complain because they know that whatever she’s creating will be worth it. Inspired by great women of science before her, Aliana wants to invent something unique for Gustavo but that requires a lot of reading and preparation so she takes out a ton of library books to begin researching.
When the full moon arrives at last, Aliana shares the glowing result of her experiment. Behold an amazing “magical birthday cake!” And all it took was the ingenuity of gathering up five (Gustavo’s turning five years old) vases and glasses, filling them with marbles, coins, pieces of quartz and topping them “with a crystal from her collection … ” and waiting for the full moon to shine. Roettiger’s story shows readers what’s involved in inventing with the goal of motivating children to experiment themselves. By using the moon as her source, Aliana has harnessed the lunar light to bring her invention to life. Boroff’s jewel toned illustrations complement Roettiger’s prose as they convey the joy and satisfaction transforming a dream into reality can bring. An author’s note at the end explains the moon cycles for budding inventors.
The fifteenth book in Meltzer’s best-selling “Ordinary People Change the World” series is like Armstrong himself, it doesn’t fail to deliver. Kids as well as adults will learn so much from the 40 pages of Armstrong’s biography. I didn’t know that even as a young child, the future first man on the Moon exhibited astronaut-worthy traits such as patience, bravery, and intelligence (he loved to read). He was obsessed with airplanes too. He worked hard from an early age to earn money for flying lessons, earning his pilot’s license even before his driver’s license!
After joining the navy and “flying in seventy-eight missions during the Korean War,” Armstrong went on to become a test pilot after college. He eventually heeded President Kennedy’s challenge of “… landing a man on the Moon” and applied to NASA and was accepted into their astronaut program. The rest as they say is history, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. A double gate-fold in the center of the book shows the Apollo 11 astronauts’ glorious view of the Moon and Eliopoulos’s other cartoon-style artwork playfully depicts the space journey with the Eagle ultimately landing on the Moon’s surface. Parents can remind children to keep an eye out for a picture of Meltzer hidden somewhere in this and all his other books in the series. I love how both astronaut John Glenn and mathematician Katherine Johnson are also featured in one of the illustrations because their contributions to our successful space exploration deserve recognition. As a humble individual, Armstrong always credited the entire team that helped put a man on the Moon.
When Armstrong took his first steps, “One-fifth of the world’s population was watching on TV.” Children love to learn facts like that which are not easily forgotten. I am Neil Armstrong provides age appropriate and always interesting information conveyed in a kid-friendly fashion that demonstrates how one man’s determination and humility changed the world forever. Meltzer mentions what Armstrong’s family said after he passed away: “Next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Back matter includes a time line of the space race and several color photos including ones of the Apollo 11 crew.
Moonstruck!’s over 50 fab poems not only help children reflect on the momentous occasion from 50 years ago, but also touch upon so many different aspects of the moon orbit, landing as well as the mystery and majesty of the Moon itself. “The Lonely Side of The Moon” by Laura Mucha is about Michael Collins’ radio silence when he was separated from Armstrong and Aldrin for 48 minutes while Doda Smith’s “Dear Mr. Astronaut” features a child requesting some moon dust to add to his amazing collection of things. James Carter’s concrete poem, “The Moon Speaks!” is told from the moon’s perspective and B.J. Lee’s rhyming “Moon Marks” considers how long a dozen spacemen’s footprints will remain, frozen in time.
Classic poems from Emily Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson join new ones from Catherine Benson and Celia Warren and many more. Not only is this an awe-inspiring anthology of moon-themed poetry from internationally known poets, it’s got interesting facts when they can add to the appreciation of a particular poem’s topic. Boxall’s beautiful black and white linocuts add another delightful dimension to what’s already an out of this world anthology. Keep this one on hand for National Poetry month!
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
If you love graphic novels, don’t miss picking up a copy of Brown’s Rocket to the Moon! because it’s an excellent way to experience the trajectory of space exploration in cartoon format. It’s also the first in what promises to be a super new series, “Big Ideas That Changed the World.” This fast yet engaging read taught me more than a thing or two about the history of rockets with its attention to detail both through the text and the illustrations. Celebrating “the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately remade the world” the novel uses a narrator drawn from real life named Rodman Law to share the ups and downs of rocketry. We’re pulled into the story by this American daredevil’s attempt to launch a homemade rocket in the early 20th century.
