ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRO WRESTLER TIME TWISTERS BOOK ONE Written by Steve Sheinkin Illustrated by Neil Swaab (Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 7-10)
Don’t let the title, Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler, convince you that this totally entertaining and educational read is comprised of our 16th president traipsing around in a wrestling singlet. It is actually the first in a clever fiction chapter book series that features lots of laugh out load moments that kept me turning the pages to see how the two main characters, step-siblings Abby and Doc, would pull off some whimsical time travel twists that bring Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to life but could also change the course of history.
The story unfolds with the kids in Ms. Maybee’s history class being instructed to read aloud from their textbook section about Honest Abe. When the teacher tries to get her students involved, the general reaction is a resounding “BORING!” It turns out, though, that their disinterest has negatively impacted historical figures including Lincoln. Because of that, when Ms. Maybee’s class attempts to read about America’s influential president and his profound impact on our country’s history, the students can only find references to Abraham Lincoln essentially doing zilch—”sitting in a chair, reading or heading off to the outhouse.”
In an interesting scene that sets the stage for all the story’s zany action, Lincoln travels to the present to offer words of caution. “Saying I’m boring, groaning in agony when it comes time to read about history. As I said, today was just a warning. If you do it again—well, you’ll see.” The next attempt to study the 16th president also fails, but instead of Lincoln returning to the library storage room to warn Abby and Doc, Doc disappears into the same box (portal) that brought Lincoln to the present from 1860 Illinois. Abby follows and the two wind up outside of Lincoln’s house. There they meet Lincoln and his wife, Mary who tells them the election is tomorrow. With her husband no longer caring, Mary and the kids are worried. “Then we’re doomed! … The country will break apart! Everything we have worked for—all thrown away!” The kids feel awful, certain they’ve screwed with fate, especially after their dad, Mr. Douglass, also a teacher, impresses upon the two how important history is. “But knowing history makes you smarter, helps you understand the world better. Mostly, it’s just fun.”
The problem is Doc and Abby now need to get Abraham Lincoln engaged again while also getting their classmates to realize how much history matters. This may not be easy. When Lincoln hears about a school fundraiser, a pro wrestling match scheduled for that evening, he’d much rather quit the past and attend the big event. He just happens to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame! At the same time, Doc has time travelled back to election day with the gym teacher, Mr. Biddle, who earlier dressed as Honest Abe (a term he despised) for a special surprise presentation at school. His goal: get the real Lincoln concerned enough to step back into his rightful place and accept the presidency. I especially liked this part because of all the facts about Lincoln that Sheinkinshares and how the two Abes get up to all sorts of shenanigans along with Abby and Doc. There’s so much humor infused into this history lesson that readers will not even realize how much fun they’re having learning about a time when our country was so “bitterly divided, mainly over the issue of slavery.” Kids will breeze through the eighteen chapters and will be delighted to learn there are more books available already in this pleasing series. The cartoon-like illustrations by Swaab add to the silliness as well as offer an easy way into absorbing history for the more reluctant readers.
There are all kinds of love. Love for a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a pet, a friend or in the case of Loved to Bits, the love of a stuffed animal. Stripy Ted has been everywhere and done everything with his owner, an imaginative young boy. During their adventures this plush pal has experienced all the fun two friends can have, but at a cost. Over time, Stripy Ted’s lost all his limbs and even an eye. But that hasn’t stopped him from joining the boy and for that the child is grateful. The fearless stuffed animal may be battered and worn, but “The truth was now, I liked him better. I could hold him in one hand. He fit right, just here.” The bond between boy and beloved teddy bear make for tender reading in this rhyming picture book. Filled with sweet illustrations that softly convey the depth of love between the pair, Loved to Bits makes not only a charming Valentine’s Day story, but a delightful year round bedtime tale.
