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Kids Picture Book Review – Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor

JUST ASK!

BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, BE YOU

Written by Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by Rafael López

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Just Ask Book Cover

 

STARRED REVIEW – Booklist

Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, knows just how that feels. In Just Ask!, written by Sotomayor, along with art by award winning illustrator Rafael López, a group of children work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way.

The book opens with a letter from Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In it she explains to the reader how she felt different when kids watched as she injected insulin into her arm. But, she says, they never asked why! “If you ever wonder why someone is doing something different from other kids, Just Ask.

 

Just Ask int 4P10

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

A beautiful assortment of colors adorn the pages as children of various ethnicities, shapes and sizes are seen holding flower pots, pulling wagons and walking through nature. The first character we are introduced to is based on the author, Sonia. She compares the differences in a garden to the differences of people. “Thousands of plants bloom together, but every flower, every berry, and every leaf is different. Each has a different smell, different color, different shape, and different purpose.” She explains to the reader that, like plants, kids are different too. “Each of us grows in our own way, so if you are curious about other kids, Just Ask!”

In one illustration Sonia is sitting inside a large red rose petal injecting the insulin into her arm. The question that is asked is “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?” As the reader turns the page, Rafael, just like the book illustrator’s name says, “I have asthma, which means I sometimes have trouble breathing and use an inhaler to make breathing easier.”

 

Just Ask int 4P12

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

While working together with smiles on their faces surrounded by rabbits, butterflies and birds each character poses a question to the readers. These in turn are answered by another child who may be feeling “different.” Sotomayor introduces us to characters with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Anthony is seated in a wheelchair; Madison and Arturo are both blind and use canes; and a boy named Vijay demonstrates sign language because he is unable to hear.

Lopez’s art of rainbows and smiling trees welcomes the child who may also be feeling different into this imaginary place. Just Ask is a great for parents to read to a child who may be going through his or her own personal struggle. Questions such as “Do you ever feel frustrated?” give the child a chance to express emotions.

The story ends with Sonia gathered around all her new friends amidst the beautiful garden they have all created. She tells them, “when something seems different or new I just ask my parents or my teachers and they help me to understand.”

Sotomayor shares a heartwarming story, also available in Spanish, that asks the questions some children may not know how to ask. This is a great and most needed read for the child who may be dealing with something challenging, and the child who has a friend who seems different but they just aren’t quite sure how to ask. López, whose own son has high functioning autism, says “I am energized to give visual voice to Justice Sotomayor’s compelling story about seeing the world through a unique perspective and being you.” This book shows kids that differences can make us stronger and how maybe kids can use that strength and uniqueness to someday be a part of the highest United States court. I hope this book finds its way to library story times and into classrooms because it positively models respectful interaction between kids of all abilities.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another book illustrated by Rafael López here.

 

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Kids Book Review – Best Father’s Day Picture Books 2019

BEST FATHER’S DAY PICTURE BOOKS FOR 2019

 

happy fathers day free clip art image of tie

 

Does your child’s heart belong to daddy or perhaps another important guy in their life? Here’s a selection of picture books that celebrate all facets of fathers’ relationships with their kids. Share a story this Father’s Day with someone special and make their day.

 

 my papi has a motorcycle-book-cvrMY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE
Written by Isabel Quintero
Illustrated by Zeke Peña
(Kokila; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist, Horn Book

With its beautiful homage to the author’s childhood home of Corona in California, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is an atmospheric read that pulled me in as the third rider on the titular motorcycle. Quintero and Peña team up for a second time to paint a picture in words and artwork of a changing city that’s still full of family, friends and overflowing with humanity.

This 40-page picture book feels wonderfully expansive in that it takes readers all over Daisy Ramona’s hometown huddled close behind her papi. A carpenter by day, Daisy’s dad often takes her out on his bike after work but tonight’s special because they’re going to see some of the new homes he’s building. As they take off on their journey, Daisy remarks how they become like a comet, “The sawdust falling from Papi’s hair and clothes becomes a tail following us.” Wow! You can easily feel the power of the motorcycle from the language and illustrations that fuel this fabulous picture book.

