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Picture Book Review – Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note

SALLIE BEE WRITES A THANK-YOU NOTE

Written by Courtney Sheinmel & Susan Verde

Illustrated by Heather Ross

(Abrams BYR; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note cover Sallie on scooter mailing note

 

Certified yoga and mindfulness instructor, and NY Times bestselling author, Susan Verde has done it again! As a fan of Verde’s books, I Am Peace, and I Am Yoga, I wasn’t surprised that Sallie Bee Writes A Thank-You Note, co-written with Courtney Sheinmel, would leave a smile on my face.

Illustrator Heather Ross introduces readers to the big brown-eyed main character with bee-design ponytail holders, and her constant companion cat faithfully by her side. The two are eagerly standing on the steps of her porch greeting the mail carrier who has a surprise for Sallie. “It was not Sallie’s birthday. It was not a holiday. It was just an ordinary day.” Grandma Bee knitted a stripey scarf for Sallie, (note the same bee color scheme) and surprised her with this heartfelt gift. Included with the gift, Grandma has written a note telling Sallie that the scarf was made just for her.

Sallie knows she must thank her grandma for this kind gift, and being from the cell phone generation, she tells her mom she needs to borrow her smartphone to send a quick text. Well, Dr. Bee is busy sending and receiving texts of her own, and five minutes … “And ten minutes after that, she was still on the phone.” The relatable illustrations show Sallie and the cat desperately trying to pass the time rolling on the ground with the scarf. Eventually, the cat falls asleep on her lap. Ross’s spot art perfectly and humorously plays off the text that will resonate with kids and adults.

 

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note int1 Sallie composing text
Interior art from Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note written by Courtney Sheinmel and Susan Verde and illustrated by Heather Ross, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

Still needing to stay busy while waiting for the phone, Sallie decides to write down what she will put in that text (if Mom ever gets off the phone). She starts with the basic “Thanks, Grandma” but realizes she needs to tell Grandma how happy the scarf made her feel. When Mom returns dressed in her blue scrubs (it was nice to see Mom wearing a Jewish star necklace), she notices Sallie has written quite a lot and tells her that she just needs to sign her name and put it in the mail. Sallie excitedly adds squiggles to her note and walks with her mom to drop her thank you in the mailbox (with a stamp, of course).

Sallie enjoyed writing that first thank-you note so much that she waits for another package to arrive the next day, but no package arrives. When Sallie safely crosses the busy street with the crossing guard in one scene, and after she’s given an umbrella by her bus buddy in another, she realizes these gestures are thank-you note worthy. She begins to pass out thank-you notes to express her appreciation, each one ending with Love, Sallie. The smile on recipients’ faces tells the reader everything they need to know. Sallie even leaves a thank-you note for her brother, Jack, for not letting his tarantula out of his cage and into her bedroom. It’s also sweet for readers to see Sallie receive a surprise envelope in the mail. This time it’s a letter thanking her for showing all the reasons to write a thank-you note, signed Love, Mom.

 

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note int2 note for lunch lady
Interior spread from Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note written by Courtney Sheinmel and Susan Verde and illustrated by Heather Ross, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

This much-needed story about one child’s thoughtfulness in acknowledging others’ kindness shows kids how something as simple as offering gratitude via a handwritten note can change a person’s day. The back matter is a letter written to the reader explaining how they too can write a letter of thanks. The letter is signed by Courtney and Susan with suggestions such as writing what you are thankful for and how it makes you feel. My brain swirled with ideas of teachers working within their curriculum using this book to help kids compose thank-you notes, practicing communication skills and handwriting too. It’s also a fun project for a child to do with a grown-up at home. Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note also serves as a great reminder to adults to put down their cell phones, engage with their kids, and even pick up a pen now and then.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – The Snowman Waltz

 

THE SNOWMAN WALTZ

Written by Karen Konnerth

Illustrated by Emily Neilson

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Snowman Waltz cover snowmen waltzing on frozen river

 

Cold and snowy weather may wreak havoc across the U.S., but The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson makes good use of such frosty conditions. Set against a beautiful backdrop of a winter woodland glen, this picture book invites young readers to glide across their own floors and follow in the footsteps of the snowmen and penguin characters.

