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Sparky! by Jenny Offill

Savor the Silly, Slothy Delights of Sparky!

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Sparky! by Jenny Offill with illustrations by Chris Applehans, © 2014 Schwartz & Wade/Random House Books for Young Readers.

Sparky!, written by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

An earnest young girl asks her mother every day for a month if she can have a pet. Mom finally acquiesces, as long as “it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” A bit of research in the Animal Encyclopedia leads her to select a sloth, which arrives by Express Mail. Our sweet narrator optimistically names him “Sparky,” finds him a tree home, and attempts to engage him in games like Hide-and-Seek and Kung Fu Fighter.

Sparky! will delight any young reader who has or desires a non-traditional pet. The narrator is a fine role model who exudes patience and acceptance, allowing her new friend to acclimate at his own very, very slow pace. All is well until she endeavors to teach Sparky “countless tricks” to perform in a Trained Sloth Extravaganza. Funny scenes ensue as she implores the be-glittered Sparky to play dead, roll over, and speak.

Appelhans’ warm brown illustrations are both subdued and comical, perfectly capturing the dull but endearing expressions of the sloth on a limited creamy colored background. Splashes of blue-green and gentle red add warm, bright accents in soft detail. Offill’s text is spot-on for the reflective and thoughtful child, expressing a lovely balance between hope, humor and twinges of doubt.

Sparky! is filled with slow sweetness and quirky humor that is appealing and fun. Don’t speed past this story without savoring its silly delights.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

NOTE: This book will be on sale March 11, 2014. In the meantime, kids can begin enjoying some slothy activities by clicking here.

Where obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children Part 2: Hearts, How Do Lions Say I Love You? & More!

Read about: Hearts, How Do Lions Say I Love You?, Junie B. My Valentime, Born From The Heart & Will You Still Love Me If …?


Our Valentine’s Day Roundup Part 2 from Ronna Mandel♡
features a selection of faves for the whole family!

This Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be International Book Giving Day, is a perfect time to share books and share love. The picture books we’ve highlighted yesterday and today say I LOVE YOU in oh so many wonderful and creative ways.  The best part of Valentine’s Day is that, since it’s all about finding ways to demonstrate feelings of love and affection, you can read these books all year ’round and the message remains the same. There’s never a bad time to show someone how much you care. And inside the pages of a picture book, there’s lots of love to be found!

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Hearts by Thereza Rowe from Toon Books.

♥♥♥ Hearts  by Thereza Rowe (Toon Books, $12.95, Ages 3 and up). The bold graphics in this First Comic For Brand New Readers will draw kids in and the heartwarming storyline will keep them interested. Penelope the Fox accidentally drops her heart into the ocean where all sorts of hazards await. However, a friendly chicken on top of a British double-decker befriends the fox and together they go in search of the lost heart. Will Penelope find the missing heart or will she find something else on her journey? Hearts is all hearts.

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How Do Lions Say I Love You? by Diane Muldrow with illustrations by David Walker, Golden Books.

How Do Lions Say I Love You? by Diane Muldrow with illustrations by David Walker ( A Little Golden Book/Random House Books for Young Readers, $3.99, Ages 2-5). It’s easy to see why your little ones will gravitate towards this charming story of all the different ways animals say “I love you.” With catchy rhyme, Muldrow introduces us to a hen saying “I love you” to her chicks with a cluck. She goes on to show us love-struck swans, giraffes, nightingales, peacocks, horses, elephants, lions, wolves, bears, cows and mourning doves.

 

Mourning doves like
to bill and coo.
And that’s how they
say I love you.

With its adorable, muted pastel colored illustrations, How Do Lions Say I Love You? is certain to please as it gently depicts the love shared in families with examples children will find hard to resist.

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Born From The Heart by Berta Serrano with illustrations by Alfonso Serrano, Sterling Children’s Books.