Contrasting the entertaining introduction to the subject matter, Law takes us back in time to first century China where gunpowder was invented then fast forwards many centuries to explain how the British used rockets to bombard Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, hence Francis Scott Key’s lyrics in our national anthem, “… And the rockets’ red glare … ” We also find out how Jules Verne’s prescient science fiction novel, From the Earth to the Moon, influenced rocket scientists from Russia, Germany and the U.S. and how his vision translated into actual technology used during WWII. When the war ended, several German scientists surrendered to American authorities. Not long after, the space race began when the Soviets launched the first satellite and America, not be outshone by the Soviets, created NASA and the quest for U.S. travel beyond Earth began.
Brown goes above and beyond in recounting and depicting in his illustrations exactly how the competition played out which is what I’m sure tweens will enjoy. From sending dogs, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees into space (with some humorous and sad asides) to the ins and outs of peeing and pooping in a spacesuit, Brown doesn’t hesitate to illuminate us. But he manages to perfectly balance the funny facts with the serious ones including failed launches and devastating disasters resulting in death. About a month before President Kennedy announced the plan to land a man on the Moon, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space on the first manned trip. So, with the clock ticking, NASA’s planning began. We see and read about how many missions prior to Apollo 11 led the way for America’s historic achievement but it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication, smarts, teamwork, billions of dollars and eight years to get a man to the Moon. Yet Brown poignantly shows us how also, after all that had been accomplished, the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan in 1972, which is when Brown’s novel ends. Throughout the book, Brown’s artwork seamlessly succeeds at pushing the narrative forward and only adds to the emotional connection readers will feel with the subject matter. Ten pages at the end offer a helpful timeline, info about Rodman Law, Notes, a Bibliography and an Author’s Note. Needless to say, I devoured all 136 pages of Rocket to the Moon! It was carefully researched and presented in such an exciting format making it an invaluable and must-read graphic novel for middle grade kids.
The title of this middle grade nonfiction book, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, refers to the amount of time it would take to land a man on the moon starting from May 25, 1961, the day President Kennedy first made his historic challenge. This clever date-driven concept, presented in winning free verse by Slade, combines with Gonzalez’s dramatic illustrations to give a well-rounded account of that critical time in our nation’s history. Black and white as well as color photos add to the energy that emanates from Countdown.
Readers will find they soar through the book as Slade deftly describes the missions from Apollo 1 through Apollo 11 including the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts, Grissom, Chaffee and White. The sacrifice made by those three courageous men on January 27, 1967 was not in vain and resulted in life-saving improvements in subsequent missions. Following the fire Apollo 2 is grounded and “NASA decides there will never be a mission called Apollo 3.” Apollo 4 and 5 are unmanned and successful. “The dream is still alive.” Following that triumph, Apollo 6 fails and fears about the future loom large. Soon Apollo 7 is manned for space travel and will circle Earth. The crew even make TV appearances then return home jubilant. “It’s time for Apollo to head to the Moon!” Tweens may recognize the names of the Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. They become the first humans to fly above Earth orbit and to reach lunar orbit. I cannot imagine how it felt when they could see the Moon!
Slade intersperses actual astronaut dialogue which heightens the impact of these mind-blowing moments. She gets into more technical detail than I will here, but suffice it to say kids will learn the lingo and understand who and what’s involved in getting a mission off the ground. Apollo 9 and 10 are also monumental achievements, with their advanced space technology put into action with a space walk, a lunar and command module separation and re-connection, and flying the lunar module just miles from the Moon surface. Look out Moon, here we come! Of course Apollo 11 is given no short shrift but I’m out of space (no pun intended) so get this book and experience the excitement this 50th anniversary is celebrating. When the book ends, 18 astronauts will have braved the risks of space travel and fulfilled President’s Kennedy’s dream. On July 20, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said of the Moon landing, “For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”
This inside look at the Apollo missions confirms the contributions of a vast team of individuals (400,000) whose dedication to the shared vision “never wavered.” Slade and Gonzalez have clearly worked hard to brought that vision to every page of this beautiful book. Enjoy additional info in the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes plus more photos in the back matter.
Prepare for liftoff, lift up (pop-up and pull really) then prepare to be wowed by the impressive and brilliantly executed paper engineering along with a fascinating first hand account by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in To The Moon and Back.
Kids even younger than eight will enjoy the design element of this book but the text truly is geared for an older reader who will appreciate the candid and detailed commentary Aldrin has contributed to the book. In just 16 pages, readers are filled in on all that was involved in beating the USSR to a Moon landing and having the first men walk on its surface. I like how we’re pulled in immediately by the first spread showing photos of a newspaper headline, President Kennedy and the Apollo 11 crew positioned on top of a powerful image of the lunar module floating in space near the Moon. “Historians have called this story humanity’s greatest adventure” and I agree, especially considering how much was at stake.