I always wanted to be an aunt because of the special relationship I’d have with my niece or nephew. If I were an aunt, like the one in Auntie Loves You!, I’d want to do all the things she does with her little “bunny-kins bunny …” Together the pair go to the beach together, play games, sail boats and play hide-and-seek. The affection the bunnies share for one another is evident in all the illustrations which are tender and evocative. The font is large and the rhyme predictive making the story accessible for beginning readers and just the right length for a bedtime story. “We go together like sprinkles on cake, like kisses and hugs, or ducks on a lake.” I love the sweeping landscapes and can almost smell the sea air in the beach scenes. Another nice feature in this picture book is a presented to page for an inscription and date as well as a spread in the back matter with a place for “A Special Letter to My Favorite Bunny” and a beautifully designed page to paste a photo of child and auntie.
If you enjoyed Dragons: Father and Son, Dragons in Lovewill not disappoint. I bet you didn’t know that when flames shoot out of a dragon’s mouth it’s a sign of love. In this amusing picture book, Drake the young dragon gets kissed on the snout by his friend, Violet. “It left Drake feeling hot and confused.” He flies away, trying hard to hold back the fire building up inside but cannot. While he has to admit the kiss didn’t hurt, the feelings were not anything he’d been used to and so he decides he has to avoid his friend. In a dragon dad to dragon son chat, Drake finds out that breathing fire is how dragons show their love, but that might not be an easy thing for Violet to deal with. Drake continues to stay away … that is until he hears noises in the park and sees that his friend is being bullied. Those flames come in handy to fend off a bully. They singe the meanie, but don’t scare away any of Drake’s friends, especially Violet. In fact, it appears coming to his friend’s rescue has sparked a greater love. Lacroix’s prose and Badel’s art leave the ending up to kids to decide which provides a great jumping off point for discussion. Violet points to her cheek and seems to want Drake to give her a kiss, but will he? Kids are going to get a kick out of the humorous illustrations that are full of expression and capture the dynamic of this age group so well.
I know, the title Isle of You sounds like “I love you” and it’s supposed to because that’s really what matters most—to love yourself and know you are loved. Isle of You does a wonderful job of conveying a place children can go to inside themselves to make themselves feel better when they’re feeling sad, lonely or even angry. This is such a great idea. On the Isle of You everything is there to help improve a bad mood or feeling. “There’s the welcoming committee, waiting with wide-open arms. What would you like to do first?” Whatever your heart can imagine is there and all it takes is imagination. This type of positive visualization is sure to shift the blues to pinks, yellows and greens. And best of all, it offers a way to quiet any negative thoughts and replace them with ones that are bound to make them kids feel good. Swim in a waterfall? Sure! Relax on a hammock? Why not? “The choice is yours.” Try your favorite dessert, walk along the beach, make a wish on a starfish. This feel-good story is complemented by magical, and soothing artwork that will lift the spirits as it assures youngsters they are loved just before they drift off to sleep.
This sturdy 48-page board book featuring 35 full-page artworks is ideal for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any birthday. And you don’t have to be into museums to appreciate the beauty of My Art Book of Love. The first book in Phaidon’s My Art Book collection, this gorgeous book will introduce little ones to all the joys of art in its many shapes, sizes, colors and mediums. I was thrilled to see such a diverse selection included in My Art Book of Love and impressed how the author was able to find such terrific examples to convey: Love is … , Love feels … , Love makes you …, Love looks like …, Love is everywhere., and Love is beautiful. Artists represented range from Klimt to Cassatt, Wiley to Warhol, Bechtle to Botero. There is much to enjoy in the pairing of Love feels … “Warm like the sun on your skin … ” with Boys in a Pasture by Winslow Homer or Love is everywhere. “And inside your home,” The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner. I recommend this series, and this book in particular, to share with toddlers to foster the love of art in all its glory. Look out for My Art Book of Sleep, too.
We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.
Many things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others. As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin,Pie Is for Sharing(Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Starsby Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6. ★ Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,
Geared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.
