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Travel to Great Britain – Kidlit Roundup

TRAVEL TO ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
A Picture Book Roundup

 

Maisy Goes to London
Written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 2-5)

An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids
A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids
Written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling
(EK Books; $17.99; ages 6-10)

 

Travels through England and Scotland

Maisy_Goes_to_LondonI was raised in England, so I’m partial to books about the British Isles. Luckily, there are so many of them! We begin with Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Goes to London, which is a perfect introduction to the fabulous city for children ages three to seven. Maisy and her friends are sightseeing in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and there’s so much to see and do! They climb the lions in Trafalgar Square and see Nelson’s Column. Right across the street is the National Gallery, home to “so many amazing paintings. Maisy likes the sunflowers best.”  Of course, no trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. With stops at a park and the Tower of London—“Cyril and Charley love the Beefeater’s colorful uniform”—Maisy and company cover a lot of the most recognizable sites. As always, Lucy Cousins’ delightful artwork and easy-to-understand word choice hit the mark for younger readers.

 

An-English-Year-300x288For a broader look at modern England, older readers can check out An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling. Five children, Victoria, Aman, Tandi, George, and Ameli, are our guides to festivals, games, traditions, sites, animals, and foods from different parts of England. Each month has a double page spread and is filled with delightful pictures that depict the text. Each spread features about 12 facts for the month. The books is chock full of information! I personally loved seeing the hot, roasted chestnuts in a paper bag for January and the Punch and Judy puppet show for June. The references to lesser-known facets of living, such as “we gobble Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers” (June) and BBC’s Children in Need fundraiser (November), add to the sense of discovery. Details such as these, in addition to the more mainstream items like Stonehenge and Royal Ascot, go a long way in creating a real sense of life in England.

 

A-Scottish-Year-300x288McCartney and Snerling have also created the series’ companion book, A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids. In similar fashion to the England book, Scotland’s heritage is presented via five children—Rashida, Sophie, Dominik, Isla, and James. We learn that on Twelfth Night, people “take down our Christmas Tree to avoid bad luck” (January) and that “Tartan Day celebrates everything good about Scotland” (April). We’re introduced to blaeberry picking (July) and “redding the house, to bring in a fresh new year” (December). The use of Scottish vernacular (for example, dreich, meaning dull, depressing, dreary weather) and inclusion of celebrations (the Braemar Gathering and the Royal Highland Show) produce a vivid feel for the pride that the Scottish feel for their country.

Readers may realize that more context or detail is needed to explain some of the information in the books. For example, English Year states, “At birthday parties, we play lots of games. Dad tries to give us The Bumps!” We did this when I was a child, so let me explain. The Bumps is when the birthday child is lifted by the arms and legs, and his/her bottom is bumped on the ground the number of years he/she is turning. It’s fun. Scottish Year mentions that in November “we put on our coats and play conkers outdoors.” I have fond memories of playing conkers with my classmates. A conker is a horse chestnut with a shoelace strung through it. Children then aim and hit their conkers at each other’s. Whichever conker outlasts the other, wins. Even though some research may be needed if a reader wants to dig deeper, the basic information doesn’t distract from the charm of the books.

The artwork is adorable. Each book’s characters show features of life at home, school, play, festivals, and so on. Illustrations introduce the months. In Scottish Year, March has a rain cloud hovering over it and rain sprinkling from the M, and September has leaves swirling around it. The text incorporates different colors and line shapes. For example, the text weaves around illustrations, some words are colored, some letters have their circles filled in, and some are in different sizes. The visuals, including the endpages, are appealing and encourage readers to follow the text.

Each book ends with a list of counties/regions and a map of the country filled with fun facts. I had no clue that Scotland has over 790 islands! I did know, however, that England consumes more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Tea is such a large part of the culture. I appreciated the multicultural aspect that reflects the reality of these countries today. It begins with the inclusion of the children’s characters from Pakistan, India, Jamaica, and Poland, as well as England and Scotland, of course. While plenty of traditional aspects are presented, so are the more contemporary contributions from the various “introduced cultures” that have become a part of the fabric of England and Scotland. For example, in English Year, we learn that “Holi is the Spring Festival of Colours. We cover each other in coloured paint” and that “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. No more fasting!” To ensure authenticity, the books have been produced in consultation with native English and Scottish advisors, school teachers, and school children.