 

The Snowman Waltz int1 snowmen dancing in top hats
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Konnerth has created a friendly battle of the beats in that a jovial snowman community’s waltzing activity is described in a 1, 2, 3 rhythm until they are surprised by penguins whose marching movements are then written in a 1,2, 3, 4 beat. I loved this idea! I eagerly turned the pages to see how the two different groups and dance patterns, not to mention the text, would come together.

While clearly no ill will was intended, the penguins did barge in on the snowmen’s ball. The chaos that ensued is one of my favorite spreads. Under the starlit sky, we see a profusion of confusion as white and black and white bodies are tossed about!

 

The Snowman Waltz int2 snowmen and penguins shout and fall
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

While at first, it seemed that penguins and snowmen got pretty badly bent out of shape, the chaos soon turned into a solution as the youngest of the penguins and the youngest of the snowmen gravitated to each other. Then they demonstrated a smart new approach. Working together!

 

The Snowman Waltz int3 snowmen and penguins dancing together
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Before long a line forms, greetings take place, and then magically … Back and forth they bump and waddle./Having fun they slip and slide./Then the snowmen show the penguins/Something that they never tried.

The rhyme is delightful and, motivated by Neilson’s visually appealing illustrations—icy cold never looked so good, I could easily have taken the book in hand as my partner and twirled across my kitchen floor! So it’s no surprise that  backmatter includes sheet music and a finger dance activity. This charming tale of cooperation would make a great story time selection and conversation starter.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Stay in a winter mood with this snowflake-themed picture book.

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Picture Book Review – Sylvia Finds a Way

 

 

SYLVIA FINDS A WAY

Written by Stephanie Shaw

Illustrated by Fiona Lee

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

When a tiny slug and her animal friends discover a beautiful garden full of delicious food, they attempt to fill their bellies using one of their strengths in the sweet picture book, Sylvia Finds a Way. Unfortunately, a vigilant gardener stands ready, and each animal BOUNDS, DARTS, or FLIES away with an empty tummy … until Sylvia comes along.

 

Sylvia Finds a Way int1
Interior spread from Sylvia Finds a Way written by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Fiona Lee, West Margin Press 2021.

 

Confident in her own brand of quiet strength, Sylvia’s way teaches kids that there are different kinds of strength. And that often, the best way to solve a problem is not with physical strength, but with patience and words.

 

Sylvia Finds a Way int2
Interior spread from Sylvia Finds a Way written by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Fiona Lee, West Margin Press 2021.

 

Stephanie Shaw and Fiona Lee’s depiction of this unlikely hero is sure to find fans among yoga and garden enthusiasts. Lee’s expressive art is a perfect complement to Shaw’s simple and satisfying story. The earthy color palette allows Sylvia’s “slime” trail of silvery, shiny gloss to take center stage, keeping even the youngest readers entranced. Throw in some fun yoga poses, and this book makes a delightful, interactive read-aloud. 

 

Sylvia Finds a Way int3
Interior art from Sylvia Finds a Way written by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Fiona Lee, West Margin Press 2021.

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From School Library Journal: “Shaw’s evocative descriptions of the flora and fauna will engage young readers and the author’s note gives factual information about slugs and their value to the garden’s ecosystem … The balance between boisterous action and meditative zen makes this title a standout among yoga picture books. A fun, frolicking tale, and welcome addition to picture book collections, that sneaks in an etiquette lesson without feeling overly didactic.”

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – Terrific Table Manners

 

TERRIFIC TABLE MANNERS

Written by Michelle Markel

Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-7)

 

 

 

 

As the busy holiday season approaches, I can’t think of a more timely book to share with your children than Terrific Table Manners, a humorous 64-page illustrated manual written by Michelle Markel with art by Merrilee Liddiard. The publisher’s blurb says, “Inspired by the classic Tiffany’s primer on manners for teens and featuring a familiar cast of characters, Terrific Table Manners is a modern take on table etiquette that follows the course of a proper dinner-party meal.”