For a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommendThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence,written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty. Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf. ★Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios
You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
Smart, capable, solution-seeking girls star in two new picture books from debut author-illustrators reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
THE BREAKING NEWS Written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul (Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
DOLL-E 1.0 Written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reulbrings us a glimpse of a community struggling to cope with upsetting developments, and highlights the role that a girl fulfills to restore and heal them. The book opens with a family happily engaged in potting plants at the kitchen table. But a television in the background interrupts with unsettling news, distracting the parents and disrupting the normal rhythm of life. The little girl, round-eyed and tender-hearted, notices the changes all around her. She becomes determined to act and restore balance to her family, school and community.
Advised by her teacher to look for helpers, our heroine undertakes big and small acts of generosity and kindness. Bold gestures – washing dishes, putting on a silly show, and inventing imaginary force fields – fall flat. But slowly she discovers that many small gestures performed with love and care – tending to the dog, reading to her brother, caring for the recently-potted plant – begin to make a difference.
THE BREAKING NEWS is a helpful, heart-filled book. It bridges the gap between acknowledging distressing events and supporting the family circle where children learn to cope and counter sadness and fear. Reul’s balanced blend of warm and grey toned illustrations underscore the message of empowerment and hope. Reul brings together a brighter future and stronger community by the book’s end, making this a timely, helpful resource for families to discuss broader community issues. ★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
It’s techno-trouble for clever Charlotte, the heroine of DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey, because she doesn’t comprehend the purpose of her new toy, a doll. With her trusty canine sidekick Blutooth, Charlotte is constantly on call for fixing the gadgets and devices that break and baffle her family. However, her constant coding and tinkering spark concern from her parents, who want Charlotte to unplug a bit.
The new “human-shaped pillow” doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm until a hidden battery pack is revealed. Charlotte tackles a doll upgrade, much to Blutooth’s dismay. Will his doggie destruction thwart Charlotte’s creative coding and clicking, or will it lead to a new appreciation for her technological ingenuity?
This STEM-friendly tale will appeal to young readers who appreciate and alternate between toys with and without power buttons. McCloskey’s action-filled, colorful characters are expressive and engaging. The scratchy, sketched appearance balances a sophisticated use of cartoon-panels. Full page illustrations pace the story nicely. Speech bubbles blend dialogue smoothly with text, while background details hint cleverly at Charlotte’s tools and organized interests. DOLL-E 1.0 is a smart, engaging and creative story with lots of contemporary charm.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Read another recent #Epic18 set of book reviews by Cathy Ballou Mealey here.
(A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus
Aaron Reynolds (Creepy Carrots, a Caldecott Honor winner) channels his inner dude to bring us Dude! a one-word, wickedly funny 40-page picture book featuring a beaver and platypus who go surfing. The ingenuity of this book is how the inflections of one word carry the story line.
Kids will delight in this amusing friendship story that includes bird poop and ice cream—not together, of course. Dude! can be joyfully read aloud by all ages, encouraging the reader to act out the word with enthusiasm.
The no-trees-were-killed digital art by Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Caldecott Medal winner) adds lively and colorful action to the text. Each character’s facial expression captures the moment. And, if you’ve ever wondered how a shark can wear a pair of swimming trunks, you’ll find the answer here.
Beyond the text and illustrations, this book can be an opening for a conversation about the ability to interpret vocal nuances and facial expressions. Or, Dude, just let the book add a scoop of fun to your day.
MARY’S MONSTER: LOVE, MADNESS, AND HOW MARY SHELLEY CREATED FRANKENSTEIN Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook Press; $21.99, Ages 15-18)
★Starred Review- School Library Journal
I find it fitting that on this night there is a dark storm blowing outside my window. I can almost imagine that I am writing this review of Mary’s Monsterby candle light in the mid 1800s. But I’m not. I’m sitting here at my computer preparing to describe to you a story that has haunted me since I first saw the cover of this gripping YA graphic biography about renowned English novelist, Mary Shelley.
Author/illustrator Lita Judge has woven an impossibly romantic and tragic story. From the chilling prologue, written by the monster himself, to the fascinating back matter, this is an extraordinary account of the life of Mary Shelley, creator of the literary classic, Frankenstein. Judge’s writing is lyrical and yet full of history and meaning. To know that the story is based on historical documents, such as Mary Shelley’s writings, makes it all the more fascinating. The sparse and poetic text, combined with the beautifully haunting black and white artwork, invites the teen reader to think deeply and become immersed in Shelley’s world.
