In the picture book, Gwendolyn’s Pet Gardenby Anne Renaud, we know the problem from the opening line: “Gwendolyn Newberry-Fretz wanted a pet.” A very relatable problem indeed. Yet, Gwendolyn’s parents are not on board with the pet idea and, instead, get her some dirt which “smells of possibilities” to them. Gwendolyn thinks it smells like a swamp! Yet, once the garden gets underway, she reconsiders how she feels about this compromise.
Rashin Kheiriyeh’sillustrations peppered with bright accents pull you into Gwendolyn’s world, whether she’s suggesting various pets or plotting her planter. I feel the joys of gardening including the excitement of watching plants grow from seed.
I like how the back matter ties it all together, explaining what’s needed for kids to start their own gardens. Seed-lending libraries are explained and encouraged—a concept I hope catches on as well as the book-lending libraries we have in many neighborhoods. The idea of repurposing no-longer-needed library card catalog cabinets to house seeds brilliant!
Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for herScaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead).
Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.
However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …
Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.
Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.
In justunder 60 words on 14 sturdy pages, Llama Llama Gives Thanks, based on the characters created by Anna Dewdney, perfectly and joyfully conveys what the holiday is all about — celebrating together with friends and family, trying new foods and giving thanks not just on Thanksgiving but throughout the year. A message worth remembering and easy to understand when shared by Dewdney’s beloved characters.
Otis Gives Thanks, a 30 page board book, is certain to appeal to old Otis fans and bring new ones on board. Long’s popular tractor is grateful for so many things on the farm where he lives and works. Whether he’s hopping over hay or settling down to sleep, Otis is always thankful for playful moments, hard work and friends. This beautiful book radiates warmth with its stunning artwork of muted hues and feeling of a bygone era. Every page is a tribute to the heartland where our food is grown and a caring community including farmers love the land and the country, just like Otis does. www.otisthetractor.com
This sweet interactive board book invites young readers to help Baby find his cuddly turkey. By lifting assorted flaps and searching behind seasonal flowers, a gate, a basket, the fridge, in the kitchen and behind the door, Baby is introduced to a colorful variety of Thanksgiving items until his plush toy turkey is found. With just the right amount of flaps to entertain and engage, Where is Baby’s Turkey makes an ideal gift this holiday season for those just learning what Thanksgiving is all about.
The Ugly Pumpkin
Written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $7.99, Ages 2-5)
Move over duckling, here comes The Ugly Pumpkin! Horowitz’s hit, The Ugly Pumpkinis now in board book format with its humorous illustrations and rhyming first person text. Ideal for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, this tale is about a distinctly shaped pumpkin who is frequently mocked, never gets picked and is left to wander on his own to find someplace where he’ll be accepted and belong. The mood picks up when he discovers “a garden that was overrun with squash. I noticed something very odd and then thought, O my gosh …” This little pumpkin was a happy little pumpkin when he learns he’s really a squash! And for him, that was definitely something to be thankful for! Horowtiz’s whimsical illustrations add another layer of zaniness to a funny story that easily engages kids since it’s impossible not to empathize with the long, thin orange narrator.
If you’ve ever visited New York’s Tenement Museum, this historical fiction picture book will surely resonate with you. But even if you haven’t, from the very first page you’ll be transported back to the Lower East Side in November of 1918. Americans were overseas fighting and at home an influenza pandemic swept across the country making thousands of children, rich and poor, orphans. The disease did not discriminate. In the two-room tenement of nine year old Loretta Stanowski, or “Rettie” as she was known, looked after her consumptive mother and three younger siblings. Her father was a soldier somewhere abroad. So, to earn money to support the family during her mother’s illness, Rettie cleaned rags. She also longed for the upcoming Ragamuffin Parade which many now say was the precursor to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But would the city call off the event since so many people were ill and public gatherings had been stopped to prevent the influenza from spreading? During the Ragamuffin Parade, wealthy people would line the streets and give pennies to the raggedy clothed children who asked, “Have ya anything for Thanksgiving?” There would also be a scramble at busy street corners were pennies were tossed in the air and kids would scramble to collect as many as possible, hence the name. The parade would provide a much needed opportunity to bring in extra money. Putting food in the mouths of her family was Rettie’s top priority as was staying healthy so when her tenement building’s manager came down with the flu and was quarantined, an opportunity for Rettie to earn more money presented itself. This moving story is a well-written and engaging resource for anyone interested in daily life in early 20th century New York, although these scenes likely played out in cities across America. As the war came to end on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 28 a day of Thanksgiving. To this day we gather together as Americans to share a meal and reflect on our many reasons to be thankful. Between Noble’s well-researched story and Gardner’s evocative illustrations, Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a treat. The spirited young Rettie is an inspiring main character and her devotion to her family shines through on every page. An author’s note at the end provides more details for young readers as does an archival photo circa 1910 of the ragamuffins. Despite having grown up in New York, I’d never heard of this parade and appreciate Noble’s successful efforts at capturing the time, place and people struggling daily on the Lower East Side.
