Any reader of Osborne’s beloved Magic Treehouse chapter book series knows that uttering those magical words while holding a book in the Magic Tree House will instantly transport the child back into the time and place of the book and an action-packed adventure.
This first title inthe graphic novel adaptations of the chapter book series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, introduces eight-and-a-half-year-old Jack and his younger sister, Annie, residents of Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. While playing in the wooded area near their home, they discover a tree house filled with books. As they excitedly explore the books, Jack finds a book about dinosaurs. Gazing at one of the illustrations, he wishes he could go there. Suddenly, a giant wind begins to spin the tree house and whoosh! It whisks them away to the Cretaceous Period.
While exploring this new environment, they encounter a few of the period’s dinosaurs without incident until a very large and frightening Tyrannosaurus Rex comes roaring and stomping their way. After some hair-raising attempts to dodge it, they make it back to the tree house. Now they just need to figure out how they can get home in one piece … and in time for dinner!
Laird remains true to the original story and her dialogue, along with the Kellys’ illustrations, propel the storyline. Like the chapter book, the graphic novel is neatly organized into short chapters, each ending on a cliffhanger.
Illustrators Kelly and Nichole Matthews have modeled Jack and Annie after the Sal Murdocca illustrations for the chapter book. The Matthews, who are twin sisters, creatively combine detail, color, and a more complex layout to help interpret the chapter book’s narrative. The panels sequencing the tremendous wind that spins the house back into history include a vivid two-page spread (pp 26-27) that conveys the force of the wind. Another full page is used to dramatize the height of the tree house as Jack and Annie descend from it to a world no humans have ever seen (p. 62).
This graphic novel adaptation is a great introduction to the chapter book series for younger and emerging readers and could actually replace it in popularity since the format is much more vibrant and engaging than the original chapter book series. So while it’s recommended for ages 6-9, I think children as young as five years old would find it an entertaining read.
Check out this YouTube video to hear how Jenny Laird adapted Osborne’s novel. And for more about the Matthews sisters, visit their website. Fans can also check out the Magic Tree House website here.
As a former teacher, I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Isobel Adds It Up written by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford. A girl with a pencil in her hand, and an elephant with a pencil in its trunk solve math problems with smiles on their faces!
Isobel, a math-loving girl, can’t concentrate with noisy neighbors!
Disrupted by loud bangs and shaking walls, she imagines acrobats, marching bands, a basketball team, and definitely big feet! Solving math problems is nearly impossible. Isobel tries battling music with music. That only incited more noise—and dancing! Isobel is at her wit’s end when she can’t make sense of her numbers. So she comes up with a plan to meet the culprits. Was she right about the neighbors having big feet? Yes! But her plan brings a solution much bigger and better than she expected. You might say that the neighbor was a very BIG number-lover too!
Underneath the rumbling ruckus and soaked subtractions, a budding friendship multiplies into a measured success! Each illustration brings flow and movement, with Isobel’s imaginings represented in monochromatic images and lively numbers. Kristy Everington and AG Ford make numbers and math look and sound fun!
What I love most about this story is the message that we can ask for what we want in a kind and respectful way. We might be surprised by the kindness we receive back and discover something new about the people that live around us. Kids, teachers, parents, and neighbors everywhere will love this book!
Head to Twitter for a signed book giveaway of Isobel Adds It Up beginning today (just retweet our tweets and tag a friend to enter). Find Kristy there @kmeverington. Find GoodReadsWithRonna on Twitter: @goodreadsronna. This giveaway ends on 7/13 and a winner will be announced on 7/14.
Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!
The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year.• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.
John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.
A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.
Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.
Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!
Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.
I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
This may not be your typical Mother’s Day, but you can still make it special. So, wherever you are, please consider adding a good book to any celebration that you may be planning. Support moms while also helping independent bookstores around the country when you make your reading selections. Check out Indiebound.org,Bookshop.org today or call your local independent bookseller for curbside pickup available in many parts of the country.