Travel page by page, gorgeous prose after prose, illustration after illustration, with Daisy and her Papi. Together they cruise by Joy’s Market and greet the librarian, “roar past murals that tell our history–of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them …” But when they head over to Don Rudy’s Raspados they see the front door boarded over, a sign of gentrification coming to the neighborhood. Still Daisy’s filled with delight at the city she calls home, a city that’s a part of her. They pass friendly faces and wave to Abuelito and Abuelita standing in their front yard.  The sights and sounds of Grand Boulevard greet her as they approach the circle where cars once raced and where Papi still “buys conchas on Sunday mornings!”

There’s no denying the glorious feeling readers will get as father and daughter make a few more important stops and eventually zoom home where Mami and Little Brother await. Don’t miss celebrating fatherhood, family ties and the meaning of neighborhood in this endearing picture book that simply soars!

great job dad book cvrGREAT JOB, DAD!
Written and illustrated by Holman Wang
(Tundra; $16.99, Ages 3-7) 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I never got a chance to read Great Job, Mom! but I’m happy I did get to read Holman Wang’s Great Job, Dad! This fiber artist extraordinaire painstakingly creates realistic scenes using needle felting in wool so I appreciate that the book’s back matter enlightens readers as to what’s involved in the process.

Holman’s rhyming story is funny and also realistic. It shows how this particular father, who is a manager during his day job (yes, that pays the bills), has many other volunteer jobs at home. When he feeds his children he’s a waiter. When he takes them for a hike in their wagon and stroller, he’s a chauffeur. “Quite often he becomes a chauffeur to several VIPs.” As an inspector (bound to bring out giggles because here we see Dad checking for a dirty diaper),”it matters what he sees!” We all know the role of judge dads often play  when siblings or friends fight. I think diplomat could have been added here, too! Additionally this dad puts in time as a computer engineer, librarian, pilot, architect, receptionist and astronomer that we see in detailed illustrations that never cease to amaze. Of course my favorite is the bedtime scene where titles from books on the bed and bookcase can actually be read. If you’re looking for something original to read for Father’s Day, pick up a copy of this picture book.

going down home with daddy book cvrGOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY
Written by Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
(Peachtree Publishing; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

My childhood friend’s mother was from the south and used to attend family reunions when we were kids. Going Down Home With Daddy is exactly how I imagined them to be. Lyons’s story, “inspired by her husband’s heritage and her own” beautifully captures the annual family gathering incorporating every sense in the reading experience. I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything through Lyons’s perfect prose from the car ride when Lil Alan’s too excited to sleep to his first glimpse of Granny, “scattering corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold.”  I could smell her peppermint kisses, hear the laughter as more and more relatives arrived, feel the breeze during the tractor ride, taste the hot, homemade mac and cheese and see the cotton field “dotted with puffs of white.”

The story unfolds as the narrator, Lil Alan, realizes he’s forgotten something to share for the anniversary celebration and cannot enjoy himself until he figures out what contribution he can make. When he does, it’s the most heartfelt moment although there are many others in this thoughtful, moving picture book. Minter’s warm illustrations in earthy tones heighten every experience and seem to recall the family’s African roots and connection to the land. I found myself rereading the picture book several times to soak up more of Lyons’s rich language and Minter’s evocative art.

side by side book cvrSIDE BY SIDE: A CELEBRATION OF DADS
Written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Phaidon; $18.95, Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, has created a simple yet spot on read-aloud with Side by Side. It will fill your heart as you share it with little ones. A diverse group of children and their dads engage in typical father-child activities, some of which I’d almost forgotten now that my kids have grown up. With each rewarding page turn, a new treat awaits at will resonate with both parent and youngster. Ideal for this age group, Side by Side, with its economy of words and buoyancy of illustration, manages to keep this picture book cool and captivating.

I love how Raschka opens with the quintessential Horse and rider as a little girl, braids flying to depict motion, rides bare-back on her dad. Readers will feel the delight emanating from her entire body. Raschka also cleverly demonstrates how roles change, first with a child fast asleep sprawled across his father while his dad reads (Bed and sleeper). And then he follows up that illustration with one parents know all too well. In Sleeper and waker that same man’s son attempts to get his father up from a nap. The watercolor art is lovely and joyful and leaves the right amount of white to pull us straight to the characters and what they are doing. I’m still smiling from this read!

up to something book cvrUP TO SOMETHING
Written by Katrina McKelvey
Illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan
(EK Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Up to Something serves as an ideal reminder on Father’s Day that there’s more to being a dad than simply being around.