Two things are clear from the start of this book: Jasper needs some underwear and, he’s not a little bunny anymore. He persuades his mother to buy a pair of underwear advertised as, “So creepy! So comfy!” That night, Jasper wears them to bed and the trouble begins.
In Aaron Reynolds’s 48-page picture book, Jasper soon decides that, even though he’s a big rabbit, the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish glow” and magical powers are a bit much. Instead of bothering his parents or confessing why he’s jumpy, he finds ways to rid himself of the dreaded underwear. When they keep coming back, Jasper self-reliant attitude conflicts with his fears
Peter Brown brilliantly conveys the somber mood in black and white images, offsetting the unusual underwear in neon green. When Jasper finally entombs his problem, Brown rewards the reader with a two-page wordless spread of darkness followed by Jasper’s eyes, surprised and oversized at the absolute blackness he has achieved.
The text’s refrain cleverly changes along with Jasper’s perspective. Acting like the big rabbit he professes to be, Jasper solves his own dilemma. Reader and rabbit receive an illuminating conclusion.
The team of Reynolds and Brown scored Caldecott honors with their previous book, Creepy Carrots! Featuring the same rabbit and a humorous plot, Creepy Pair of Underwear!will haunt you to read it again.
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!brings us a Halloween adventure with this pair of favorite feathered friends Duck and Goose. This 40-page picture book will engage young children who, during this time of year, are eager to ask, What are you going to be for Halloween?
Goose, unclear on the concept states he’s going to be himself, of course, because “it’s important to always be yourself.” And, rightly so. But, fun soon follows when their friend, Thistle, appears and boldly states that she’s not telling them about her costume. It’s a secret. Then she cautions them to beware of the swamp monster tomorrow when they go trick-or-treating.
Of course, the mention of that ghoul haunts Goose that night and the next when he sets out, ready to collect candy. All seems okay until he’s told the swamp monster is looking for them!
In this book, Tad Hills continues the beloved series wherein emotions are explored in a gentle manner. Throughout, his illustrations, are expressive, capturing Goose’s trepidation. Particularly well depicted is the forest trick-or-treating scene—such fun to see how animals celebrate.
Children can relate to the slight apprehension surrounding Halloween that is paired with the excitement of get dressed up and, in the end, sorting their bounty.
Halloween Good Night, a rhyming 32-page picture book, counts from one to ten using charmingly ghoulish families. Rebecca Grabill employs some standard spooky Halloween creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Refreshing additions include wood imps, globsters, and boggarts. “Lurking in the swampland, lanterns glowing like the sun, sits a massive mama globster and her bitty globby one.”
The captivating cadence of the lines is spiked with clues enticing the reader to question where everyone is going. Soon, we find ghosts “sail through your door” and boggies wait in your closest for “your bedtime once again.” This removal of the so-called fourth wall makes the audience part the story.
A not-at-all-spooky conclusion is followed by a quick countdown from ten to one. Because the number sequences are handled with interest even older kids will engage with this “counting book”—there is much more to the story.
Ella Okstad delightfully illustrates the funny scenes (such as seven goblins dumpster diving with Granddaddy Goblin). Colorful images infuse the shadowy darkness with mischief and humor.
Halloween Good Night shows us that monsters can be playthings like dolls or stuffed animals. Instead of fright, they bring delight.
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!
IN AN OLD HOUSE IN PARIS THAT WAS COVERED IN VINES …
I’m thrilled to highlight the 75th Anniversary Edition of Madeline (Penguin, $25, Ages 3-5) by Ludwig Bemelmans. This slip-cased special edition includes a pop-up spread of Paris featuring a panoramic view with the Eiffel Tower, a familiar landmark, just behind Miss Clavel and “twelve little girls in two straight lines …”
You’re familiar with Madeline, I presume – the adorable, spunky redhead with the yellow wide-brimmed hat? Have you held onto your old copies from when you were a child? Did you also save your Madeline doll or puppet? Was it memories of Madeline that made you first want to visit Paris?
As a reviewer, I was happy to receive a press kit filled with tons of fun facts about both Madeline that I’m eager to share with you.