If you aren’t traveling to the British Isles this year, or even if you are, these three books are a wonderful introduction to London, England, and Scotland.

  • Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

 

Around the World With Children’s Books

THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL

Littleland Around the World Littlelandcvr.jpg
By Marion Billet
(Nosy Crow; $14.99; ages 2-5)

The cute creatures of Littleland are getting ready to travel. First, they must make sure they have everything they need, such as a camera, suitcase, umbrella, and sun hat. Next, they’re off to 14 countries to explore and learn.

This country is called the Netherlands. It is famous for its pretty windmills and colorful flowers. People here often bicycle to work and school. It’s windy today! Hold on to your hats, little ones! /This is the beautiful city of Venice in Italy. Here, they have canals, so people can travel around in boats instead of cars! In Italy, people often eat pizza for lunch. Do you like pizza, too? /Now the little ones are going to see a magnificent building called the Taj Mahal. They are in India, where it is very hot! There are all sorts of ways of traveling in India—some people even ride elephants! /The little ones have arrived in China just in time to join a festival! The dragon is dancing to the music! How many people are inside the costume?

The language is age appropriate with just enough information for growing minds. The digitally created illustrations are bright, eye catching and filled with iconic landmarks. Each spread features nine “can you see?” cultural items, such as flags, for little eyes to find. For example, the United Kingdom has a red phone booth, Australia has a boomerang, Japan has a teapot, Egypt has a pyramid, and Finland has a sleigh.

Littleland Around the World is a great book for your children to start learning about the world.

 

ChildrensActivityAtlascvr.jpgChildren’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World
Written by Jenny Slater and illustrated by Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95; ages 5-9)

Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is filled with tons of information for older children. A “how to use the atlas” introduction explains the keys to the maps and biomes, how a world map is made, and how to use a grid reference. The book’s twelve sections cover North America, South America, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Middle East and South Asia, China and Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctica. Each section includes a description and a map of the area, flags of the region, a fact file of the largest mountain range, country, desert, lake, and longest river, and a highlighted topic, such as the Amazon rainforest, oil production, tea plantation, and volcanoes.

Northern Africa: The scorching hot Sahara Desert covers most the northern part of Africa. There is very little rain here and water is hard to find. Many desert people are nomads who move from place to place to find food and water. Most people in this part of Africa live in cities along the coasts or in the great Nile river valley, where the soil is rich enough to grow cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. South of the Sahara there is more rain, so farmers here grow cocoa, groundnuts, and coconuts. The section includes a six-step explanation of where chocolate comes from.

The book includes an index and over 250 stickers of flags, landmarks, and animals. Six pre-filled postcards from the continents and a passport are also included. Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is a useful text for learning more about the continents and their inhabitants and resources.

 

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure
By Jackie Clark Mancuso
(La Librairie Parisienne; $17.95; ages 3-7)

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure is a tale of a dog, Hudson, who along with his owner, leave the heat of Paris and head out to the beautiful countryside. Their adventure begins with their stay in an old stone house in the middle of a vineyard. Provence is a magical place. My book says artists come here to paint because it’s so beautiful. And the Provençal dogs work. I want to do what they do, so I can feel the magic.

Hudson is curious and he meets a lot of canine friends. Gaston is a border collie who herds sheep. Hudson tries, but the sheep aren’t so easy to move. Philippe is a truffle hunter! “Truffles are smelly mushrooms that grow underground near trees. They’re delicious! I have been specially trained to sniff them out because people like them too.” Hudson tries, but finding truffles isn’t as easy as eating them. Hudson and his owner watch the Tour de France. It’s exciting, but the cyclists are too fast and Hudson can’t keep up. What can he do to be a Provençal dog? Of course, he can paint like the artists who find inspiration! So he begins to paint doggy portraits, is busy for the next month, and holds an art show.