After seeing a poster for a race, Billy gets excited and asks his dad if they can enter. When his dad says, “Of course, Billy! Let’s go build something!” he has one thing in mind when Billy has another. Once in the shed, Billy’s father’s words seem to indicate that he’s going to build the vehicle on his own despite making his son his special assistant.

Disappointed by the drudge work, Billy goes ahead and constructs his own vehicle. When his dad bangs and drills, so does Billy. Looks like Billy’s diving head on into the project yet his dad seems oblivious. When at last the race cars are unveiled, Billy’s vehicle has an individuality about it that is so much more unique than the one his father has made. That’s when it finally occurs to this adult that he has essentially ignored his child, that he hasn’t let his son contribute. That’s not a team effort. Putting their two heads together provides an opportunity for father and son to connect and create and, out of that combined effort, magic can and does happen.

Lonergan’s use of loosely shaped, muted watercolor and pencil in her illustrations complements the story. She’s also employed newspaper and what looks like sheet music as a substitute for wood, producing an added dimension to the art that plays into the book’s theme of imagination, recycling and invention. Clearly being present as a parent is what matters and McKelvey’s picture book hits that nail on the head.

a fathers love book cvrA FATHER’S LOVE
Written by Hannah Holt
Illustrated by Yee Von Chan
(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

I had no idea what to expect when I read Hannah Holt’s A Father’s Love but now I understand why it’s been getting so much buzz. Told in well metered rhyme that never feels forced, this charming picture begs to be read out loud. The author’s covered a colorful and varied selection of animal dads and sometimes family and focuses on the unique bond between father and offspring.

“Beneath a mighty REDWOOD TREE,
A fox tends to his family.
He keeps them safe
by digging chutes.
This father’s love
runs deep as roots.”

Nine animals from marmoset to toad, penguin to wolf and ultimately some human fathers fill the pages of this tender tale. We learn how dads do all sorts of interesting and important things for their young. Take the emu, for example. The male of the species incubates the eggs much like the seahorse. Chan’s appealing artwork shows again and again how strong a father’s love is the world over whether her illustrations are of an Emperor Penguin or a Peregrine Falcon. Dads may come in all shapes and sizes, some may swim and some may fly, but the love they have for their children is the one thing they all have in common. Back matter offers more details about all the animals in the book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Kids Book About Endangered Species – Don’t Let Them Disappear

DON’T LET THEM DISAPPEAR:
12 ENDANGERED SPECIES ACROSS THE GLOBE
Written by Chelsea Clinton
Illustrated by Gianna Marino
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

book cover art from Don't Let Them Disappear

 

New York Times best-selling author Chelsea Clinton follows the success of her previous middle-grade and YA children’s books about the environment with Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe. This 40 page nonfiction picture book shares the important message that “[e]very animal species is unique and important to life on Earth.” Kids learn more about popular animals (lions, elephants, tigers) while realizing they face extinction because of man-made problems such as habitat destruction, climate change, and poaching—a term that’s defined in a way kids can understand.

 

int artwork by Gianna Marino from Don't Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton

Interior spread from Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe written by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Gianna Marino, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

I like how Clinton weaves together facts including animal group names: towers of giraffes and embarrassments of giant pandas. Fun insights will engage kids; for example, when a sea otter finds a particularly useful rock for cracking open those tough clamshells, the otter will travel with their rock.

 

int spread by Gianna Marino from Don't Let Then Disappear by Chelsea Clinton

Interior spread from Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe written by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Gianna Marino, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

The closing pages explain why animals are endangered and how we can help by celebrating them on their special days (i.e., July 14th is Shark Awareness Day), placing trash only in trash cans or recycling bins (recycling helps fight global warming), and planting trees to combat climate change. Don’t Let Them Disappear offers an avenue for reflection and family discussions about the effects our decisions have on animals with whom we share the planet. Clinton’s hopeful words encourage us to act; “We can work together to change the future.” 

Gianna Marino’s lively art brings out each animal’s beauty and personality. The twelve featured creatures are depicted in various family groupings, warming the reader’s heart. Don’t forget to check under the cover for a bonus illustration!

 

 

Click here for Clinton’s tour dates.

Read a guest post about Earth Day and endangered animals by Vivian Kirkfield here.