1. Madeline is not an orphan – the old house covered in vines is a boarding school!
2. Madeline is an American by birth and a citizen of the world.
3. Madeline’s last name is Fogg.
4. Madeline gets her red hair from her mother, as seen in Madeline’s Christmas.
5. Madeline’s family owns a ranch in Texas, as learned in Madeline in America.
With over 14 million books sold worldwide, it’s no wonder Madeline remains as popular today as when she first arrived on the scene. And I have a feeling this anniversary might spark an interest in some longtime Madeline fans revisiting this beloved classic series. Penguin makes it easy. In addition to this celebratory edition, Penguin’s also published A Madeline Treasury, which features all the classic Madeline adventures in one must-have volume; and a reissue of Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s Creator by John Bemelmans Marciano, Ludwig Bemelmans’ grandson and author of the new Madeline titles.
And if all of this isn’t wonderful enough, an exhibit at The New York Historical Society coincides with this 75th anniversary. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA has organized Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans, the first exhibit devoted to the artist in more than 50 years! Make your plans accordingly as this rare treat will be on display from July 4 – October 13, 2014 before it heads back to Amherst.
Check out this link to see artist JTMorrow’s blog post that includes lots of great images and details about working on the special pop-up spread along with the art director, Denise Cronin, and paper engineer, Michael Caputo.
Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln!
Ronna Mandel reviews the biography, I am Abraham Lincoln, by Brad Meltzer.
In January, reviewer MaryAnne Locher reviewed I am Amelia Earhart by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos and discussed what makes a hero. Today, on our 16th president’s birthday, I thought I’d share Meltzer’s other book in the new Ordinary People Change The World series from Dial Books for Young Readers ($12.99, ages 5-8), I am Abraham Lincoln, and discuss what makes a great human being.
What is it that makes Abraham Lincoln one of the most admired, quoted and famous individuals in American history? Clearly it’s because stories of Lincoln’s life demonstrate he was a role model, a voice for those who could not be heard. In I am Abraham Lincoln, one of the first titles published in the new Ordinary People Change the Worldnonfictionseries, author Meltzer introduces us to the young Lincoln, a boy who early on felt strongly about right and wrong and didn’t hesitate to say so.
From a young age, Lincoln preferred reading to working on the farm. He defended the rights of animals when he saw boys behaving cruelly to a turtle and actually composed one of his first essays – “about how hurting animals is wrong.” When most kids of that era did not even attend school, Abe was determined to learn and spent time teaching himself to write. “I loved books so much, I once walked six miles … to get one.” He read every book he could get his hands on and he read everywhere he could. It’s no surprise his love of books would prove to serve him well as he entered public life.
Presented in an engaging, cartoon-like style that sets this biography series apart from others, I am Abraham Lincoln, is not only easy to read, but fun, too! What kids will adore is seeing our 16th president as a child, interacting with other children and dealing with issues other children deal with to this very day. And though we know Lincoln as a tall, almost larger-than-life figure, looming over his fellow politicians or his foes, in the picture book he remains small throughout, and depicted by Eliopoulos most of the time wearing his signature top hat (where he often kept his important papers).
We learn that Lincoln was once bullied and what troubled him most about being bullied was that the bully, one Jack Armstrong, cheated. He didn’t beat Lincoln fair and square. This irked Lincoln more than being beaten up and when he confronted Armstrong and his cronies with this fact and proposed to fight each and every one of them, they relented. “Sometimes, the hardest fights don’t reveal a winner – but they do reveal character.” This has to be one of my favorite lines in I am Abraham Lincoln because I think it is indeed the essence of who he was and what he was all about. He was destined for great things.
Of course in school children learn about Lincoln and his role in the Civil War, keeping the South from seceding and bringing freedom to slaves, but I also learned that he lost four elections (yes, four!) before becoming president and that his Gettysburg Address, which followed “a speech that lasted nearly two hours” was only two minutes long and 271 words! I love the quotes used in the book and the B & W photographs included in the end pages. They help ground the story of this remarkable man and remind us of his enduring contribution to our nation. A hero among men. “I am Abraham Lincoln,” he says and “I will never stop fighting for what’s right.”
Mr. and Mrs McGregor, Peter Rabbit, and Benjamin Bunny appear again in this story inspired by the original tales of Beatrix Potter, but this time a new character, William, appears.