The reader is subtlely but thoroughly introduced to the social and political influences that shaped Mary Shelley’s beliefs and choices. Lita Judge masterfully unfolds the events of Shelley’s life, from the abuse and loss she suffered in childhood, to her forbidden love affair with a married man, to the madness of opium addiction, to her experiences as a woman in an oppressive society. In all of this, Judge shows us Shelley’s inspiration. Mary Shelley’s monster took shape as an expression of herself. Not just of her creative mind, but also of her struggles, her nightmares, her fears for the future, and her desire to heal her pain.
I applaud Lita Judge for her thoroughness and her gift of storytelling. In what is the 200th anniversary year of Frankenstein’s first publication, Judge’s timely and relevant book belongs alongside Shelley’s Gothic horror tale as an ideal companion guide to understanding her monster and her world, as well as ours.
As Judge writes at the end of Mary’s story, “We can affect the lives of generations to come if we are brave enough to open the wings of our imagination and create!”
As Kipling waves goodbye to his Mama, floating toward a ship with her rolling luggage and travel satchel, she promises to come home soon. But what does “soon” mean for Kipling if Mama is not back by dinner, or bedtime, or even the next morning? Although another parent penguin has remained at home, the child-like penguin’s longing for Mama is powerful and pervasive. Kipling gets busy creating substitute but unsatisfactory Mamas from pillows, pictures and snow. Finally there is nothing left to do but wish and wait for Mama’s return.
Then – a delivery! A special, soggy box arrives. It carries the scent of the ocean and makes a mysterious thunk-rustle noise. Mama has sent a package of thoughtful mementos and a reassuring heart-shaped note of love. Hugging the note just as Mama has done in an enclosed photo lifts the little penguin’s spirits. Soon Kipling starts to compile a similar treasure box for Mama.
Bradley’s soft illustrations depict a cool grey and blue-white landscape that warms to a gentle gold glow inside the penguin home. Pops of red on boots, belts, boats and especially Mama’s glasses add just the right note of playfulness and cheer. Bradley utilizes a variety of unique perspectives from land, sky and sea to help young readers imagine the distances stretching between Kipling and Mama. My favorite spread depicts the young penguin from above, plopped down in the snow, carefully arranging rocks in a circle. Can Kipling’s special, striped wishing stones help speed Mama’s return home?
The delicate balance of carefully chosen text and images underscore the simplicity and resonance of loving and longing from a child’s perspective. Love, Mama will reassure and reconnect parents and young readers separated by distance but not imagination. Perfect for Valentine’s Day or any day for that matter
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN Written by Caroline McAlister Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 7-10)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Even a passing glance at the brilliant cover of John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkienwill reveal tantalizing clues about the carefully woven, beautifully illustrated tale inside. A boy, heavy book open in his lap, sits beneath a tree that is morphing, Daphne-esque, into a curious dragon. Utterly fantastic from its root-like tail swirling up the trunk to its leafy green scales, we share the boy’s delight and surprise in the dragon’s appearance as a peaceful, shire- styled village awaits in the distance.
Using dragons as a child-friendly entry point, McAlister frames this picture book biography of J.R.R. Tolkien around his rich imagination and love of language. The book paints an idyllic early childhood that nurtured John Ronald’s passions, allowing them to flourish among stories, family, friends, and invented vocabularies. Those passions then simmer quietly beneath the surface, sustaining him in later years through unhappy times and adult responsibilities.
The magic of this book lies in how well Wheeler’sillustrations build upon McAlister’s text, never failing to seize an opportunity to portray a smoky wisp from cup, chimney or pipe that will connect us to a dragon’s steamy breath. Likewise, architectural details ground the reader in the time period while also stretching to hint at fantasy features in the imagined worlds Tolkien eventually creates. The subtle green-gray-yellow palette keeps the focus squarely on the main character, until finally bursting into glorious red-gold when the dragon Smaug is revealed. Gorgeous endpapers pay delightful homage to William Morris design.