Born From The Heart by Berta Serrano with illustrations by Alfonso Serrano (Sterling, $14.95, Ages 3 and up). When I first glanced through my review copy of Born From The Heart, and its artwork spoke to me so strongly, I didn’t even have to read the story to get a sense that I was going to love this book. This picture book which presents the idea of adoption in the most captivating way, is one I am delighted to recommend to new parents. One of my favorite lines in the book is when the main characters Rose and Charlie visit the doctor to see how they might have a baby and the doctor tells them they need “1 pound of love, 2 cups of enthusiasm and 1 1/2 tablespoons of patience.” Soon Rose’s heart began growing as the couple awaited the arrival of their new baby. When the time was right, they flew far and wide and “crossed landscapes of unimaginable color” until they came to a little house in the middle of a green valley. Rose’s heart burst when she saw her little one. She “kissed the beautiful face one hundred million times.” Alfonso Serrano (the author’s brother) has captured the magic of that moment in an illustration so spectacular yet so simple. Rose is lying in the grass with her baby on top of her. The embrace is priceless. We cannot see Rose’s face, but feel her ecstasy.

Based on Berta Serrano’s experience adopting her son, Born From The Heart, is a truly magical, moving and empowering story for parents that I hope all adoptive parents will read and then share with their child when the time is right.

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Will You Still Love Me If …? by Catherine Leblanc with illustrations by Eve Tharlet, Minedition.

Will You Still Love Me If …? by Catherine Leblanc with illustrations by Eve Tharlet (Minedition, $16.99, Ages 3-8). Asking his mom lots of questions so many children have asked, Little Bear learns that there is nothing quite as forgiving and enduring as a mother’s love. Whether he tears his clothes, makes a mess, breaks his bed or looks horrendous, he wonders and “wants to be sure,” his mom will still love him. Will it be always and forever, he begins to ponder, even if one day she dies? With the most sensitively worded response, his mom assures him that he’ll still feel her presence. “But I’m still here and I’m not dead yet.” It’s true that youngsters have these thoughts and it’s great this picture book addresses them in a way that’s light and positive. “And what if one day you love someone else more than you love?” Little Bear is unrelenting. “More than you?” Mom asks. “That’s impossible! I might love someone in a different way …” This momma bear knows all the right things to say and is so genuine, loving and supportive that kids will love her just as much as Little Bear. Between the gorgeous artwork and the appealing prose, Will You Still Love Me If …? is the kind of book I would have felt comfortable reading to my kids when they were young and I didn’t have all the answers.


9780385373029.jpg.172x250_q85Junie B. My Valentime by Barbara Park with illustrations by Denise Brunkus (Random House Books for Young Readers, $5.99, Ages 3-7). Everybody’s favorite first-grader is back and better than ever in this hilarious sticker and Valentine’s book (30 are included!) with Junie’s VALENTINE acrostic-style take on Valentine’s Day. This companion book to the bestselling Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime! is filled with fun, original full-color cards just perfect to give out to classmates, friends and family. My favorite Valentine’s Day card – the one where Junie’s written “Will you B. my Valentime? YES or NO? YES ⃞ YES ⃞ (Ha! I did not draw a NO box! That’s hilarious!)” And it really is!
Why not make your own printable Valentine’s Day card by clicking here, too?

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My Pen Pal, Santa by Melissa Stanton

My Pen Pal, Santa, by Melissa Stanton with illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell (Random House Books for Young Readers, $9.99, Ages3-7), is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

My Pen Pal, Santa cover art by Jennifer A. Bell

My Pen Pal, Santa by Melissa Stanton with illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013.

There are few things in this world that make me happier than Christmas. I don’t get aggravated by retailers who advertise earlier every year. Nor do I get annoyed by the local radio station that plays Christmas music beginning mid-November. I love the traditions of the holiday, both religious and commercial. I also love the food, festivities, and of course, Santa Claus. So, when I came across My Pen Pal, Santa  written by Melissa Stanton and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, I knew this was a book I was meant to review. After all, how many of you can say the only songs you have ever downloaded from iTunes are of the Christmas variety?

Six year old Ava writes a thank you note to Santa Claus after Christmas. In it she asks him a couple of important questions, such as, “Why didn’t you eat the cookies I left you?” While Santa is certainly surprised to get a letter after Christmas, he nonetheless sends off a response answering Ava’s questions. He even signs his letter Merry Christmas! So begins a monthly correspondence between jolly old St. Nick and the little girl.

