skip to Main Content

Picture Book Review – Big Dreams, Small Fish

 

BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH

Written and illustrated by Paula Cohen

(Levine Querido; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Big Dreams Small Fish cover

 

 

I love it when picture book art begins on the copyright page and continues onto the title page giving readers an early taste of what’s to come. That’s what first struck me about author-illustrator Paula Cohen’s debut, Big Fish, Small Dreams. In fact, Cohen’s charming digitally colored pencil drawings include Shirley’s right foot being lifted out of her shoe when the small girl nails the word fish on the title page just mentioned, an actual black-and-white family photo hanging on the wall, to Hebrew lettering under the sign “Gefilte Fish .40/piece.” Then there are the evocative outfits and old-fashioned food packaging helping to transport readers back in time to the small family grocery store inspired by her grandparents’ shop in Upstate New York.

Each family member in the book has a major role to play, Uncle Morris stocked the shelves and no one made a taller tower. Papa kept the store tidy and helped customers. But, it seems there was one item, a staple to the immigrant Jewish family that others in the neighborhood would not buy, gefilte fish. “No one would even Try it.” I have to say I could relate to the reluctance of the neighbors. My grandmother would serve jarred gefilte fish, and the only way I would eat it was smothered in horseradish sauce. Learning that some families made it homemade, however, did change my feelings towards this Jewish specialty.

 

Big Dreams Small Fish int1
Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

 

Shirley may be young but she believes she has big ideas to sell this stuffed fish. Cohen illustrates signs near the cash register—Follow Me to Fish and This Way to Fish. And we see the smile on the brown-haired girl with orange ribbons in her braids standing near the store’s gefilte fish table. She thinks of how to make things faster, prettier, and more modern. Yet nothing would move those cans of gefilte fish.

 

Big Dreams, Small Fish int2
Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

Shirley’s family says they didn’t come to America for their daughter to solve problems, but then a miracle happened. The family rushes to the hospital when it’s time for Aunt Ida to have her baby leaving the store in the hands of Mrs. Gottlieb who Cohen draws snoring in the back of the store. This is when young Shirley and her precious white cat get busy. She decorates the store and offers “serve yourself pea soup.” But her biggest idea comes when Mrs. Hernandez arrives to purchase tomatoes and a pound of kugel. Shirley packs up her order nicely and places a surprise inside the bag. The drawing of Shirley innocently placing the tin of homemade gefilte fish in the brown paper bag is quite a sweet moment. More customers arrive and more gefilte fish is distributed with the sign “Buy Anything And Get A Surprise” hanging on the wall.

 

 

Big Dreams, Small Fish int3
Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

A grey, yellow and brown illustration of the neighborhood apartment building shows neighbors from various ethnicities tasting this new treat with smiles on their faces, but when Mama and Papa return from the hospital to an empty pot and no cash in the register our little protagonist is sent upstairs to go to bed early. The next morning neighbors are lining up for this Jewish delight: gefilte fish. And Mama and Papa couldn’t be prouder. “You know Shirley, you have some pretty good ideas in that keppele after all,” said Mama. Cohen weaves some wonderful Yiddish words into her story making the characters come alive on the pages. (Keppele means little head in Yiddish).

Cohen’s back matter tells the meaning of the Yiddish words she uses. She also explains the story of gefilte fish, along with supplying the Russ Family Salmon and Whitefish Gefilte Fish recipe. I loved learning about Paula’s family story. Both her words and drawings leave the reader feeling like they knew her. Sadly, before this book had a chance to reach readers’ hands in early 2022 Paula passed away suddenly. She is a woman I would have loved to have met. She recorded a beautiful video of herself emotionally opening the box that contained the book, and I am so grateful she had that joyful moment. Sharing this book with friends and family is a great way to assure that Paula’s story will not be forgotten. May her memory be a blessing.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read the Publishers Weekly obituary for this talented author-illustrator here and visit her website here.