Young readers who may not have yet heard of Tolkien nor seen The Lord of the Rings movies will be gently introduced to Middle Earth world through this charming book. Surely many will identify with the desire to daydream about powerful dragons, misty mountain journeys, or Hobbits and elves. The text includes informative notes from the author and illustrator, Tolkien quotes on dragons, a Tolkien dragon catalog, and bibliography.
John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful initial investment in world-building and imagination for young readers. Once engaged by the dragons and dreams of John Ronald, one cannot help but assume the book will spur future interest in reading more of Tolkien .
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a preview copy of John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
FRIDAY BARNES UNDER SUSPICION Written by R. A. Spratt Illustrated by Phil Gosier (Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
Tween sleuth Friday Barnes is back, this time to uncover who set her up and why mysterious things keep happening at her private school, Highcrest Academy.
If you’ve been reading Good Reads With Ronna for awhile you’ll recognizeR. A. Spratt’sname as the author of the popular Nanny Piggins series. With nine of these books under her belt, Spratt tried her hand at middle grade mysteries with the release of Friday Barnes Girl Detective. Today I’m going to introduce you to this über intelligent student sleuth in her second book, Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, out earlier this month. And frankly, it didn’t matter that I started with book 2 since Spratt has included just enough pertinent backstory to make this book succeed even as a stand alone.
This latest installment features 25 short chapters that are filled with action and lots of surprises. Yes, there’s never a dull moment when 11-year-old private investigator Friday Barnes is around. The story moves at a fast pace and is broken down into one large mystery to solve and several smaller ones. Spratt kept me guessing whodunnit throughout the novel and that will appeal to readers who, like me, love the challenge of putting the mystery puzzle pieces together.
Whether she’s helping to prove her own innocence after a setup or that of a vagrant by locating a missing sapphire bracelet, or catching the home economics class cheat who took credit for a quiche she didn’t make, Friday Barnes solves her cases using brains not brawn. Add to all the enjoyable sleuthing just a dash of tween romance, a fun symbiotic friendship, a satisfying amount of Spratt-style tongue-in-cheek banter, and the sudden profusion of large holes around the campus of Highcrest Academy,and you’ve got the makings of one very entertaining novel. What is happening at Highcrest Academy that’s causing people to appear, disappear, or reappear, and could it all be tied to a past secret or something more recent?
I couldn’t wait to read what escapades the staff and students of this posh private boarding school got up to. Spratt has created an academic environment rife with intrigue. And the fact that Friday uses money earned from prior and current cases to pay her way through school is significant. Friday’s the daughter of physicists who are preoccupied with their own lives so she’s been forced to grow up early and make her own way in the world. She does so with aplomb, occasional embarrassment, and a lot of hilarious dialogue that will keep middle grade readers coming back to Barnes for more. Watch out for book 3, Friday Barnes Big Trouble due this coming January 2017.
Read an excerpt from Friday Barnes Under Suspicion here.
WHERE’S THE PARTY? Written and illustrated by Ruth Chan (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3 to 6)
– is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Filled with silly charm and endearing characters, Ruth Chan’s debut picture book WHERE’S THE PARTY? is a cheerful delight for fans of parties, plans, cats and cake.
Georgie, our furry feline hero, is the hostess with the mostest when it comes to special celebrations. He’s gathered friends for pool parties, topiary competitions, Pie Day, and ice cream truck fests. So it is no surprise when he wakes up with a smile on his face, ready to plan a spectacular party, choose the biggest cake in the bakery, and invite all his friends.
With his furry arms wrapped around a triple-tiered pink, white and blue party cake, Georgie sets out to each friend’s doorstep to issue his invitations in person. Alas, his best friend Feta the dog is too busy making pickles, and Lester the mouse has to untangle a string of lights. Ferdinand the mole can’t be enticed from his hole, and Sneakers (non-specific species) is intently snipping away at his latest evergreen masterpiece.