What’s wonderful about this unassuming little die-cut board book is that it’s full of surprises that will entertain parents as well as children. Adorably illustrated throughout, the book has a circle cut-out on the cover focusing in on the sweetest little bear . Each page turn reveals how much he loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and the two of them together. All kinds of hands-on treats await youngsters because there are flaps to lift and pages to flip as well as a big gatefold illustration and sturdy, glossy pages. Little Bear’s parents pass him between them, Daddy picks him up like an airplane and is comforted by him when he’s sad. My favorite spread is the one where Little Bear rubs noses with his mommy because that’s something my son and I always used to do. Not only ideal for Mother’s Day, Mommy, Daddy, and Me! would make a great Father’s Day gift or story time interactive read.
Part of the New Books for Newborns series, this 16-page board book would make a great baby shower or Mother’s Day gift. Hand in Hand’s gentle, soothing verse coupled with its charming illustrations will capture the attention of infants and toddlers. Created with the littlest readers in mind, the story introduces children to a little girl heading out to the park with her mom and a floral decorated ball. “Me/You/We, two/Hand in hand/Through and through.” Mother and child spend time together in all kinds of play and tender moments depicted in scenes that reassure children of their mother’s love. The read aloud quality of the prose invites sweet story times for little ones just becoming acquainted with books.
This moving debut picture book with its spare yet lyrically written text explores the extent to which a mother will go in her efforts to conceive a child via IVF. Sherhant honestly shares the emotional and difficult journey she experienced using metaphors that are beautifully illustrated by Keller. The purple and blue palette is just the right combination of warmth and heart. While not an adoption story, I felt the same strong message of commitment and love as I felt when reading I’ve Loved You Since Forever and Born From the Heart. “I loved you before I met you. I felt you in my arms before I could hold you. But the road was long, and the way was hard.” In an author’s note at the end, Serhant explains how she wanted to write this book “for mothers and fathers who have had a similar road to parenthood.” I’m so glad she channeled her quest into a picture book that will mean so much to so many families who’ll be able to read this to their miracle children one day. I have a friend with her first child from IVF due this fall and, having watched her heartbreak then hope this past year and half, I know just how much this book will resonate with her.
I’m so glad children have a picture book that celebrates an alternative family arrangement in such a positive way. The main character, Carol Olivia Clementine, is six-years-old. “I live with Mama Rose right now,” she explains. While the young reader never learns the reason for the separation, or the relationship between Mama Rose and Carol, that never detracts from the story. Duncan’s upbeat prose, and carefully placed gentle repetition, “My mother and father live far away. I wish we lived together. I wish that they were here,” lets us know that Carol is aware of her situation, yet happy and cared for as if she were Mama Rose’s own child. Mama Rose treats Carol just like any mom would whether that’s teaching her how to tell time, making her eat all her veggies, sending her upstairs to clean up her messy bedroom or complimenting her on a job well done.
Duncan tells us in the Author’s Note that her Aunt was raised with her by her mother and says “It is love that defines our relationships.” A family friend can serve as a mother, as can a guardian or another relative as was the case in Duncan’s household. Regardless of what brought Carol into Mama Rose’s home, Barlow’s charming and cheerful watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and gel pen illustrations feel hopeful. They depict a little girl who misses her parents—we see her make drawings of her parents and can spot a picture of them on Mama Rose’s wall—but who also accepts the love of Mama Rose. “Mama Rose is my home.”
“May loved to visit Grama every summer and watch the stars.” So begins this picture book that is definitely not just for Mother’s Day, though it does get its heart from the nurturing relationship of Grama and her granddaughter, May. “Then one cold day, May came to live with her.” From that the older reader can gather that May has lost her parents or perhaps Grama has just become her guardian for other reasons. Either way, she’s always there for May, to offer love, hugs and inspiration. What’s so sweet about this story is how the pair share the love of stars, birds and dreaming. Grama encourages May who, we learn from a succession of first day of school spreads over the years, has a passion for outer space. “May wanted to take off to the stars one day.” Winning at school fairs leads to a month at space camp where May’s dreams are finally realized. She’ll become the world’s youngest astronaut, but before she heads off anywhere, she must have a hug from Grama. What Nielander shows in her 40-page book’s text and illustrations is how important it is to reach for the stars while having someone on Earth who helps keep you grounded and confident. With that and a hug, who knows what else May might achieve in her life.