Hudson in Provence is a fun way to learn about French culture. French phrases are aptly woven into the story, and are an easy, contextual way to learn basic words. The book features a handy glossary (or le petit dictionnaire) with translation and pronunciation. The artwork is in the style of gouache paintings, and it matches the feel of the book perfectly. You can enjoy the book trailer at vimeo.com/120236763.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona

FUN AND FRUIT
Written by Maria Teresa Barahona
Illustrated by Edie Pijpers
Translated by Jon Brokenbrow
(Cuento De Luz; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Fun & Fruit CoverFun and Fruit is a tale about sisters Charlotte and Claire who live surrounded by magical trees which grew wonderful fruits with thousands of different colors and aromas. They devise a game in which over the course of a week, they pick a color a day, think of fruits with that color, create stories based on the fruits, and eat the fruits as snacks. On Friday the color was green, and Charlotte told her sister why pears were her favorite fruit. “When I eat them, I close my eyes and feel little sparkling stars in my mouth that make me dream.” Claire thought about grapes. “They’re little, they’re always cuddled up close together, and they remind me of the friends I always want to be with,” she said. Charlotte and Claire include their friends in their game, and all have a good time eating the healthy snacks.

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Interior artwork from Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona with illustrations by Edie Pijpers, Cuento de Luz ©2015.

 

The artwork by Edie Pijpers is just darling and the bright, bold colors really capture the essence of the story. The page with the children making a fruit-infused milk shake had me practically salivating: the colors are so lush and the food looks scrumptious. The illustrations of the magical fruit trees and the birds with music notes are delightful, and the moon as a banana shining over a landscape of fruit put a smile on my face. The simplicity of the children’s features, which adds to the innocence of the storyline, also drew me in.

 

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Interior artwork from Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona with illustrations by Edie Pijpers, Cuento de Luz ©2015.

 

I must mention that I feel there were lost opportunities here. With the push for diverse books and multicultural inclusion within the United States’ children’s book industry, I really wish that the characters’ Spanish names had been kept. When I’m reading a story about Spanish children living in Spain, I want to see Carlota, Clara, Emilia, and Josue, not Charlotte, Claire, Emily, or Josh. Keeping the original names would have added to the authenticity. Also, I think it would have been ideal to include Spanish words and phrases, as many parents and teachers look for opportunities to incorporate another language into children’s education. For example, when mentioning apples, it would have been opportune to say manzanas, for oranges, naranjas, for red, rojo, and so on. However, Fun and Fruit is a story that emphasizes creativity, as well as healthy eating, and is worth reading.

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Watch the book trailer by clicking here.

On a related note, another of Cuento De Luz’s titles,
Cyparissus, features incredible, whimsical artwork
by Sonja Wimmer that is worth a look.

 

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

FOOD TRUCKS! by Mark Todd

Food Trucks!
written and illustrated by Mark Todd
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Food-Trucks!-cvr.jpg

The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.

Amigo (Taco Truck)

What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!

Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!

Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.

Dare to add the haban~ero/If you like it REALLY hot!

 

Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)

The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!

Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.

Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Garden-Themed Books for Spring: Lola Plants a Garden & In Mary’s Garden

Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)

In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.

Lola-Plants-Garden-cvr.jpgIn Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.

Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?

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Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014

This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.

 

InMarysGarden-cvr.jpgIn Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.

My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.

The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.

NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.

Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Retold.

The Snow Queen
Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books; $9.99; Chapter book for ages 8 and up

The Snow Queen
Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition; $19.99; Picture book for ages 5 and up

To those in the USA who are busy surviving snow storms and blizzards, winter might seem like a curse. For those who are stifling under drought conditions, snow must seem like a fleeting, magical element. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen combines the danger and wonder of snow in an imaginative tale. When a shard of an evil mirror pierces his eye, Kay sees only the bad in the world. This makes him easy prey for the Snow Queen, who kidnaps him. Kay’s best friend Gerda decides to rescue him. To do so, she must set out on a long and arduous journey where she encounters talking birds and animals, magical flowers, an enchantress, a robber girl, and a princess. Gerda’s love for her friend is her greatest help, and she battles the bitter cold to reach the Snow Queen’s icy palace. There, Gerda frees Kay from his frozen heart and the Snow Queen’s grasp.

It’s little wonder that this fantastical story continues to be retold, even 171 years after its original publication. Here are two retellings of this tale of friendship and courage.

The Snow Queenthesnowqueen_pb_w
Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books: Step Inside A Story; $9.99

With “accelerated vocabulary and complex sentence structure for the confident reader,” Barefoot Books presents its adapted version as a chapter book for ages eight and up. At 64 pages within seven chapters, the book is a good length for that age group. Here’s a taste of this exciting story:

The bags of provisions were taken and Gerda was dragged from the saddle. Her arms were pinned behind her, and a bony robber with bristling eyebrows and a hairy chin prodded and poked at her new clothes. “Quite the little lady…” he murmured as he drew his sharp dagger and held it to her throat.