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Thanksgiving Books for Children

A THANKSGIVING BOOKS ROUNDUP
Here’s a selection of our 2017 faves
For little ones to gobble up!

 

Llama Llama Gives ThanksLlama Llama Gives Thanks cover image
An Anna Dewdney Book
Illustrated by J. T. Morrow
(Penguin Young Readers; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

In just under 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
Otis Gives Thanks cover imageWritten and Illustrated by Loren Long
(Philomel; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

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

Where is Baby’s Turkey?Cover image Where is Baby's Turkey by Karen Katz
Written and illustrated by Karen Katz
(Little Simon; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

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 PumpkinCover image The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz
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 Pumpkin is 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.

                                               

 

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade
Cover image from Rettie and the Ragamuffin ParadeWritten by Trinka Hakes Noble
Illustrated by David C. Gardner
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

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.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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She Persisted Written by Chelsea Clinton

SHE PERSISTED:
13 American Women Who Changed the World
Written by Chelsea Clinton
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

Cover image from SHE PERSISTED: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton

 

She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton’s historical picture book, celebrates thirteen strong and inspirational American women who overcame obstacles because they persisted. Featured are Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor. The book’s opening line, “Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy” sets the tone. With perseverance comes progress.

 

Interior artwork from SHE PERSISTED by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger

Interior spread from SHE PERSISTED: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger, Philomel Books ©2017.

 

Each woman’s legacy is summarized in only one paragraph and includes the motivational words “she persisted”; the text is offset by corresponding images and a relevant quote. More personal than a history textbook, these bite-size biographies share a glimpse into the adversity overcome to achieve individual dreams. The book’s concluding words, “They persisted and so should you,” reinforces camaraderie and illuminates the message that, if you stick with it, you, too, can evoke change.

 

Interior artwork from SHE PERSISTED by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger

Interior spread from SHE PERSISTED: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger, Philomel Books ©2017.

 

Alexandra Boiger’s watercolor and ink images contrast muted tones alongside bright colors to effectively showcase these important moments. The opening two-page spread includes pictures of fourteen women; though not mentioned in the text, Hillary Clinton is depicted here.

She Persisted would make an encouraging gift for young girls “stepping up” through grades in elementary school. It would seem fitting that Chelsea Clinton write an accompanying book for boys.


Chelsea Clinton
is the author of the New York Times bestselling It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! and, with Devi Sridhar, Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? She is also the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, where she works on many initiatives including those that help to empower the next generation of leaders. She lives in New York City with her husband, Marc, their daughter, Charlotte, their son, Aidan, and their dog, Soren. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChelseaClinton or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/chelseaclinton.

Alexandra Boiger grew up in Munich, Germany, and studied graphic design before working as an animator in England and then at Dreamworks SKG in the United States. She is the author and illustrator of Max and Marla, and the illustrator of more than twenty picture books including the Tallulah series, and When Jackie Saved Grand Central. She has received the Parents’ Choice Award and has been featured on numerous state reading lists. Alexandra lives in California with her husband, Andrea, daughter, Vanessa, and two cats, Luiso and Winter. You can visit her online at www.alexandraboiger.com.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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Children’s Books for Inauguration Day

Best Books for Inauguration Day 2017

 

As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!

 

cover image of President SquidPresident Squid
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Sara Varon
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including:
1. Wearing ties.
2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene.
3. Being famous and having a book named after him.
4. Talking so everyone has to listen.
5. Bossing everybody.
But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king!
Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.

Cover image of What's The Big Deal About First LadiesWhat’s The Big Deal About First Ladies
Written by Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.

Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.

“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”

What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies helps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!

Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading.  Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.

Cover image from Presidential PetsPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
Written by Julia Moberg
Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.48, Ages 3-7)

A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Five Great Gift Ideas for Young Book Lovers

FIVE GREAT GIFT IDEAS
FOR THE YOUNG BOOK LOVERS IN YOUR LIFE
Selected by Ronna Mandel

 

GuessHowMuchILoveYouGiftSetGuess How Much I Love You Deluxe Book and Toy Gift Set
Written by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 3-7)

Who doesn’t know and love Big and Little Nut Brown Hare? With this gift set that includes a board book and soft Nutbrown Hare plushy, little ones will be reminded that there’s no limit to the love that’s felt for them. And who can forget the oft quoted phrase, “I love you to the moon and back” without feeling a tug on those heartstrings? An affordable gift that’s sure to please.