Share this:

Picture Book Review – The Welcome Chair

 

 

THE WELCOME CHAIR

Written by Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Bookpage, Kirkus

 

Rosemary Wells introduces the reader to her family’s history in the telling of a rocking chair built by her great-great-grandfather. We travel with the author of more than one hundred books for children, and winner of the Christopher Award, on the road imagining where the chair may have traveled in The Welcome Chair with illustrations by the late Jerry Pinkney who has earned seven Caldecott Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, and the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Learning about family history is so much fun, and reading the story of Sam Seigbert who was born in 1807 in Bavaria, and brought to life by Wells from a family diary, was quite fascinating. Wells’s great-great-grandfather was destined to be a carpenter, but his father insisted that he study the Torah to become a Rabbi like him and his grandfather. “It’s settled. You will not work with your hands like a country bumpkin.” But that was not what Sam wanted, so at age sixteen he cut off his sidelocks, so no one would bully the Jewish boy, and hiked north to find work as a deckhand on a freighter for three pfennigs a day. The captain noticed Sam could read and write and offered him a job logging inventory on the ship. When the ship docked, Sam “darts away across the Brooklyn docks into the screeching, shrieking, filthy, clanging, terrifying, ugly and beautiful young city of New York.”

 

The Welcome Chair int1
Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

Pinkney’s extensive experience led him to execute the illustrations with contour drawing and watercolor washes, and pictures using burnt okra Prismacolor pencils and pastels. It was a perfect choice to showcase the 19th century as Sam meets Able Hinzler, and his wife Klara, and is hired on to become the bookkeeper and apprentice carpenter for Hinzler’s Housewright shop. When Magnus Hinzler is born, Sam carves a cherrywood rocking chair for Klara to sit in comfortably with the word “Willkommen”  meaning Welcome in German across a panel. This is the start of the chair that had many lives.

As told by Wells, Sam moves to Wisconsin with the Hinzler family. “The rocking chair goes with them. One evening he meets Ruth and falls in love with her gentle laugh and green-gray eyes. When their firstborn, Henry, arrives Sam carves Baruch Haba—Hebrew for “Welcome”—right under “Willkommen,” into the chair’s panel so that Henry will know his heritage.

When Wells was ten, her grandmother showed her the diary that was written in spidery old German by Wells’ great-great-grandmother Ruth Seigbert and read it to her. She decided to write a memoir of the diary in the first half of The Welcome Chair that ends in 1918 and brought to life the rest of the story through stories she was told.

 

The Welcome Chair int2
Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

In 1863, Henry was killed in Gettysburg and his younger sister Helen eventually married Harry Leopold. They moved to New York, and you guessed it, the chair travels east by railway. When Helen hires Irish girl Lucy as the family seamstress, she gives Lucy the chair as a wedding present and the word “Failte”—Irish for “Welcome” is spelled out with brass letters.

We watch the clothing and people change, showing Pinkney’s research, along with the timeline. Years have now passed and the chair moves from trash on the sidewalk picked up by a junkman, to Santo Domingo nuns living in Newark, New Jersey who carve “Bienvenido” in Spanish into the wood. When the nuns pass away, the chair is placed in a rummage sale in 2010 where Pearl Basquet’s mother grabs it. “’Our Welcome Chair needs a new word,’” says Pearl.” Her father chisels “Byenvini”—the Haitian word for Welcome.

This is a beautifully told story tracing the history of what was, to the present of what could have been. If these walls could talk what would we know about old family heirlooms? Wells and Pinkney give readers a beautiful glimpse into the “what-if.” Grandparents can read this meaningful story to their grandchildren, and tell their family history to be shared from generation to generation.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review for Black History Month – Seeking Freedom

 

 

SEEKING FREEDOM:
The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe
and the Ending of Slavery in America

Written by Selene Castrovilla

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

(Calkins Creek; $24.99; Ages 7 – 10)

 

 

Seeking Freedom cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Three freedom seekers took a chance and entered Fortress Monroe without realizing another freedom seeker was watching them from behind a tree, leading to the eventual freedom of thousands of African Americans in Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America, written by award-winning author Selene Castrovilla with illustrations by Caldecott Honoree E.B. Lewis.