“No!” shouted a clear, commanding young voice.

What I greatly enjoyed about this version was the evocative art by French artist, Miss Clara. Whimsical illustrations produce an ethereal sense of people and places. The jacket description states that Miss Clara first creates maquettes (scale models of unfinished sculptures), which she then photographs. Next, she works on those images digitally. The results are simply beautiful and captivating. I also enjoyed the tangible feel of the book. The cover is made of thicker paper than most chapter books, as are the pages. This made the book in its own way feel more appropriate for chapter book readers, as if they are being recognized as older and entrusted with weightier books. In addition, Barefoot Books states that “we source paper from sustainably managed forests,” which adds to the appeal.

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Interior spread from The Snow Queen retold by Sarah Lowes with illustrations by Miss Clara, Barefoot Books, ©2011.

 

 

The Snow Queen
TheSnowQueen.jpg
Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition; $19.99

Minedition presents its version of The Snow Queen as a picture book for ages 5 and up. Also 64 pages, this edition features large print for easy reading. Here’s the same sample as above:

They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footman and outriders, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage. “Oh, doesn’t she look tender and plump,” said the old robber woman who had a beard and bristly eyebrows. “This little girl will taste good!” And she brought out a sharp, shiny knife. But then she screamed, “Ouch!”… “Oh no, you don’t,” said the little robber girl.

Again, the art work is a huge draw for the book. The icy tones of the multiple shades of blue, silver, and green capture the feel of the cold and the iciness of the Snow Queen’s heart. The illustrations seem delicate and powerful at the same time.

The Snow Queen is a classic, and both versions are excellent versions that will fascinate children.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)

 Winter-Bees-cvr.jpg

Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture book by Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:

 From dawn to dusk in darkling air

we glean and gulp and pick and snare,

then find a roost that’s snug and tight

to brave the long and frozen night.

Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.

The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

The Christmas Show & Star Bright: A Christmas Story

The Christmas Show written and illustrated by Rebecca Patterson
The-Christmas-Show-cvr.jpg(Simon & Schuster, 2014; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

The students are getting ready to perform their school’s nativity play. Their teacher, Miss Bright, has been working hard to prepare them. They have learned their lines and songs. They have their costumes and instruments. One little student, however, hasn’t been paying attention. He “wasn’t listening when Miss Bright gave out the parts,” so he doesn’t know his character. He does know “I’m meant to sing a little, but when did we all learn THIS song?” Oh, dear. How will he get through the performance?

The big day arrives and the show begins! It’s going well until little student makes some mistakes. His words aren’t timed quite right nor are his dance moves. The Important Angel is not happy and says that “SOME people should NOT be in shows AT ALL.” Well, that’s not very Christmas-y, is it? Luckily, little student has Granny who supports him.

I spent my childhood in London and The Christmas Show transported me back there. Illustrations of the students dressed in their red and gray uniforms and the Christmas pudding decorations and paper chains hung around the classroom remind me of my school days. The attention to details such as these and the children’s expressions enhance the book’s sweetness factor. A behind-the-scenes look at a school play, the story includes what goes wrong; after all, not all children are born performers. However, all children can be entertaining in their own way, and this book shows the positives of a performance that isn’t as polished as it could be.

 

Star Bright: A Christmas Story written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Peter H. ReynoldsStar-Bright-cvr.jpg
(Simon & Schuster, 2014; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

The trumpets blare: good news! A very special baby is to be born, and the angels in heaven are getting ready, as are the Magi down on earth. But, the newest angel isn’t sure what present she can give for this wondrous occasion. How about music? Music to make the baby laugh. Music to sing the baby to sleep. But music was the gift of the songbirds. Other gift ideas don’t seem quite right and the newest angel is stuck. The universe felt so big. And she felt so small…Babies were so small. Would the baby feel lonely too? Then she notices that the Magi are lost, and inspiration strikes! She knows exactly the right gift, and a dark sky [is] made lovely with light.

The best-selling duo Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds bring their special touch to Christmas. A charming story set to pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations, Star Bright: A Christmas Story tugs at your heartstrings. It’s a lovely, simple story about searching your heart for a gift that will bring joy, and in being so, it is a wonderful gift in and of itself.