The second spread and first pop-up depicts Aldrin’s space walk on the last Gemini flight, 12, juxtaposed against an enormous shot of Earth. It’s definitely the first “Wow!” moment but not the last! Here we learn Aldrin was nicknamed Dr. Rendezvous because of his excellent abilities at docking, a crucial element of the Moon mission. This page also features a recollection by Jan Aldrin, Buzz’s daughter about the day that Gemini 12 took off for space. Additional exclusive reflections can also be found on other pages. Filled with an insider’s anecdotes, this book is not only a great way to learn about Moon exploration, it’s also a fast, entertaining read.
What works in an interactive book like To the Moon and Back is how the story of Apollo 11 comes alive. By learning from Aldrin himself how he first came to join NASA in 1963 all the way through to his ultimate achievement of reaching the moon is inspiring. At the same time looking closely at the the pop-ups and other interesting images along with Jan Aldrin’s recollections, make this a powerful educational tool for kids. The engaging nature of the book means space enthusiasts can easily follow along on the successive missions, while reading about which astronauts were involved and what new goals were accomplished or sadly, sometimes not. Before that decade had ended, America had achieved what had once seemed impossible, confirming the “endless endurance of the human spirit.”
A bonus paper model to build is included. Tweens can assemble the Apollo11 Lunar Module and go tonatgeokids.com/to-the-moonfor additional step-by-step and video instructions.
There’s more to this book than simply a comprehensive history of “humanity’s journey into space.” It’s actually a book that’s been enhanced with augmented reality (AR). All readers need to do is download the Space Race AR app to be able to see detailed 3D spacecraft and vehicle models appear right on the pages of the book! Kids can also “watch videos come to life on the page, including real-life footage from NASA. How cool is that?
From Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer whose identity was kept top secret “for fear the Americans would assassinate him,” to the search for alien life (aka SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), it’s all here to soak up in 96 fantastic pages.
The book is broken up into six accessible chapters averaging between 13-16 pages: “The Race for Rockets”, “Humans in Space,” “The Moon in View”, “Space Stations and Shuttles,” “Probing the Planets,” and “Into the Future.” Tweens can choose to read the book in order or pick their favorite topic and indulge themselves. What’s wonderful is that even without using the AR app, I found the illustrations absolutely gorgeous. There are also a tremendous amount of photographs that capture important moments in time, and quotes such as one from Gus Grissom before his tragic death on Apollo 1 when killed by fire, If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we’re in and we accept those risks.” One of my favorite spreads in Space Race is the one where we get a peak inside the Apollo spacesuits. Its designers really thought of everything and I’m sure Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were grateful! For readers eager to learn more about living in space, the space station section offers detailed info on life aboard MIR.
This book will be a hit in classrooms, libraries and at home. Pick up a copy to be up-to-date on what’s happening in outer space and beyond the solar system.
Read a fascinating article about Katherine Johnson called “The Path to The Moon” written by Joseph Taylor in Cricket. Johnson, who worked at NASA “helped figure out the mathematics behind space travel—specifically the path astronauts would take to make it to the moon and back.”
Masha has four sisters and though they’re very different from one another, they fit together just beautifully in this treat for matryoshka doll fans. Presented in a clever 10 page, die-cut novelty book format, these colorful, folksy nesting dolls may be ubiquitous in Russia but never cease to entertain youngsters and adults. I know because I have a rather large collection of them at home from my many trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg. A great intro to Russian culture and storytelling because little ones can create their own tales about each sister represented: Natasha, Galya, Olya, Larisa, and Masha.
I don’t know any child who isn’t enamored of this adorable yellow dog with brown spots. This 10 page dic-cut board board in Spot’s familiar shape, is sturdy enough to withstand countless hours of reading and is a perfect way to share the carefree joys of childhood, or puppyhood in Spot’s case. Using simple rhyme, Hill brings Spot out into the rain and sun, introduces a few of his friends all having fun and makes spending time with Spot a highlight of any little one’s day.
Big Bug Log (A Bugsy Bug Adventure) by Sebastien Braun (Nosy Crow/Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 3-7)
Designed to resemble a log, this new die-cut board book is full of trails to follow, flaps to lift and lots of irresistible bug characters your kids will adore. “Bugsy Bug is going to see his grandma. She lives somewhere inside the Big Bug Log.” Now it’s your child’s turn to help Bugsy Bug choose the correct way to get there while encountering some cool places along the way including Mrs. B’s Treats, a busy restaurant, a library, a bedroom, a spider’s web and charming house on Hopper Street that Bugsy Bug’ grandma calls home. Definitely recommend picking up a copy of this and all Braun’s other board books, too!