NO MORE NAPS!: A Story for When You’re Wide-Awake and Definitely NOT Tired Written by Chris Grabenstein Illustrated by Leo Espinosa (Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
If you’re looking for a fun story to read aloud with your child on World Read Aloud Day or any other day, look no further than No More Naps! The picture book debut by NYT’s bestselling author, Chris Grabenstein, with art by award-winning illustrator Leo Espinosa, will bring out the actor in you and lots of laughs from your child.
It’s time for Annalise Devin McFleece to nap, only she doesn’t want to. Sound familiar? How many of you reading this went to any length to get your little one down? Did you desperately drive around the neighborhood, stroll for what felt like a 5k, or read countless stories in a monotone voice until it was you who fell asleep and not your child? Well, Annalise is the type of youngster to prompt such actions. But when her dad takes her to the park in her stroller, everyone they meet including dog walkers, kids playing ball, construction workers and street musicians, suddenly feel the urge to nap. And Annalise?
No! That’s right. She was the only one in the whole wide sleepy world who would not fall asleep.
When Annalise finally feels ready to nap, it seems all the naps have been taken … except those belonging to a kind and generous gray cat. This spare and much needed nap comes just in the nick of time because Annalise’s dad appears to be sleepwalking at this point.
This whimsical 40-page picture book offers a unique twist on a story time tale that is certain to delight little ones. The humor in the retro-looking illustrations adds to the pleasure of this recommended read aloud. While I cannot promise sleep for anyone besides Annalise, I can guarantee smiles!
When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.
Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”
Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!
If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.
Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.
I’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton (Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”
What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers—and a whole page of pi—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.
“Hilo is Calvin and Hobbes meet Big Nate and is just right for fans of Bone and laugh-out-loud school adventures like Jedi Academy and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
If you’re not already familiar with Judd Winick’s winning Hilo series of middle grade graphic novels, the newest book, Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong,releases on January 29 and would be a great time to get on board to find out why the books are so popular with tweens. I’m so glad I did. Even though I’ve jumped in with Book 5, that didn’t stop me seeing the appeal and getting hooked. While the books are episodic, the art, the diverse characters and the plot are so good that it doesn’t matter that I came late to the Hilo party so to speak. It’s easy to get up to speed on the relationships and backstory in this action-packed, fast moving and riotously funny robot rooted series.
Hilo is a robot who has ended up on Earth along with his sister, Izzy. He’s befriended D.J. (Daniel Jackson Lim) and his family along with Gina Cooper. Those friendships are truly the heart and soul of the series because kids will empathize with them and be enthralled by their adventures. Various other engaging characters include Polly the talking cat, Uncle Trout, teacher Ms. Potter, Dr. Horizon, Razorwark and Dr. Bloodmoon. I can’t even pick a favorite because I liked them all or found them interesting in different ways. Even a couple of the Feds came off likable as you’ll see.
The Feds, in fact, want to find Hilo at the same time he and D.J. head off on a risky journey to Hilo’s planet, Jannus, to get answers about his past. Once there, the friends discover that all the robots have mysteriously gone missing and, rather than being a model of a happy, high tech homeland, Jannus has gone backwards with a loss of power. As the boy and robot try to discover what’s happened on Jannus, some crazy stuff is going on back at Vanderbilt Elementary that causes a lot of problems for the kids on Earth and ultimately in space. So many things need to fit into place for Hilo to figure out the puzzle and keep one step ahead. Don’t miss out on this Judd Winick’s rewarding and entertaining series that is ideal for both reluctant readers and anyone “who loves comic books, superheroes, and adventures of all kind.” I honestly loved every colorful minute and am only sorry I missed out on books 1-4! Remember to pre-order your copy today.
Illustrator and designer Jane Foster helps make spirits bright with her new board book, Jane Foster’s Christmas. This smartly designed and graphically bold concept book will familiarize babies and toddlers with all the signature items we associate with Christmas. From Santa Claus and sleigh, to gingerbread house and hot chocolate, each spread features a word on the left in black typeface and an illustration on the right. Additional subtle graphic elements on the word pages, like polka dots, waves, trees and stripes are visually pleasing too. The vibrant colors used add to the book’s appeal as does the shininess of the art and text. This board book is sure to get little ones excited for the holiday with its choice of cheery images presented as beautifully as her 10 previous books in the series such as Things That Go, Animal Sounds and First Words. Need a stocking stuffer? Give this to the youngest readers in your house this holiday season.