 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Board Book and Holiday OrnamentTheVeryHungryCaterpillarbookandornament
W
ritten and illustrated by Eric Carle
(Philomel Books; $19.99, Ages birth-3)

The beloved children’s classic “that teaches children about numbers, days of the week and time,” is perfectly paired with the most adorable apple ornament with that very hungry caterpillar emerging from it. I can just picture the smiles on children’s faces when they not only get to hear the story, but also when they get to enjoy seeing this unique Christmas decoration hanging on their tree. Destined to become a keepsake, this exclusive gift set will make a welcome gift for any family.

HistoriumcvrHistorium: Welcome to the Museum 
Written by Jo Nelson
Illustrated by Richard Wilkinson
(Big Picture Books; $35.00, Ages 8-12)

Journey back in time in the comfort of your very own living room as you hold this amazing collection of treasures from the past right in your hands. Explore ancient civilizations from around the globe as you tour the continents seeing stunning illustrations of a broad range of artifacts. Flip slowly through the pages as you would leisurely stroll down a gallery in a world class museum while studying descriptions as detailed and interesting as you’d find in any display case. Nelson and Wilkinson take us first to Africa then onto America, Asia, Europe, The Middle East, and Oceania. There’s also a comprehensive index. I couldn’t down put this oversized volume of often “sacred and culturally important items,” and you’ll find it hard to believe the illustrations are indeed artwork and not photographs. I found the Fresco from Pompeil (p. 61) depicting a Roman woman particularly appealing although picking favorites is difficult when the book contains so many glorious achievements in craftsmanship. From pottery to pillars, rock paintings to royal cemetery headdresses, Historium has it all and then some.

J. Smith: A Miniature Treasure from Queen Mary’s Dolls’ HouseJSmithMiniature
Written and illustrated by Fougasse
(Candlewick Press; $25.00, Ages 10 and up)

This new collector’s item is ideal for the dolls’ house and miniatures fans in your life. Imagine how you would have felt as a child, waking up on Christmas morning, to unwrap this red and gold packaged gift. I would have been thrilled to receive such an unusual present, especially to play with when I got out my dolls. J. Smith is an exact replica of a miniature book originally created for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, and if you’ve never seen a miniature book before, start here. I needed my reading glasses, but everything was there including gold-edged pages, tiny illustrations and even tinier rhyming text! There’s even a pamphlet included that explains the “Origins of a Masterpiece” and lots more. Here’s how this fairy story set in 1920s London begins:
One night in mid-September –
While storm clouds rode the air –
And a tempest swayed the tree-tops –
Stripping the branches bare –
A fairy was blown out of fairyland –
And fell … in Eaton Square.

I absolutely love this little book and so will your child. They had me at miniature!
Also available: A Sherlock Holmes Story: How Watson Learned the Trick


Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Boxed SetMissPeregrinesPeculiarChildrenBoxedSet

Written by Ransom Riggs
(Quirk Books; $56.97, Ages 13 and up )

Got teens not familiar with this extremely popular series? Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs is an intriguing tale of mystery and magic, inspired by a collection of inexplicable vintage photographs. The story begins in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, in which sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman travels to a mysterious island of the coast of Wales to try to make sense of his grandfather’s untimely and cryptic death. When he discovers Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children and their extraordinary powers, they fight unthinkable monsters and become allies while Jacob realizes that he actually has powers of his own. The story continues in Hollow City and Library of Souls as they embark on a journey to save their headmistress, Miss Peregrine, and many other peculiar children, who have been captured by their sinister enemies. Throughout this captivating series, Jacob learns about his grandfather, the friends that were once left behind, and a world that he could have never imagined. This boxed set includes 3 hardcover novels by Ransom Riggs and 12 collectible peculiar photographs. And just in case you hadn’t heard, the movie adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children arrives in theaters December 2016. – Reviewed by K.B. Jefferies

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Baking Day at Grandma’s by Anika Denise

A Recipe for Fun

Baking Day at Grandma’s, written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Christopher Denise, is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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Crisp white snow, clear blue sky, and roly-poly bear cubs burst onto the opening pages of this charming picture book, Baking Day at Grandma’s (Philomel, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Snuggled in wooly winter hats, mittens and boots, they march eagerly through the snow to Grandma’s cozy log cabin. Once inside they warm their toes at the fire then dance with delight, chanting “It’s baking day! It’s baking day! It’s baking day at Grandma’s!”