The Princess and the Presents written by Caryl Hart with illustrations by Sarah Warburton (Nosy Crow, 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
One pampered princess + one over-indulgent king + one birthday celebration = three times the number of presents the palace can hold. The Princess and the Presents, a picture book written by Caryl Hart with illustrations by Sarah Warburton, is an over-the-top funny story that reminds us all of what’s really important in life.
Princess Ruby is as cute as can be in her pink frilly dress, pink shoes, and pink tiara. Her poof of unruly red hair completes her sweet look. But, Princess Ruby is far from sweet. She’s used to always getting her way. She bosses the servants, pushes her dad, and throws temper tantrums when she thinks she hasn’t gotten enough presents.
“But where’s my giant tree house?” bawled the greedy little tyke. “you promised me a cell phone, three puppies, and a bike!”
The palace creaks, groans, and ultimately explodes from the precarious piles and pillars of presents pushing up against its walls. Only then, is Princess Ruby remorseful, as her father is trapped beneath the rubble.
“What have I done?” wailed Ruby. “The best gift I ever had is buried in a pile of bricks. PLEASE! Help me save…my DAD!
Everyone comes to help save the king, who had taken cover in a cardboard box. Ruby miraculously makes the most of the mess, and, as all fairytale princesses do,
Lived happily ever after with her daddy (in a tree).
The palace walls are not all that explode in this book. Warburton uses vivid colors that pop off the pages. I poured over them a number of times relishing the details of her visually pleasing mixed media illustrations.
Cary Hart has a way with rhythm and rhyme. Her words fly easily off the tongue and are sure to elicit a “read it again” response from little ones.
Rita Zobayan reviews two board books in the fun and engaging new Nosy Crow Tiny Tab series.
Very young children love interactive books—pulling tabs, lifting flaps, and discovering who or what is hiding underneath. An added bonus is that the kids get to practice their fine motor skills. Nosy Crow presents two such board books in its “A Tiny Tab Book” series for children ages 0-3 ($7.99). These sturdy and chunky board books are 10 pages with 4 tabs that are each pulled twice. The adorable illustrations are by Jannie Ho, who perfectly captures the bright colors, friendly features, and cute details that make Nosy Crow books so delightful.
In Teeny Weeny Looks for His Mommythe mouse is trying to find his mother. He looks in all manner of places: behind the apple tree, in his pirate ship, in the flower bed, and in his playhouse, to name a few hiding spots. During his search, Teeny Weeny finds his friends: That must be Mommy behind the wall! Oh no, it’s Bear! Could Mommy be in the tree? No, that’s Monkey, and Bird with her chicks! His friends are fun to find, but where can his mommy be? Your children will enjoy helping Teeny Weeny find her.
In Bunny Boo Has Lost Her Teddy the little rabbit must get ready for bed, but she has misplaced her favorite lovey. She looks in the laundry room and the bathtub, but Teddys’s not there. She searches all over. Is he on the shelves? No, that’s Hippo, Mouse, and Penguin! Is he having tea with Koala? No, that’s Zebra and Owl. The search is great fun, but Bunny Boo has to get to bed. Teddy must be somewhere! Only your kids can help find him!
Let it Snow! A Winter-Themed Review From Rita Zobayan.
The holidays are over, but winter is still in full force in parts of the country! Grab a blanket, your favorite warm drink, and cuddle up to enjoy these wonderful winter stories.
You Make Me Smile by Layn Marlow is a sweet and simple story about a little girl who makes a snowman smile. As the first snow falls, a normal day becomes special for the girl who ventures out of her warm house to create a snowy friend. She gathers her materials and builds a buddy, and while the oncoming seasons may separate them, they will once again be able to share their friendship at winter’s return.
I enjoyed the clever play of words during the description. Is the narrator the girl describing the snowman or vice versa?
You’ll be cold, cold, cold, with a radish-red nose. Your arms may be stiff, but your eyes are going to shine. A long woolen scarf around your neck should keep you warm, but the cold doesn’t seem to matter to you, because…today is the special day…when you make me…smile.
The illustrations and typography suit the story well. They are inviting and warm, even though they depict winter. Look for small details, such as the girl’s watchful father, his birdhouse, and its inhabitants. You Make Me Smile certainly brought a smile to my face.
In Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day by Axel Scheffler, Pip the rabbit and Posy the mouse are excited to play in the snow! There’s so much to do: leave big footprints, catch snowflakes on their tongues, make snow angels, and go sledding. But when it comes time to create a snow creature, they can’t agree.
“Snowmouse,” said Posy.
“Snowrabbit,” said Pip.
Posy was so mad at Pip that she threw the snow creature’s head at him. Oh, dear! Then Pip was even angrier with Posy, so he pushed her very hard and she fell in the snow. Oh, dear! Now Pip and Posy were both very cold and very sad. Poor Pip! Poor Posy!
Will they work out their differences? Can they remain friends? Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day shows children that even best friends can disagree, and that kindness and consideration are really what makes for a great friendship.
Snow can seem magical—its stark purity, its delicacy as it falls, and its ability to create what can seem like another world. When It Snows by Richard Collingridge takes us on a magical journey with a little boy and his teddy bear. On his adventure, the boy finds polar bears, skiers, “the place where the snowmen live,” and the Queen of the Poles who introduces him to “tiny fairies that glow” and “thousands of elves and other magical creatures.” But the best wonder of all is revealed at the end, and it is one that readers will hold dear.
The illustrations with muted colors and shading perfectly create a feeling of other-worldliness and capture the wonder seen through the boy’s eyes. My four-year old daughter was captivated by this book, I think, mostly because of its sense of fantasy. She even said, “I want to go in there,” pointing to the book, which just goes to show that a book dealing with snow can bring warmth to your heart.
Reviewer Ronna Mandel shares her selection of favorite books from 2012 to help make filling those stockings less stressful. There are really tons more I’d love to mention, so if you are hankering to expand your list, just click here now to browse through the covers on our Pinterest page for more ideas.
Most Original and Pro Mom Picture Book
The Insomniacs(G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, ages 3-5) by Karina Wolf and illustrated by The Brothers Hilts.
The Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum($6.99, Nosy Crow, Ages 7 and up) is the fourth book in the Mega Mash-Up series by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson with more due out December. Basically the reader draws his way through the comic-style book to put his own mark on the story. There are a handful of pirate and Egyptian characters living separately. But both groups run into some financial distress, and they each have maps to the city’s abandoned museum where a valuable statue of a Golden Howler Monkey is housed. The real fun starts when the two groups of robbers both search desperately for the treasure and collide inside the museum. Kids can read the book and doodle their way to the end to find out who gets the treasure and what happens after that.
Due to the nature of the subject, this story may appeal to boys more than girls. What works so well in Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians is that the story is silly, fun and easy to read and stirs the imagination of the reader. Plus readers get to draw and participate in the story. They can create original art and also add to what’s there already. (There are some drawing tips and a picture glossary.) Reluctant readers will have so much fun with this book, they won’t even realize it is helping to hone their reading skills. Another bonus? This humorous book is really affordable and would make a great gift for a themed birthday party.
At a certain age, youngsters are fascinated with gross words and actions, especially the kind that adults try to avoid talking about in public. My three-year old daughter thinks that poop, pee, boogers and fart are the funniest words imaginable. Just the mention of a first syllable or sound will send her into delighted bursts of giggles. At about that same age, many little ones also become convinced of the existence of monsters. Currently, my daughter refuses to walk into a dark room because of suspected monsters hiding under tables, behind curtains, in corners and so on.
To see how she’d react to a book that combines her current favorite topic and her current fear, I left Icky Sticky Monster: A Super Yucky Pop-Up Book! on our coffee table and didn’t mention it. Within seconds of the first sighting, she brought the book over to me and promptly demanded that I read it to her. What followed was 10 pages of ewww and yuck, and one disgusted but thrilled kid.
Icky Sticky Monster, a friendly fellow, is busy being gross, and we get to witness his yucky habits through pop-up fun. Turn the page and see Icky Sticky Monster pick his nose— “That stinky little monster pulls out some snotty goo, and because he’s feeling very kind, he’s giving some to you!” —and drink down one nasty concoction—“Icky Sticky Monster guzzles down a jug of stinky, wormy cabbage juice with added chunks of slug!” The simple rhyme scheme works well with young children, who respond well to sing-song style text.
Pop-up books are engaging, especially when moving parts are included, as they are in this one. The pages are filled with bright (and I mean almost fluorescently-colored) art work and a cool font. The pages are thick enough to handle the wear and tear of little fingers.
Jo Lodge has written and illustrated a great, fun read for young children. If Icky Sticky Monster replaces the imagined boogeymen hiding at every turn, then my daughter (and, therefore, I) will sleep well tonight.