To expand on that introduction, I’ll add how enjoyable I found this thoroughly modern approach to 21st-century manners geared for a younger reader. The primer is presented in rhyme (with a smattering of snark) and complemented by retro art with ample white space, lovely linework, and warm tones in a watercolor style. Aptly beginning with the invitation and RSVP chapters, Terrific Table Manners proceeds to the meal itself including the main course, vegetables, and dessert through to the dare-I-say dreaded and oft avoided thank you note.

 

Terrific Table Manners int1
Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

Kids will learn about what to do and what not to do at a dinner party as they’re guided through by Mr. Faris (who went to manners school in Paris) and his co-host/teacher Prudence at the School of Manners and Etiquette. Together these instructors also cover essentials such as making conversation to which silverware to use for which course. That’s not all that matters during a meal. I was delighted to see cell phones mentioned and by mentioned I mean recommended to be shut off! “Cut the chicken off the bone. Bella, please turn off your phone.” While I did wonder how many 5-7 year-olds (the target audience) have telephones, I figured this might be a book an older tween sibling would enjoy since good manners apply to all ages.

 

 

Terrific Table Manners int2
Interior art from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

One of my favorite lines in the book happens during the main course. “Don’t hold utensils with your fists! Only cavemen eat like this!” Sound familiar? As the dinner-party class progresses, the children get more out-of-hand and the teacher/hosts become more frustrated and exhausted. Young readers and their parents may find this aspect the most relatable. Having kids sit still at a meal has often been a sore point in many families, and holiday time is no exception. Keeping chaos at bay is crucial to the etiquette pros but ultimately they don’t succeed as witnessed in the last two closing spreads.

 

 

Terrific Table Manners int3
Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021

 

 

Perhaps all has not been for naught when readers see the lovely thank you notes at the end. Will children finish the book and admit they’ve gleaned a tip or two? We can only hope so! The two pages of back matter detail specific aspects of a dinner party, gently encouraging kids to use proper etiquette and see what a difference it makes even at home and in restaurants. 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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I Have a Balloon Written by Ariel Bernstein

I HAVE A BALLOON
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

I Have a Balloon cover illustration

 

It’s a clear and clever case of the balloon is always redder as opposed to the grass is always greener in Ariel Bernstein’s debut picture book, I Have a Balloon featuring illustrations by Scott Magoon. I absolutely adored this story because it not only took me back to my childhood, but reminded me of so many episodes I had to navigate with my children when the dreaded sharing demon reared its ugly head. I appreciated the slow, steady build up of this timeless tale that takes the dislike of sharing to humorous new heights.

Int spread of Owl with red balloon and monkey from I Have a Balloon
Interior spread from I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein w/art by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Owl’s got a lovely red balloon he’s pretty darned pleased with. Monkey would like it. Owl says no. Persistent in his pursuit, Monkey offers to trade something of his in return. Owl’s not interested. But it would make Monkey SO HAPPY! Forget about it! Forget the teddy bear Monkey’s willing to swap. Or the sunflower. Or for that matter, the robot or the hand drawn picture of ten balloons. No. No. No. Not a ball or a pin. But something about the sock with a star and a perfectly shaped hole seems to suck Owl in. Suddenly the play potential of this single sock is just so appealing that the tides turn. Following creative, circular prose, readers end up at a similar point from where the drama of this delightful book began.

From the playful book jacket flap copy spoiler alert of: This is NOT a book about sharing to Bernstein’s spot on prose pitting Owl and his special, it’s mine and I’m not sharing it red balloon vibe to Monkey’s earnest desire to possess said balloon, I couldn’t read this book fast enough to find out what happens. From Magoon’s subtle yet oh so successful depictions of the the pair’s interaction (check out Owl’s expressive eyes!) to the perfect (and sweet) finish, I Have a Balloon is wonderfully entertaining. In fact I can’t think of a parent, teacher, caregiver or relative who hasn’t encountered this exact situation. Tightly told, tongue-in-cheek, and relatable, I Have a Balloon is guaranteed to garner grins when shared with kids. A truly treat of a read!

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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