Grandma, a delightful, full-size ursine in paisley shawl and reading spectacles, doesn’t miss a beat. She capitalizes on her grandcubs’ youthful enthusiasm and passes out aprons before consulting her recipe book. “Wooden spoon and measuring cup, mix the batter; stir it up. Fold it gently in the pan, lick the spoon because we can.”

Told in bubbling, bouncy rhyme, the cheery tale and its sweet refrain are a song-like ode to special times with grandmothers. The text captures the simple pleasures of sipping cocoa, sketching on frosted window glass, and waltzing across a braided rug to the tunes on an old Victrola. Once the chocolate treats are baked, cooled and decorated, the cubs bundle and label the treats to give away to others. What they keep for themselves are just Grandma’s loving hugs and their memories of a special, happy day.

The illustrations are spectacular, especially the outdoor scenes of the shimmering pond reflections, snow-covered birch trees, and soft purple winter night sky. Although the interior images of brown bears in a tan cabin stirring chocolate batter may sound monochromatic, they are warm and lush with sunshine, fire glow and moonlight. Best of all, the bear cubs with tiny eyes and large upturned snouts simply exude camaraderie, glee and good cheer at every turn.

This lovely picture book, a collaboration between husband and wife, is a gentle, uplifting treat perfect for sharing on a warm lap or over a cup of sweet cocoa. You may even be inspired to try the delicious chocolate cake recipe included at the back of the book! I recommend baking one to keep and one to share, using the free Baking Day gift tags available here: http://www.anikadenise.com/free-goodies/

Click here for an informative (and fun) interview with illustrator Christopher Denise at All Creativelike.

Enjoy this heartwarming book trailer, too!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a copy of Baking Day at Grandma’s from a blog giveaway and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

The Nethergrim, Book 1 of The Nethergrim Series by Matthew Jobin, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

Nethergrim-cvr.pngIn The Nethergrim, a middle grade fantasy novel by Matthew Jobin (Philomel/Penguin 2014, $17.99, Ages 10-14), when livestock go missing, and pig bones are found, people in the town of Moorvale are concerned. They have always believed in the legend of the defeat of the Nethergrim by the wizard Vithric and the knight Tristan. Could these incidents be signaling the return of the Nethergrim?

Fourteen-year-old Edmund has always loved books, especially books on magic. His parents own the only inn in Moorvale, and expect him to work there and carry on after they’re gone. They don’t approve of his reading habits, and his father goes so far as to burn his books in the fireplace. Geoffrey, Edmund’s pesky little brother, finds Edmund reading a book on magic which was left behind by a mysterious visitor. Geoffrey wants to sneak out to play with his friends one night, and says he’ll keep his brother’s book a secret if he won’t snitch on him for going out. Edmund reluctantly agrees.

When seven children go missing that night, Geoffrey is one of them. The people of Moorvale realize that the Nethergrim is still alive and has come back to finish what it had begun: the destruction of their world as they know it. Edmund’s magic studies come in handy as he and his friends, Tom and Katherine, along with Katherine’s father (the only survivor to come down the mountain after the original battle with the Nethergrim) set off to find the missing children, and hopefully destroy the Nethergrim once and for all.

In The Nethergrim, Jobin has created a very dark, intense and engaging world full of monsters both human and otherwise. Those who are past the nightlight stage might find themselves flipping on the switch once again.

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A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream (Philomel Books, 2014; $16.99 Ages 5-8), by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

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Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream written by Kristy Dempsey with illustrations by Floyd Cooper, Philomel, 2014

Inspired by the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream is a story of high hopes and grand dreams. Told from the point of view of a young African-American girl in 1950s Harlem, the story encompasses her wish to become a ballerina set against the realities of racial prejudice and poverty. Even though our young heroine has practically grown up at the ballet school and has accomplished the movements, she is concerned that she will be held back by societal barriers. Could a colored girl like me ever become a prima ballerina? Mama says hoping is hard work. Mama unpins the extra wash she’s taken on to make ends meet…If there’s one thing Mama knows, it’s hard work. Mama works all day long every day, and most times on into the night, for the ballet school.