Here is an oversized, thick and bedazzling board book that needs no wrapping and just begs to be opened like a present. As I turned each page I was treated to a parade of pizzazz, foil and color. The glorious graphics jumped off the page filling me with light and delight. The embossed designs also feel fab to touch so let little fingers wander as they wonder what comes next. The text, spare, but lyrical, promises “joyful smiles” and multiple reads to soak up all the positive energy emanating from between the covers. It’s less a story and more a celebration of the joy that Christmas brings. A glowing review for this shiny, happy book that you can feel confident when adding to your Christmas reading list!
The latest in Ann Whitford Paul’s charming series of rhyming stories, If Animals Celebrated Christmas, ponders what each particular animal would do for the holiday. Koala lovers will be happy these marsupials feature prominently in this tale as do penguins, cranes, buffalo, turtles, owls, oryx, beaver and hedgehogs. Crustaceans also grace the pages. “Crabs would scamper from the deep, dark sea, and build a seashell Christmas tree.” Illustrator Walker’s topped that Christmas tree with a starfish, making it my favorite spread. If you’re curious what the others get up to, be sure to include this book in your holiday shopping. It’s a recommended read-aloud that provides a fun jumping off point for a discussion about what other creatures might do to make the holiday their own.
If you’ve got an “all things tractors, diggers and cranes” fan at home, make sure to add Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? to your holiday collection. While in some places the rhyme meter felt slightly off, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture book. In fact I was rather impressed how Sayres came up with such clever ways for vehicles to celebrate. And in case kiddos didn’t know it, diggers, cherry pickers, forklifts, mixers, cranes, tankers, tow trucks, tractors, food trucks and even Zambonis celebrate Christmas by doing the exact same things they do. That means stringing lights, singing Christmas carols and even sharing egg nog with their families. Illustrator Slade’s put a mouse on the pages too, so children can watch out for what the creature gets up to in every spread. Wheels are the way to go in this charming, feel good Christmas story.
Who knew that tuba Christmas concerts were a thing? Now that I know about them, having read A Tuba Christmas, I cannot wait to attend one! Unlike my family, the family members in this picture book all play an instrument, and when the story begins, it’s time for the youngest child, Ava, to choose an instrument, too. Everyone is surprised, however, when Ava decides to take up the tuba. She’s helped along by lessons from Rodney, a compassionate high schooler in the marching band. When the tuba’s challenges (it’s clearly rather cumbersome) get to her along with the kids at school (as well as her brothers) teasing her about the tuba, Ava’s ready to call it quits. But Rodney’s not concerned about her progress and invites her to participate in a tuba holiday concert at her school at just the right time. Being part of an ensemble is exactly the kind of supportive and spirited musical environment Ava needs. The audience is enthralled and impressed with the concert including Ava’s performance and she’s over the moon. As Rodney like suspected, rather than giving up on the instrument and her instruction, Ava feels proud of her accomplishment and decides to continue playing. Back matter details the history behind Tuba Christmas concerts and will likely have readers seeking out the nearest one this holiday season. Uhles’s cheerful illustrations pair wonderfully with the exuberance of the tale and perfectly capture Ava’s up and down moments. Wilbur’s written a special kind of Christmas story to share because, in addition to centering around the holiday, it’s also a heartwarming tale about perseverance and how wonderful and motivating it feels when someone (in this case Ava’s instructor) has your back.
Reviews by Ronna Mandel
Construction Site on Christmas Night Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker lllustrated by AG Ford Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Oliver Elephant Written by Lou Peacock Illustrated by Helen Stephens (Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)
Click here to see Part One of our 2018 Christmas book suggestions.
THE CHRISTMASAURUS Written by Tom Fletcher Illustrated by Shane Devries (Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.
I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.
Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”
After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.