Both books were reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Great Christmas Books for Kids – A Holiday Roundup

Kids Christmas Books Roundup –
Reviewers Rita Zobayan and MaryAnne Locher
Share Some of This Season’s Kidlit Faves

Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish'Twas-Nochebuena-cvr.jpg written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios (Viking/Penguin, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

While Christmas is celebrated all around the world, different cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating. ‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish is a new spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

A Latino family is preparing to host relatives and friends on Christmas Eve. They are busy making tamales stuffed with pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese). When ready, they participate in posadas (the reenactment of the Nativity) where families stroll from house to house, asking for shelter. Once back home, the family drinks warm mugs of chocolaty champurrado (a thick hot chocolate drink) and play loteria (a game similar to bingo). Then, it’s time for Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) before the celebration continues with more food and a delicious dessert called bu~nuelos (a sweet fritter covered with cinnamon). It’s a wonderful night of family and festivities.

The artwork is bright and inviting. Little details, such as colorful banners and the town’s architecture, give a feel for the setting. I found the facial expressions, including that of the family cat and dog, to be especially engaging.

The rhyming text makes the book easy to read, even for non-Spanish speakers. With satisfied bellies and sleepy eyes, we head to the sala for one last surprise. Giggling and cheering, we dash for the tree, where regalos are waiting for you and for me! A glossary of 47 Spanish terms is included, as is an author’s note about the origin of this story.

With diverse literature in high demand, ‘Twas Nochebuena provides fun insight into a cultural celebration of Christmas Eve. Feliz Navidad! – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of Round is a Tortilla, also by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.

 

Maisys-Christmas-Tree-cvr.jpgIf you’re looking for a sweet board book to tuck in a special little person’s stocking this Christmas, Maisy’s Christmas Tree, (Candlewick Press, 2014; $6.99, Ages 2-5) is the perfect pick. Written by Lucy Cousins, the ever-popular Maisy is decorating her Christmas tree with her friends. Cyril the squirrel, Tallulah the chicken, and Charlie the crocodile are all helping out in their own special way, stringing lights, hanging candy canes, and wrapping presents. Eddie the elephant is in charge of the tree topper: an angel who looks exactly like Maisy!

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Interior image from Maisy’s Christmas Tree by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Bright primary and secondary colors with a bit of silver sparkle make this a visually appealing book. Its small size and Christmas tree shape make it easy for little hands to hold and help turn pages. Even a toddler full of Christmas anticipation will sit through this book of under fifty words which gently builds to a grand finale. Maisy and friends sing carols around her beautiful tree then shout, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” – MaryAnne Locher

Link to review of Peck, Peck, Peck, also by Lucy Cousins.

 

Everything-About-Christmas-cvr.jpgEverything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book written by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books, 2014; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Little Golden Books are endearing. I’m not sure if it’s the vintage-style art work or the sense of innocence that seems to emanate from the words and pictures of a bygone era, but there’s no denying the “aww” that goes along with the series. So, it’s no surprise that Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow draws in both young and old. Compiled from the art of a variety of LGB, this is a guide to keeping your sanity during one of the happiest yet busiest times of the year.

“Christmas is coming!” waves a happy Santa. But, what about all that baking, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, and the rounds of social obligations…when you could be taking a nap. Then there’s the snarled holiday traffic…and the scary holiday crowds! The excess! The expense! Then comes the weight gain. Yes, Christmas certainly comes with stresses and obligations. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and consumerism. However, don’t spend all your time preparing…It’s a time for traditions, a time for giving the very best of yourself…a time to reach out to someone who’d otherwise be alone. For one night in a manger, under a star, a night witnessed by both shepherds and kings, when gifts were given to a waiting world…and the gift of hope for a peaceable kingdom.

While younger children might not understand the message about keeping the crazy out of Christmas, they will almost certainly enjoy the illustrations and message of love and family. Filled with LGB favorites, such as the Poky Little Puppy and Richard Scarry’s artwork (among many talented others), the book harkens to the wonder and nostalgia of childhood. This is something that LGB does so well. Adults are transported back to their childhoods (and perhaps will remember reading LGB as youngsters), and children will adore the sense of warmth that the illustrations create.

Everything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book is a new Christmas favorite in our household, and once you read it, you’ll see why. – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of We Planted a Tree, also by Diane Muldrow.