Hopes are raised when Janet Collins’ performance is featured in the newspaper. The young girl and her mother go to the opera and watch as Ms. Collins takes the stage, and suddenly the girl’s heart jumps up from where I’m sitting, soaring, dancing, opening wide with the swell of music. In my heart I’m the one leaping across that stage, raising myself high on those shoulders. When she and her mother head home, the girl knows that there is no need to waste my wishes. I’ve got dreams coming true.

The art work is a perfect match for the story, seeming almost ethereal, as if the viewer is watching from beyond, back in time. The muted colors give a feel for the setting, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke.

To be completely honest, this book brought tears to my eyes. It is a wonderful tale of courage, perseverance, and determination. Children, regardless of ethnicity, will be able to identify with having a dream, the fear that it might not come true, and the inspiration to see it through. My girls certainly did.

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A Truly Colorful Crayon Tale

51E7nP9Xi-L._SX225_Hitting shelves this June is The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books; $17.99; ages 3-8). Reviewer Rita Zobayan couldn’t peel herself away!

Art comes to life in the delightful new picture book. Duncan simply wants to color, but a stack of 12 letters in his school desk reveals that his crayons have feelings and opinions on not only his use of color, but also on their own relationships with each other. Poor Pink is tired of being relegated as only a “girls’ color” and demands usage! Green is quite content with its lot in life, but is worried about other crayons. Blue is appreciative, but exhausted from coloring oceans and skies. And, boy-oh-boy, will your child laugh out loud when Peach’s dilemma is revealed!

Humor, imagination, and a great sense of children’s language combine to make up the content of the letters, and each letter is cleverly illustrated in a child’s handwriting style. Here is Red Crayon’s communication to Duncan:

Hey Duncan,

It’s me, Red Crayon. We NEED to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring fire engines, apples, strawberries and EVERYTHING ELSE that’s RED. I even work on holidays! I have to color all the Santas at Christmas and all the hearts on Valentine’s Day! I NEED A REST!

                  Your overworked friend,

Red Crayon

Meanwhile, Yellow and Orange are feuding! Yellow states that Duncan needs to “tell Orange Crayon that I am the color of the sun…” and Orange fires back that Duncan should “please tell Mr. Tattletale that he IS NOT the color of the sun.” Both have coloring book evidence to prove their claims! What is Duncan to do?!

TheDaytheCrayonsQuit_interior_19The illustrations are spot on: you really believe that you’re looking at a child’s art. They creatively capture each of the crayons’ dilemmas—even Purple’s assertion that if Duncan doesn’t “start coloring inside the lines soon…I am going to COMPLETELY LOSE IT.”

The Day the Crayons Quit is a great read, and artist or not, children will delight in the humorous premise and colorful artwork.

For other Oliver Jeffers books, click here. Click the titles for our reviews of Stuck and This Moose Belongs to Me.

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Otis is Back and Puppy’s Got Him!

9780399254697HOtis And The Puppy ($17.99, Philomel, ages 3-7), by #1 New York Times Bestselling author/illustrator Loren Long, is going to win a lot of new fans who were not previously familiar with the engaging red farm tractor. The seeds of popularity were sown with two previous titles, Otis and Otis And The Tornado so it’s wonderful for children to have a new addition to this vibrant, lovingly rendered series.

After reading Otis And The Puppy I am fondly reminded of Benedict Blathwayt’s Little Red Train books featuring Duffy Driver. At age five, my son was obsessed with these tales of an anthropomorphic train whose exploits were both entertaining and upbeat. While Long’s artwork with its retro look is certainly different than Blathwayt’s, the themes the stories explore – friendship, loyalty, and perseverance – are the same which is why they resonate with readers.

With Otis books children not only get a benevolent tractor character but a whole bunch of other friendly farm animals to boot. We’re instantly drawn into the story with Otis playing hide-and-seek with his pals after the workday has ended. He discovers them in the most humorous positions guaranteed to get lots of giggles! But what happens one evening when the farmer introduces a new member to the group? A precious, affectionate puppy is welcomed by all. The trouble is that he’s put in a dog house on his own, away from his new friends, and he’s also afraid of the dark. Otis hears him whimpering and brings him into the barn so he can curl up and fall asleep in the comfort of the tractor’s seat.