One by one, Georgie realizes he will not be able to round up any guests for his fiesta. His party hat droops, his whiskers dangle dejectedly, and he nibbles at the party cake to console himself. Eventually it is dark and there is no cake remaining, so Georgie trudges home. But wait, it can’t end there can it? No! Of course one’s picture book friends always come through in magnificent fashion, and it is best to discover the tiny, delightful details for oneself.
Chan’s critters are simple and goofy, with exaggerated features like buck teeth, floppy ears, and fanged underbites. Georgie the cat is a wide-eyed, cuddly character, full of strong feelings that he expresses clearly in toddler-like fashion. Chan tucks tiny, noteworthy details into every illustration, slyly winking at urban architectural excesses and applying silly Scarry-style labels on mugs, posters and cross-stitch samplers.
A super fun Activity Guide available on the publisher’s website provides a cake recipe, printable cake toppers, a party hat pattern, games and coloring pages. Download your own at this link and get ready to party!
Making a List and Checking it Twice! Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks
Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!
What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon Written and illustrated byJarrett J. Krosoczka (Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.
Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!
A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.
This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!
This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!
Once Upon a Cloud Written and illustrated by Claire Keane (Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.
What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!
This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.
Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.
A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.
How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.
How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!
Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.
This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!
We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!
– Reviewed by Hilary Taber
Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.
“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.
Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.
Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.
Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidelis brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.
This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.
Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
Here’s a variety of our favorite Thanksgiving books this year, some that celebrate the food or beverages of the fall season and others that shed light on an aspect of Thanksgiving we may not have thought about recently. We hope you’ll take some time out of your busy holiday preparations to read with your child or share one of these books with them to read on their own. Wishing all of you a most joyous Thanksgiving 2015. Happy reading and eating!
Thanksgiving Parade with illustrations by Melanie Matthews, (Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up): In this cheerful, sturdy, 12 page rhyming board book, kids get a front row seat for the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a decades old NYC tradition chockablock with fabulous floats and brilliantly colored and shaped balloons, so many stories high. Of course no parade would be complete without marching bands and a visit from old St. Nick. This die cut board book is sure to set the countdown to Christmas in motion.
Time for CranberriesWritten by Lisl H. Detlefsen with illustrations by Jed Henry (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7) We’re treated to an insider’s look at growing and harvesting cranberries which, for fans of this fruit, is not just a Thanksgiving treat, but a year round treasure. Author Detlefsen “lives on a cranberry marsh in Wisconsin” and knows her stuff. She tells the story from a young boy’s point of view. He’s finally old enough to participate in harvesttime rather than watching from the wings and takes joy in every aspect of the process. And it is a process, a time consuming one that involves booming, corralling, cleaning and a lot of other steps before the cranberries are ready for delivery at the receiving station. Henry’s illustrations perfectly complement Detlefsen’s prose and provide a good look at how involved being a cranberry grower can be. The author’s note helps readers get a good idea about the history of the industry and the back matter also includes two recipes and a handy glossary.
From Apple Trees to Cider Please Written by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with illustrations by Julia Patton (Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8) Chernesky takes us to an apple orchard where all kinds of apples are ripe for the plucking. There are Honeycrisp (my current fave), Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji trees and an apple picking family is filling up baskets with a nice assortment. After the family’s done they head over to the cider mill where they’re shown how the apple cider press works to extract the juice. Patton’s artwork is scrumptious and whimsical while Chernesky’s rhyme never misses a beat. “Clean the apples. Check for worms. Wash and dry them. No more germs.” This picture book is an ideal read-aloud for fall and will have you salivating for a cup of hot mulled cider by the end, if not sooner!