 

 

 

Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli with art by Peskimo

 Countablock
by Christopher Franceschelli with art by Peskimo
(Abrams Appleseed, 2014, $16.95; ages 1-3)

AlphablockcvrCountablock by Christopher Franceschelli is no ordinary counting book. Of course, it has numbers 1-10 and then highlights 20, 30, 40 and so on until 100. It features fun objects to count, such as snowmen, heads of hair, baskets of cucumbers, and popsicles. Each main number is represented in words and a die-cut numeral over a double two-page spread. For example, we see forty eggs become [turn the page] thirty nine chicks and one dinosaur. Ninety kernels of corn become [turn the page] ninety pieces of popcorn.

However, the real delight is in the incredible artwork by the husband and wife design duo, Peskimo. The art has a retro/vintage style that nevertheless feels fresh. Cute expressions and cheery colors will appeal to both adults and children. Number 100 is treated to a double gatefold that is replete with characters from the previous numbers and lots of jigsaw puzzle pieces.

This companion to Alphablock has earned a starred review from the School Library Journal and positive reviews from Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times. Sturdily built with thick pages and strong covers, this book should be able to withstand the little hands that will want to explore it again and again. It will make a great gift for the preschooler in your life.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

The Worst Witch to the Rescue by Jill Murphy

The Worst Witch to the Rescue by Jill Murphy is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

The-Worst-Witch-Rescue-cvr.jpgJill Murphy’s The Worst Witch was one of my favorite books as a child in London, so I was very excited when the sixth book in the series, The Worst Witch to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, 2014; $14.99 for hardback, Ages 8-12) was released.

Mildred Hubble, an earnest yet disaster-prone student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, must contend with tricky spells, an even trickier classmate, and a very stern teacher. Despite her (well-earned) reputation for being awful at magic, Mildred has had a wonderful summer and returns to the Academy full of hope. Her summer project has turned out splendidly, and she is a natural at the new ceramics class. Even Ethel Hallow, Mildred’s long-time tormentor, is being friendly. Could this be the year when things finally go right for Mildred?! Alas, no. Mildred quickly learns that her luck hasn’t changed, as her good beginning unravels at rapid speed. Miss Hardbroom won’t listen when Mildred’s project goes missing, and even her friends Enid and Maud have trouble believing her theories. With her cat Tabby and tortoise Einstein, Mildred will have to work even harder than usual to set the record straight.

The Worst Witch series is a wonderful entry into fantasy. Mildred is a relatable and sweet character, who tries so hard, but gets things so wrong. However, her plucky attitude and perseverance make her admirable. Jill Murphy has created a fantastical world that is charming, but includes (somewhat) frightening elements that children will understand. Often times the frights are more people than magic based. Unfortunately, just about every story written about a witch or wizard attending a school of magic will be compared to the Harry Potter series. However, Mildred Hubble was the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy a good 23 years before Harry stepped foot in Hogwarts, and she’s been accidentally wreaking havoc ever since.

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014 $17.99; ages 5-8) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book & Booklist

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Hermelin, the Detective Mouse as told to Mini Grey makes me ache for my childhood days in London. With pictures of terraced houses and characters named Lady Chumley-Plumley and Captain Potts, the book transports the reader across the pond and squarely to England.

The cover of this picture book caught my eye straight away with its image of an old-fashioned typewriter with Hermelin standing boldly atop with flag staff in paw. The illustrations are full of fun-to-spot details, such as candy wrappers, book covers, creatively placed paper clips, and cereal boxes. The variously placed text engages the reader by drawing the eye across the page, up and down, and to newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, notes, and messages. This picture book has a lot going on in both the visuals and the story.

The residents of Offley Street need a detective! Various items, including a teddy bear, reading glasses, goldfish, and diamond bracelet, have mysteriously vanished. The good folks are at a loss. Who can help them? Help comes in an unexpectedly small package: a mouse in a cheese box. Hermelin (named after the Czech cheese) makes himself right at home in the attic of number 33, where he finds an old-fashioned typewriter. As he locates each of the missing items, Hermelin uses the typewriter to communicate with the residents.

Dear Dr. Parker,

You will find your reading glasses in chapter 26 of Medical Monthly (infectious diseases) which is at the bottom of your bathtub. I’m afraid it may be a bit soggy by now.