One day during another round of hide-and-seek, the puppy wanders off into the woods as he follows a butterfly.  It soon gets dark and no one can find the puppy, not even the farmer.  Although the search is called off until morning, Otis feels he must fight his own fears and foray into the dark forest to find his friend. Of course, despite the darkness and nighttime noises all around, a determined red tractor is not going to give up.  It sure helps to have some headlights!  Otis counts … “one-putt, two-puff, three-puttedy four chuff” and is delighted when he tracks down his puppy pal.  And so are the readers who will feel empowered by Otis’s tale of courage and caring. What a beautiful way to end a busy child’s day – with thoughts of Otis and Puppy dashing around happily in their heads.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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Picture Book Review & Giveaway Day 2

Win over $130 worth of picture books and bring a smile to your child’s face!

Monday, September 10, through Wednesday, September 12, 2012 of this week we’ll be reviewing and/or briefly mentioning picture books that we’ve read recently then giving them away! And guess what? If  you LIKE us on Facebook and also send us your name and contact info in an email to Ronna.L.Mandel@gmail.com by Monday, September 24, 2012 you’ll be entered to win a prize package of all books covered!! Remember to write Picture Book Giveaway in the subject line.  **YOU MUST LIST ALL BOOKS COVERED ALL 3 DAYS as part of your entry eligibility so be sure to read the blog every day!! One lucky winner will receive eight hardcover books worth a total retail value of $136.88!  We’re making it SO easy for you to get your kids reading again this back-to-school season. And isn’t that priceless?  The giveaway opportunity ends at midnight on Monday, September 24, 2012 and a winner will be randomly chosen on Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Click here now for rules. Good luck!

Today’s theme is school.

Jacqueline Dembar Greene, the author of Speak Up, Tommy! ($17.95, Kar-Ben, ages 3-8) was inspired to write this picture book after reading about a police dog who was first trained in Israel to sniff out bombs and sense odd behaving individuals before being brought to America.  Catch was, he only understood commands in Hebrew!  In this story Greene has changed the characters around to focus on Tommy, a new boy in school who speaks very little English and when he does, his self-consciousness makes him barely speak above a whisper.  This prompts his teacher and classmates to ask him to speak up.  He is also teased by another student for having to learn to write in English, clearly no fault of his own. “You’re tracing letters?”  he is asked.  “We did that in Kindergarten.”

When Officer Sweeney from the local police department brings his police dog Samson to school, things begin to look up for Tommy.  It turns out that Tommy can communicate best with Samson using his Hebrew skills leaving teacher, classmates and even Officer Sweeney more than impressed. Poor Officer Sweeney explains to everyone that Samson ignores him, not understanding a single word of English. In the end, new friendships are forged  as Tommy’s confidence increases by helping out Officer Sweeney. Tommy is then enlisted to teach Hebrew to the policeman to better work with Samson and in return he’ll be taught English. The artwork by California illustrator Deborah Melmon makes the story come alive on every page and children will especially love the depiction of  tennis ball loving Samson.  A list of English/Hebrew Dog Commands is included at the end.

My Teacher ($16.99, Dial Books for Young Readers, ages 5-8 ) by author/illustrator James Ransome celebrates the power of terrific teachers. If every child had a teacher like the one Ransome writes about in My Teacher, parents could all rest a lot easier. While she never is named, she represents those special teachers who educated us, cared about us, inspired us and never lost the passion for sharing knowledge and wisdom with a new generation. Thanks James Ransome for this lovely and truly fitting tribute.

You Are My Wonders ($16.99, Philomel Books, ages 3 and up) by Maryann Cusimano Love with illustrations by Satomi Ichikawa is yet another glorious book with rhymes and artwork that jump off the page straight into your heart. As a parent I was touched by the sheer magic of the poetry and the beauty of every illustration. “I am your blank paper; you are my work of art. I am your lace doily; you are my glitter heart.” They had me at blank paper! 

**Recap – To be eligible for the giveaway: 

1. Read our blog this week
2. Like us on Facebook
3. Send us an email to Ronna.L.Mandel@gmail.com by Monday, September 24, 2012. Write “Picture Book Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, write:
a. The names of all the books mentioned in our blog posts from Monday September 10 through Wednesday September 12, 2012.
b. Your name
c. Phone number
d. Address
A winner will be randomly chosen on Tuesday, September 25, 2012.
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