In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:
PRIDE conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.
Until now, Stacy McAnulty has been best known for her picture books. (EXCELLENT ED is one of my favorites.) But her middle grade debut, THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL, puts her squarely in the category of must-read middle grade author, as well.
12-year-old Lucy Callahan narrates the book. Thanks to a chance meeting with a bolt of lightning, Lucy is a math genius. She’s been homeschooled for the four years since the accident and, technically, she should be going to college. Lucy’s grandma just has one requirement before sending her young charge off to university: “Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!).” The mysteries of calculus, algebra, and geometry are easy for Lucy to solve. But the mystery of how to survive middle school? It’s an impossible equation—especially for Lucy.
Lucy’s not very good at making friends. And, though she’d prefer to blend into the background, a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (another result of the lightning strike) makes her stand out. For example, she can’t just sit down. She needs to sit, stand, sit, stand, sit (otherwise she incessantly recites the numbers of pi in her head). And a germ phobia means she goes through a good number of Clorox wipes during the school day. (Lucy would want me to give you an exact here, but I can’t.) However, in spite of this, Lucy is comfortable with herself and I love that. In fact, McAnulty never gives the impression that the things that make Lucy so unique (and make middle school so difficult for her) are problems to be solved. They’re just part of Lucy—for better or worse. There are other problems too. Lucy’s mom is dead; her dad is absent; and her grandmother struggles to make ends meet. But these are all just part of Lucy’s life. McAnulty doesn’t let them become the focus of the book, which is just as it should be.
I don’t want to ruin the fun of reading this book by giving too much away. I will just say that I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the world through Lucy’s eyes. You don’t need to love (or even understand) math to love THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL. It’s a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place, vulnerable, or just plain weird. And I’m pretty sure that’s all of us.
★Starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.
The story takes place in “the magical land of fairy tales” where our hero, William, resides. Though it may seem like the perfect place to live, something is missing for William: an outlet to express his culinary artistry. In his endeavor to make his dream come true, he works as a chef in local restaurants, The Brick House and The Bears Bistro; but when the work proves far too dangerous and painstaking, respectively, he decides to cook from his own kitchen. With just a few coins left in his cookie jar, he heads out to the marketplace and purchases what he thinks are ordinary ingredients: raw apples, beans, and a pumpkin—items central to the plot of three specific fairy tales. These items are intended for delivery to Fairy Tale Headquarters. Convinced that Fairy Tale Headquarters simply “needs a good chef to spice things up,” William transforms each item into an exquisite dish and heads off to deliver them to their intended destination.
But William soon discovers his creations pose a possible threat to the children’s bedtime tales. His delicious creations are recreating the endings. Fortunately and most pleasantly, his creative flare produces an even more “happily ever after” than the original story lines.
A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale isn’t the usual fractured fairy tale in which a single tale is twisted, altered, or updated in some way. William is a unique character living in the land of familiar fairy tales. Klostermann’s frame technique draws us into the story of our hero who unintentionally disrupts the familiar, immerses himself into these stories, and ultimately becomes part of one. Children will get a kick out of the creative and comical changes that take place in the plot. I can imagine them laughing out loud about what “should” have happened.
Mantle’s illustrations delightfully blend the familiar and unfamiliar as well. Vertical lines move the plot along in an energetic and steady direction. At the same time, Mantle’s soft color palette creates a comfortable, safe and calm tone, and his curved drawings sprinkle in the fun.
I would recommend this book to children who enjoy lighthearted, wacky tales and to parents/caregivers who enjoy reading stories that celebrate creativity and individuality. The book’s underlying message of how our creative endeavors give us agency to write our own stories is something I truly appreciate and admire.
BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN Written by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Patrice Barton (Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The essence of childhood play is beautifully conveyed in Mary McKenna Siddals’ sing songy picture book, Bringing the Outside In. In this ode to outdoor pleasures, four pals spend carefree time galavanting in nature and their joy is contagious. Siddals’ rhymes and Barton’s seasonal artwork make every page loads of fun to read aloud and look at any time of year.