After spoiling their mothers’ attempts at holiday baking, both Benjamin and Peter are sent on errands. They run into their friend, William, a turkey who is foolish enough to believe the special food and treatment he receives from the McGregors is due to his importance. Peter, having lost his father to one of Mrs. McGregor’s pies, and being the good friend he is, decides he must warn William that he is being fattened up for the McGregor’s Christmas dinner. William blanches at the thought, but the three friends, come up with a brilliant idea that leaves the old couple eating nothing but boiled potatoes and winter cabbage on Christmas day. The Rabbit family enjoys a delicious Christmas feast and Mrs. Rabbit even bakes a special barley-cake for William, whose feathers are still too puffed up to fit in the burrow.
I almost forgot I wasn’t reading Miss Potter’s words or enjoying her illustrations, this book was so exquisitely done. Eleanor Taylor’s sprinkling of woodland animals and barnyard critters in all the right places with just the right colors, provides not only beautiful pictures, but an opportunity for story building. This book is certain to ensure a Merry Christmas for all who read it!
If you’re an Emma Thompson fan, click here to read our previous review of her first Peter Rabbit picture book, The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.
The Ultra Violets by Sophie Bell (Penguin Books for Young Readers, $12.99, Ages 8 and up) is reviewed today by Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore (we know it’s not a Friday, but we’re featuring Flintridge Bookstore anyway!) Also, for a chance to win a copy the book along with an Ultra Violets T-shirt, click here. For entry rules, click here. Giveaway ends midnight PST on Friday, May 10, 2013. Remember to write Ultra Violets in subject and good luck!
Girl superhero books are few and far between. Yes, of course, we all will always have Wonder Woman. However, I was hard pressed to think of a book whose main character was a little girl who was a superhero. Now, that problem is solved thanks to Sophie Bell’s book The Ultra Violets. Reminiscent of The Powerpuff Girls, this book will provide a delightful free read. Printed in violet ink (a very nice touch) the book chronicles the adventures and exploits of Iris, Cheri, Scarlet, and Opaline. These girls have been best friends since forever (as one of the characters might say), but one slumber party changed their collective lives forever. A science experiment went awry, and some mysterious purple goo showered on all four girls! This changed them into the superhero team known as The Ultra Violets.
Each girl has a very separate personality, and distinct superpower. One of them even ends up with violet hair! As the cover’s tag line says, “The Fuchsia Is Now!” and clearly now is the time for some of the fans of The Dork Diaries or Diary of a Wimpy Kid to have a superhero adventure. The, “Hey, you! Yeah! I’m talkin’ to you kid!” style of narration, tongue-in-cheek puns, and sassitude will appeal to readers who like a more informal read. In The Ultra Violets there is imagination, there are acts of courage, purple, and glitter references galore, which is pretty much the point of this book. Like the first bite of grape bubblegum, this book is a sweet treat, and would make a great summer read. It’s like a vacation to a world beyond the usual and ordinary. Look for the next book in the series Ultra Violets #2: Power to the Purple! in early August, 2013.
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of this book, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.
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.
Dangerously Ever After ($16.99, Dial Books, Ages 5 and up) by Dashka Slater is not your every day fairy tale. Sure there’s a prince, princess, a castle and a forest. But other than that, you’ve never heard this plot before. Princess Amanita is not your quintessential prissy princess, rather she mostly likes things that are dangerous – a pet scorpion, broken glass and a bicycle without brakes, to name a few.
One day, Prince Florian from a neighboring castle stops by and brings her roses. The princess loves the long, painful thorns that poke through her skin so much that she puts the roses in a vase with the stems sticking up and the flowers facing down. She asks the prince to please give her some seeds so she can grow more prickly roses. He brings her some seeds, but instead of roses, she finds the seeds have sprouted a bunch of sniffling, sneezing noses. (This part of the book gave me a huge chuckle as I am likely the most allergic person on the planet; one who sneezes throughout the day, every day of every year.) Well Princess Amanita is so disappointed with the useless noses that she sets out on an adventure to return them to the prince. But what she discovers is that these noses may be able to serve a useful purpose.
This book is sure to entertain because:
Despite the fact that the book is about a princess, the story is extremely creative, original and humorous.
The main character, Princess Amanita, is independent and daring, unlike so many princesses in so many fairy tales.
The princess looks at every day things in ways much different than most of us look at them, teaching the reader new creative ways of thinking.
Though a very unique plot, the story is still enchanting the way a fairy tale should be.
The illustrations by Valeria Docampo are excellent, vibrant and very detailed.
A while back I reviewed another story about a princess – Seriously, Cinderella is So Annoying, that I also loved because it was unique and funny just like this book, yet in a different way. Any story that surprises and delights the reader is worth a look, and Dangerously Ever After is one of those stories.
Note: If your child is an early reader, this book is a bit sophisticated and longer than most picture books, so it is best that you read it together.