                  Yours sincerely,

                  Hermelin

The grateful residents want to thank the elusive detective, so they invite Hermelin to a “thank-you party in your honor … Everybody wants to meet you!” But a detective mouse is not what they expect and havoc ensues. Will Hermelin be recognized as more than just an “unclean, unhygienic, unwanted” pest? Your child will enjoy this book to the end!

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Found by Salina Yoon

Found by Salina Yoon is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Junior Library Guild selection for Spring 2014
✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Salina Yoon has created a wonderful story with Found (Walker Books for Young Readers /Bloomsbury 2014; $14.99, Ages 2-6. Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and wants to find its owner, so he posts “found” flyers in the forest. Time passes and no one claims the bunny, and Bear becomes attached to it. It is, after all, “the most special thing he had ever seen.” But eventually Moose, the owner, spots Floppy, and Bear must prepare to part with his new, treasured toy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it has just the right touch.

The magic of this picture book is its simplicity. The storyline is straightforward and the words are chosen perfectly for the young audience. My kindergartener greatly enjoys Found, and is transported into Bear’s world. When Moose arrives to claim Floppy, my little one’s thumb goes right in her mouth (nervous trait), and when Bear sheds a tear at the thought of parting with Floppy, my little one’s eyes well up, too. Children understand simple, pure emotion and Found presents that to them through the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and love.

The artwork is colorful and appealing. The characters are just adorable. Parents will appreciate the clever play on words and the cultural and historical references on the “lost” flyers. My favorites are “Lost Seasons 1-6,” Peter Pan’s “Lost shadow,” and “Lost my marbles! HELP!”

Your child will get lost in the world of Found, and that’s a good thing.

To read a review of Yoon’s Penguin in Love, click here and watch this space for a review of Penguin and Pumpkin.

 

Mini Myths Board Book Series: Be Patient, Pandora! & Play Nice, Hercules!

GREEK MYTHOLOGY
FOR THE FOUR & UNDER CROWD FROM
JOAN HOLUB & LESLIE PATRICELLI

Play-Nice-Hercules-Be-Patient-Pandora-cvrs.jpgA board book series that gently introduces toddlers to mythological characters, Pandora and Hercules, is a great idea. Rita and Ronna have each reviewed one of the following two new books, the first titles in what we’re sure will be a popular read-aloud series. Both board books feature a contemporary take on classic literature to help little ones learn simple life lessons in a very understandable way.

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Interior art from Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub with illustrations by Leslie Patricelli, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules(Abrams Appleseed, $6.95, Ages 1-4) by Joan Holub with illustrations by Leslie Patricelli.

Meet Hercules, a rough-and-tumble type of little boy. Then meet his calm, alphabet-blocks-playing sister. Despite being told by his dad to “Play nice, Hercules!” Hercules insists he’s not nice. “I am strong. I can wham-bam monsters!” Uh oh, things are looking a little shaky here, especially when he ka-booms the carefully stacked castle of blocks his sister has constructed.  With the castle in shambles and sister in tears, Hercules feels awful and apologizes. But watch out, Hercules! While you’re rebuilding your sister’s castle, she’s starting to get a glint in her eyes. The book’s back page includes a condensed version of the actual myth for parents to share with interested youngsters. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Be sure to pick up a copy of the other new board book in the series, Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora!, that cleverly conveys the message that maybe it is indeed better to heed one’s parent’s advice than let impatience get the upper hand.            

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Interior art from Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub with illustrations by Leslie Patricelli, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

Patience might be a virtue, but it’s a learned one, especially for young children. Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! chronicles Pandora’s temptation to open a boxed present. The box looks so pretty and even though opening is against the rules, touching it isn’t. How about leaning, sitting, or standing on it? It’s so hard to ignore the box when it’s right there! Will Pandora open the box, and what will happen if she does?

Based on the Greek myth, Be Patient, Pandora! is a charming board book that explores the importance of being patient. With the main story just under 60 words long, it is easily understandable for young children. The illustrations are adorable, and their simplicity is a perfect complement to the language. As a bonus, the final page has a child-friendly retelling of the original Pandora myth. Your children won’t be able to wait to get their hands on this book! – Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandmas Rule This Grandparents Day 2014

Grandmas Rule!

Reviewer Rita Zobayan says, “Whether we call her Noni, Grams, Yaya, Memaw, or another, special name, we can agree that grandmothers are the best. To celebrate Grandparents Day (September 7), here are three books that will make you want to hug your Nana.”