Lynch does a bravura job both with the execution of his evocative, muted artwork as well as with his economy of words. He embellishes little yet shares enough to put us right alongside Howland every step of the way. The story opens as Howland leaves London and heads off on the grueling journey across the Atlantic to help his master, John Carver, set up a colony in Virginia. But things don’t go quite as planned and the Mayflower ends up in New England, but not before a huge wave partway through the voyage sends Howland “flying over the side.” Fortune, as the book’s title says, seems to be with Howland everywhere on his trip as he was seen falling overboard and a rope was immediately thrown to rescue him. While half of the Pilgrims died either during the voyage or by the time the first winter had ended, Howland did not succumb to illness and survived to benefit from Squanto’s knowledge of the land. The descriptions of the three day Thanksgiving feast and Howland’s burgeoning relationship with one of the Pilgrims, Lizzy Tilley, add to the richness of this book and will no doubt spark interest in readers to dive even deeper into the history of the Pilgrims in the New World.
Thanksgiving Activity Book Written by Karl Jones with illustrations by Joey Chou (Price Stern Sloan; $9.99, Ages 3 and up) Keep kids busy this Thanksgiving holiday with an activity book that starts off with some interesting facts then includes a bunch of Thanksgiving themed activities such as a word find, a crossword puzzle before moving onto traditional Thanksgiving recipes (pumpkin soup and corn bread) to be done with adult supervision. Best of all, there are clever craft ideas from a fall-leaf placemat to corn-husk dolls. I really liked the press-out paper crafts, in fact, I plan to make the turkey centerpiece. If that’s not enough, there’s a slew of stickers to keep kids thoroughly occupied as they create their very own Thanksgiving mini-masterpieces.
Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Other Recommended Thanksgiving books:
Turkey Time! with illustrations by Melanie Matthews (Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up)
Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure Written by Linda Ashman with illustrations by Kim Smith (Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-7)
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ Written by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler (HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey Written by Bill Harley & Illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree Publishing; $13.95, Ages 7-10)
They say to never judge a book by its cover. Never! That said, go ahead and soak in the deliciously dark and clever art design on Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The artwork perfectly captures the mood of this caper: a rich, Victorian-era romp led by a cast of seven unforgettable students, topped with dashes of suspense and dark humor. Dark, because the caper revolves around the young ladies of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls discovering their irritable headmistress and her brother, murdered. Darker still, because for these girls, the thought of being sent away from school and each other is worse than the alternative: covering up a murder.
Therein lies the heart of the story—the sisterhood. These seven spirited girls, living in 19th ,century England, have been made to feel like misfits. It’s why they were sent to boarding school. It’s why each of them was given their own demeaning moniker: Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Dear Roberta, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. While at school they found comfort in friendship, and strength in their alleged weaknesses. So keeping their sisterhood intact is worth a few morbid shenanigans.
“I suppose they’ll find other schools for us eventually,” Pocked Louise said. “New mistresses, new nasty girls to make us miserable.”
“We have gotten along so beautifully here.” Dear Roberta sighed. “It’s something of a miracle, really. We aren’t simply boarding school mates. We’re like a family.”
“We’re better than family,” Disgraceful Mary Jane corrected. “Families are full of aunts and brothers and parents. We’re sisters.”
But author Julie Berry does not make the cover-up easy on the girls. There are bodies to bury. Nosy neighbors to placate. Financials to attend to. And let’s not forget: their headmistress was murdered, so somewhere, someone is waiting for a sign the poison found its mark. The litany of challenges set before the girls is enough make the book a page turner, but it’s a rewarding read on other merits, too.
Berry does an amazing job with the Victorian period. The school setting, character mannerisms, attitudes, clothing, and dry (yet distinctly biting) humor all wrapped around the who-done-it plotline make it delightful for the senses, too.
The glue that holds this fast-paced romp together is the bond between the girls. They all have different personalities, and at times, have disagreements. As a reader you begin to feel like an unofficial member of the sisterhood, standing quietly by, privy to these high-stakes discussions. You understand the level of loyalty and respect they feel for each other.
For readers who crave a little romance, there are a few moments. There’s the neighboring farm boy, a broad-shouldered constable, and a mysterious newcomer.
But really, this story is about the sisterhood. That, and gasping every few pages, wondering how in the world they’re going to get themselves out of this. I really enjoyed tagging along with this Scandalous Sisterhood.