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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 for Jewish Heritage Month – Seven Good Years

SEVEN GOOD YEARS:
A YIDDISH FOLKTALE

Written by Shoham Smith

Illustrated by Eitan Eloa

Translated by Ilana Kurshan

(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

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Seven Good Years cover Tuvia gold goat and family
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Based on a story from the early 1900s by I. L. Peretz, this thought-provoking Jewish folktale presents the story of Tuvia, a poor hard-working man, living in a ramshackle hut with his children and wife Sorka
when a magical older man offers him a fortune for seven years. How can he pass that
up?
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This terrific retelling of Seven Good Years A Yiddish Folktale, written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa and seamlessly translated by Ilana Kurshan, asks the question – If you were offered a life of wealth for seven years, no less and no more, would you start those years now, wait, or do something unexpected? This is the dilemma our main character must decide.
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Seven Good Years int1 Tuvia was poor
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Using mostly primary colors, Eloa’s loosely drawn images depict Tuvia dressed with a rope around his waist because he can’t afford a belt, carrying heavy loads in his job as a porter. He does what he can to put food on his family’s plates and educate his children. But when the marketplace empties out, and the merchants pack up their wares and close shop, Tuvia asks himself “What will I do now?” The simple yet expressive illustrations depict a small village in Poland with goats and horses where people live hand to mouth yet seem content with their lot in life.
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When an unusual older man arrives dressed in bright green, Tuvia’s goat nibbles on the man’s blue feathered hat. Meanwhile, Tuvia appears startled and wonders if the man needs help with something. Instead, he has an offer for Tuvia. “Seven good years in which you won’t need to work carrying heavy loads on your back. Seven years in which you’ll be able to buy everything in this market!”
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So how does Tuvia respond? (I’m glad you asked!). Tuvia is in shock, unsure how to respond. “What will happen at the end of the seven years?” Tuvia asks. “You’ll go back to being a porter!” he is told. Tuvia asks if he can go home and discuss it with his wife Sorka. “Go home and ask her. I’ll wait here.”
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Seven Good Years int2 magical man and Tuvia
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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“So what do you say?” Tuvia asks Sorka. And what does Sorka reply? (I’m glad you asked!) Smith inserts the phrase ‘I’m glad you asked’ throughout adding fun repetition to this uplifting tale. Tuvia is concerned about what will happen when they get old and the seven years of gold runs out. Sorka is concerned about feeding the children and paying their teacher. “Go back to the man and tell him that your Sorka says—let the seven good years begin right now!”
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The magical man is shown with a large smile on his face telling Tuvia to go home to his wife and fortune. Arriving at home, Tuvia finds his joyous children behind his ramshackle hut, along with his delighted wife, their skinny goat and … a pile of gold!
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Seven Good Years int3 family rejoices with pile of gold
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Seven years go by and the benevolent old man returns. Tuvia brings him to his home to tell Sorka that the seven good years are over only for the older man to discover the family still lives in the ramshackle hut and are dressed in the same tattered clothes! The mysterious man feels sorry for the family but the family says no need to feel sorry. It’s clear they are very happy.
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It turns out the family only took the money they needed to educate their children and now
that the children are finished with school, Tuvia tells the older man to give the gold to a needy
family. And what happens after that? (I’m glad you asked!) The next morning Sorka and Tuvia
find a great big pile of gold in their yard! And so begins another seven years of good fortune.
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The interesting back matter tells about Peretz, a prolific author of stories, folktales, plays, and essays in both
Yiddish and Hebrew. It also explains how Seven Good Years reflects Peretz’s appreciation for the simple piety of Eastern European Jews. The book’s message, influenced by what ancient Jewish rabbis teach, beautifully conveys what having riches actually is. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with what they have.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) This hopeful folktale has been around for over a hundred years and still resonates today. What a meaningful read for Jewish Heritage Month and for parents to teach children that happiness is not dependent on fortune.
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Follow the book’s link here to request an activity guide.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

int spread1 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

int spread2 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
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One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
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I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
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Int art IAmaThief
Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
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As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
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BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
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A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
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  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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Walter and the Wallet – A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

“Doing the Right Thing—Not Always So Easy”

A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

 

Cover image for Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

 

A wallet lying in the street, stuffed with cash. Not a single person anywhere in sight.

It’s a universal question for children and adults alike: when no one’s watching, will you do the right thing? How about when doing the right thing runs counter to your own self-interest? That is the premise of Walter and the Wallet.

Walter Whippingdale has been having the worst day of his life. As he walks home, shoulders slumped, head down, he discovers a wallet overflowing with cash. And suddenly, his awful day is awash with possibilities.

It’s a situation that most people have to deal with at some point in their life. And that includes me. I was working in my second year as a substitute teacher on Long Island. The school day had just ended, and, after straightening up the room for a few minutes, I headed for the parking lot.

Almost everyone had left the building by then, so no one was in front of me or behind me as I exited the building.

And there it was, just outside the doors: a small pile of cash.

 

interior spread from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom
Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

I feel like I’m a very honest person. When playing volleyball, I always call it on myself when I touch the net. I’m a firm disciple in the Golden Rule—and believe that if everyone would just live by it, the Earth would be an infinitely nicer place.

So I bent over, picked it up, and counted it. $23. I obviously knew what the right thing to do was. And yet … there was the tug. From some dark corner of my brain, a tiny voice was saying “You could just slip it in your pocket. There’s not a soul in sight.”

I didn’t keep the money; I turned around and brought it into the office, telling them that if they couldn’t determine the owner, to use it to buy some school supplies. They thanked me profusely. But as I left, I felt a sense of shame. I’m a good person, I thought—so why did some small part of me want to keep that $23? It wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have changed my life one iota.

Such is the conflict in Walter and the Wallet. But it’s not a purportedly mature, allegedly honest adult who’s confronted with a near-identical situation—it’s a 9-year-old child.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. One might be too busy, too tired, too distracted. But doing the right thing when it runs counter to your own self-interest is even harder. That is the dilemma I want children, their parents, and their teachers to discuss after reading Walter and the Wallet. It all comes down to that Golden Rule: what would you want a person to do if they found your wallet?

 

Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom interior spread 2
Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

Children can learn several lessons from reading about Walter: a bad day can turn around on a dime. Money can’t buy you happiness. And of course, if you find something that isn’t yours, do everything in your power to get it back to its owner.

Walter ultimately makes the right choice, and finds that it comes with some unanticipated rewards. I’m hopeful that reading my book will help children do the honorable thing when they inevitably confront a similar scenario in their own lives.

Brief Summary of Walter and the Wallet:

Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes has been making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street … a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how?

In this engaging tale of life lessons, first-time children’s author Billy Bloom has created a story to spark some important conversation between kids and parents about making good choices. Accompanied by Tanya Leonello’s charming watercolor illustrations, this story of childhood morality and the daily dilemmas children face, is sure to pull young readers in and get them thinking.

For more info/to order copies:

Eifrig Publishing

Amazon

About the Author:

Billy Bloom is an elementary school teacher in New York. Before becoming a teacher, he had several other jobs, including professional Frisbee player (finishing 6th in the World Championships in 1983), newspaper editor, advertising copywriter, and volleyball league owner. He currently referees middle and high school volleyball and basketball games after school and on weekends. This is Billy Bloom’s debut children’s book.

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