Grandma (Child’s Play, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8) by Jessica Shepherd deals with Oscar’s experience as his grandmother’s dementia takes hold and she enters a nursing home. The story begins with Oscar describing all the wonderful ways he spends time with Grandma. We love books. I can even read some to her now. We like to smell the flowers we’ve just planted…and to wash the dishes until they shine like diamonds.

But Oscar notices that Grandma is forgetting lots of things and can’t do things that she used to be able to. That’s when Grandma moves into a special home. As Oscar and his family visit Grandma, Oscar notices the differences. It doesn’t look like her house and it smells different too. But Grandma is happy and the people who help her are a lot of fun! We have drinks and cupcakes to share.

Grandma has good and bad days. Sometimes Grandma shouts when people are trying to help her. And sometimes, she’s angry with me too, and I don’t know why. Dad says it’s not my fault, she’s just confused. Oscar figures out a way to help. Grandma is getting very forgetful…so I made a box of happy memories that we can look through together. Oscar still spends lots of time with Grandma in her new home, and he has friends and family to take care of him when he’s sad that Grandma is feeling angry or unhappy or can’t spend time with him. And, in the end, Oscar still knows that his Grandma is the best.

Simply worded and illustrated, Grandma provides relevant and easy-to-understand examples and explanations for children who are experiencing a change in their grandparent’s behavior. A two-page question and answer section helps parents explain dementia and gives suggestions for how grandchildren can help.

9780385753845.jpg.172x250_q85How to Babysit a Grandma (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 5-8) written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish takes a delightful spin on caregiving. Mom and Dad are going away, so their young daughter gets to babysit Grandma! That’s right, she has many tricks to make spending time together fun.

How To Keep A Grandma Busy: Go to the park, bake snickerdoodles, have a costume parade, feed the ducks, do yoga, look at family pictures, swing, play hide-and-seek, make goofy hats, slide, have a dancing-puppet show, read stacks of books, take photos, do puzzles, play cards. As the babysitter, you need to let her choose.

Our young grandma-sitter has advice galore. She fills in the reader with how to play with a Grandma and places to sleep. Under her granddaughter’s care, Grandma has a great time. She remembers to pump her legs when swinging and listens to the five-minute time-to-go warning. Dinner time can be tricky, but, never fear, the grandma-sitter has tricks up her sleeve. Grandma will eat if you arrange food to make silly faces or add sprinkles to anything (Well – almost anything.). In the morning, it is time to say goodbye, but the granddaughter has that covered, too. (Hint: it involves a costume, items to borrow, a special phrase, and a big hug.)

Fun, brightly illustrated, and engaging, How to Babysit a Grandma is a perfect book for children who are anxious about sleepovers. It presents lots of suggestions on activities and empowers children, too.

teacakescover_000Our final book is an oldie but goodie, Tea Cakes for Tosh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012; $16.99, Ages 6-8) written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Grandma Honey is a woman of many talents. She spins stories and bakes delicious tea cakes. Tosh loves spending time with her, listening as Honey tells of courageous great-great-great-great-grandma Ida, who worked as a kitchen slave and whose tea cakes “were the best around.” Although Ida was forbidden to share the delicious treats with her children or any of the other slaves, she risked being whipped to give the children a taste of sweet freedom. Tosh listens to the story over and over.

When Honey begins to forget everyday things, such as where she parked the car or her sister’s phone number, Tosh is concerned. But the worst day was when Honey forgot how to make tea cakes…Tosh looked at Honey’s worried face and checked all of the ingredients she placed on the counter—butter, flour, sugar, vanilla. “What about eggs?” Tosh asked. “Right, that’s it,” Honey said, beaming at Tosh. “You really are something.”

As Tosh comes to terms with his grandmother’s failing memory, he decides to take action. He makes tea cakes at home and memorizes Honey’s story. The next day, Tosh surprises and comforts Honey with his baked goods and recitation.

This heartwarming tale is about the special bond between grandparent and grandchild. Complete with a tea cake recipe, Tea Cakes for Tosh is a beautifully illustrated book that reminds us that sometimes listening can be a precious gift unto itself.

Here’s a link to our recent review of 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Nana in The City by Lauren Castillo and picture books giveaway.

 

 

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