I enjoyed how many of my (I mean children’s) concerns were answered throughout this charmingly illustrated book. Does Santa know the tooth fairy? What about the Easter Bunny? What do he and Mrs. Claus do during the off season? Most importantly, for those of us without fireplaces, how does Santa deliver presents to children without chimneys? We (I mean kids) need to know this stuff, right?  My Pen Pal, Santa even addresses believers and non-believers in an open and loving way.

Parents, see what magic happens when you read this book with your child. It’s just perfect for a 3-7 year old who might already be questioning Santa’s existence, but still wants to believe. And who doesn’t?

Click here for Santa Stationery created by Jennifer A. Bell.

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There’s a New Kid in Town

9780375855801_p0_v1_s260x420 Bad Astrid ($15.99, Random House, Ages 3-7) by Eileen Brennan is a charming book for young readers about an age old problem – bullying.

Astrid is a bad girl dog who wreaks havoc when she moves into a new neighborhood. The story is told by another child dog (that looks a bit like a beagle) who finds herself in Astrid’s destructive path. Astrid destroys gardens, sprays water on chalk drawings and is just all around grumpy, nasty and mean. One day the beagle makes a great big Eiffel Tower out of Popsicle sticks, but Astrid crashes into it with her bike. Naturally the beagle’s first reaction is anger, but soon she is able to see Astrid for who she really is. What she does will warm your child’s heart.

The book is written in rhyming prose and is rather catchy and cute. I love the cartoon-like illustrations by Regan Dunnick as they really capture the emotions of the dogs. It’s the message of this book that makes it most special – behind every trouble maker is an individual with some good qualities too. Reading this terrific book is a great way to start a conversation with your child about being bullied and about keeping an open mind to help find out the truth about another in need.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Of Dragons and Music and Dangerous Secrets

Seraphina Strikes a Most Positive Chord

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, ages 12 and up), by Rachel Hartman, winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, is reviewed by Grace Duryée.

Tensions are high in the kingdom of Goredd. The tenuous peace treaty between men and dragons threatens to snap just as Ardmagar Comonot, the leader of the dragon community, comes to Goredd to celebrate forty years of uninterrupted peace between dragon and mankind. The royal family struggles to keep the conflict at bay for just a little longer, while trouble bubbles up from beneath them anyway. Huge resistance groups form, riots break out, and worst of all, the brutal–and strangely draconian–murder of one of their own: the widely respected Prince Rufus leaves the family at a loss at the worst possible time. Amidst all of this excitement is Seraphina, the gifted music mistress of Goredd’s castle. Seraphina is tossed head first into this wild tangle of trouble, torn between what is right and what is safe, who she can trust and who she can love. 

Seraphina-cvr.jpgRachel Hartman, the creator of this world and of the heroic woman Seraphina, skillfully lures her audience into this intoxicating tale of dragons that can fold themselves into humans, musicians that fall in love with princes, and secrets so dangerous they scarcely can even be thought about.  Hartman has lovingly woven the details of the beautiful world she has created into the pages of this fantastically original novel, bringing her audience to truly care about the characters and their relationships with each other. 

Seraphina being a musician is incredibly appropriate in that the story itself plays out exactly like an epic ballad played on her flute. It’s swirling melodies and booming crescendos make Seraphina a song that resonates for quite some time in the hearts of fantasy fans.

Fans of the Eragon series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings – or anything dragon-related – will surely love this refreshing read. The intricate worlds of Goredd and Seraphina’s mind, along with the incredible lore, will surely leave all fantasy-loving young adult readers craving more of Hartman’s universe, and counting down the days to the release of the sequel to Seraphina, entitled Dracomachia, currently set for release in February of 2014. 

GraceToday’s guest reviewer, Grace Duryée, has been an avid reader since childhood, and values the experience reading provides for every person, particularly children and young adults. This is why Grace has recently taken an interest in children’s literature, and has attempted to combine it with her other long-time love: writing. Grace and her cousin Hilary have recently begun preparations for their very own children’s literature blog, and are both very excited to get it up and running! Grace is 20 years old, and in her spare time she plays too many video games and reads books about dragons. In her not-spare time, Grace is the manager of the teen and children’s department at a Barnes and Noble as well as a college student pursuing her degree in Economics and Business. 

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