I must add here that even if there were no lovely, action-filled illustrations by Patrice Barton, you could still imagine the scene easily: kids dashing about with rain jackets and umbrellas, splishing and sploshing to their hearts’ content. Whether in the garden or at the beach, in the rain or in the snow, the children always find something to do outside. Then, when they’re inside, they can delight in the memory of having been together by looking at photos.
Siddals has included simple yet catchy repetition to engage the youngest of readers who’ll want to have the story read over and over. Bringing the Outside In is a great book to encourage outdoor play with the promise of wonderful treasures of nature to discover everywhere.
If you stepped inside my library during a recent reading of this book, you would have heard a ferocious sounding monster (a.k.a the librarian) roaring out:
“I WILL CHOMP YOU, BUSTER!”
Then you would have heard my kindergartners scream back:
“I WILL CHOMP YOU!”
Squealing in delight and quivering with anticipation, my kinders beg me to turn the page.
“You’ve been officially WARNED!” hollers the monster. Then he lunges out and …
and misses. Then he warns us:
“You do NOT want to turn another page, buster.”
My students wonder why. Well, as the story continues, we quickly learn that this monster has something to hide and will use everything at his disposal, including bribery and deceit, to prevent us from finding what’s inside the book.
But, my curious and giggling students are not intimidated, even as they gasp aloud or cringe behind a classmate. They want to know what that monster’s hiding. So, I turn the page and …
Whew! He missed. But … realizing that his threats are not working, the once fierce, but now desperate monster politely requests that we not turn the page. He even gets a bit teary and finally reveals his sweet and delicious secret. He might be willing to share it if we will …
“just come a little closer … a little bit closer now” ….
“No, no, no!” scream my kindergartners, as I start to turn the page.
When the monster misses yet again, he’s willing to make a deal, but can he be trusted?
Read on … if you dare!
This deceptively simple and wonderfully interactive story had my students laughing, shouting, and jumping up in excitement. The oversize words encouraged students to read aloud and interact with the story. Soon they realize that under no circumstances can this monster be trusted – he’ll do anything, even risk a stomach ache, to prevent us from discovering his secret.
Shea’s stylized and brightly colored illustrations focus mainly on the monster (and his chompers), creating an uncluttered look on the pages. Large, simple shapes (ovals, circles, triangles, etc.) that make up the monster’s body and his exaggerated facial expressions, contribute to the humor and action in John’s story.
Visit author Jory John’s and illustrator Bob Shea’s websites to learn more about them and their work. Check out the short Youtube book trailer below and this pdf from Random House Kids for a yummy activity certain to make all little chompers happy.
In this stunning sequel to Hartman’s first book, Seraphina, the author revisits the kingdom of Goredd. In the previous book the court musician, Seraphina, had to come to terms with the stigma surrounding her half dragon, half human ancestry. This book begins with Seraphina’s search for others of her kind, called the ityasaari. Seraphina hopes that gathering all the ityasaari together will help to protect the kingdom from the ongoing dragon-against-dragon wars. To find the other ityasaari, Seraphina must journey through many different kingdoms. However, with every ityasaari found, she comes closer to being controlled by one of her own. Jannoula, a powerful and highly manipulative half dragon, tries again and again to gain control of the minds of all the ityassari. It will take all that Seraphina has learned from her dragon uncle, Orma, and everything that she will learn along the way, to defeat Jannoula. Along the journey Seraphina encounters defeat, loss and hardship. Perhaps the greatest thing Seraphina learns is that set backs seldom mean defeat and that help can arise from the most unlikely places.
Hartman’s world is fascinating, complex and detailed. Spanning four kingdoms, each with its own unique customs, food, and sometimes even religion, Seraphina’s journey is a sprawling quest. Readers of the first book will remember her love interest with Prince Kiggs, which only grows more complex in this second installment. Seraphina’s dragon uncle and mentor, Orma, is mysteriously missing which also adds to the necessity of Seraphina’s search. With this parting of the guide, Seraphina must learn to navigate the world as an adult. Hartman examines the origin and function of religion in society to work for good or for evil closely in this sequel, which makes for a fascinating read. Shadow Scale is a tribute to the power of a talented author to create a fully realized fantasy world full of danger, tradition, sacrifice and love.