With page-turning, easy-to-understand prose, and a history lesson that no reader will forget, Castrovilla’s nonfiction picture book presents a fascinating narrative of what led to President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to create the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual end to slavery

The book opens with an explanation of what took place when war broke out on April 12, 1861, after Lincoln took office and seven Southern states seceded from the union. It was when Virginia abandoned the United States that the enslaved people knew they would do anything to be free. Castrovilla also explains to readers that the terms slave and fugitive are considered dehumanizing and has replaced these words with enslaved and freedom seekers.

Lewis separates the illustrations with dates helping to visualize the time frame of when events were happening. Freedom seeker George Scott is first introduced watching three African American men enter Fortress Monroe who miraculously are not sent away. After spending two years hiding in the forest, which is much better than being tied to a whipping post, Scott watches more men and women enter the fortress. Hours later, there was still no sign of them! Was it true? Were these people now among friends?

 

Seeking Freedom int1
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

The soft tones of a large brick bridge, and the backs of men and women entering with bare feet, leave us wondering if they will be safe. Lewis’s evocative watercolors show Scott hesitantly walking behind the others on the bridge, becoming the last in the long line to be interviewed. He made the right decision! Fortress Commander Major General Benjamin Butler sits behind his desk questioning every man who has arrived hoping to get information about where Confederates are stationed. “I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war.” Contraband — property used for warlike purposes against the government of the United States — could be legally confiscated.

Scott tells Butler that he has seen many confederates in the woods. And now Butler has a mission for Scott to track down the confederates. In fact, George Scott was the first enslaved man to be handed a revolver and ride off near the front of an infantry of five thousand men. Chaos came fast. The loss … tremendous.

 

Seeking Freedom int2
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

Many of Butler’s men died but the confederates fled. Butler put his legal skills to work in a letter that was sent to President Lincoln asking for freedom for all African Americans. It was then, Castrovilla explains, that Scott journeyed to the capital to ask for freedom. Congress passed an act approving the confiscation of fugitive slaves by the federal government — and freeing all people enslaved by the Confederacy.

 

Seeking Freedom int3
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

The interesting backmatter includes black-and-white photos of groups of Virginia contrabands wearing old civil war uniforms and explains the history of the Aftermath, The Contrabands, Benjamin Butler’s legacy, and the unsung hero named George Scott. It is unknown if he achieved his goal of asking President Lincoln for his freedom.

This book needs to be placed on every elementary and middle school bookshelf to be read not only during Black History Month but during history lessons. It is a book about the inner strength of George Scott, and the three original men, and what drive they had to change the lives of so many. This is an important perspective about the Civil War and the history of Black people in this country that I wholeheartedly recommend. In 2011 President Barrack Obama signed the proclamation that established the Fort Monroe National Monument, the pathway to freedom marking the beginning and end of slavery in our nation.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Share this:

Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books for 2022

Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books

A Roundup

 

Check out what’s new and noteworthy this year for Valentine’s Day

 

Love from Madeline coverLOVE FROM MADELINE
Based on the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans
Written by John Bemelmans Marciano 
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Viking BYR; $8.99; Ages 0-3 yrs)

It would be difficult to find a person unfamiliar with the Madeline Media Franchise, so when I learned that a new picture book was available based on the daily adventures of Madeline the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans, it was a welcome stroll down memory lane.

This new mini-book (the first of five)  Love From Madeline takes the reader back to the Catholic boarding school where Madeline lives in Paris with her many friends and most notably her teacher, Miss Clavel. Salerno’s illustrations of the sole red-head playing around town, skiing in the snowcapped mountains, and sailing the waters, continue her adventures. But this time she teaches us the meaning of love.

We learn basic lessons that we often forget “Love is in the simple words: good morning and hello,” as Madeline and friends dressed in matching blue outfits with yellow hats wave to the doorman and the woman selling flowers. Each page turn teaches kids how love can be as simple as giving a hug to someone upset or giving someone a lift on their scooter. When the book ends, kids see that “love is always found at home”  when Miss Clavel turns out the lights of the blue-shaded room with six beds lined up on each side and tucks the kids in for the night. This story gently and sweetly introduces kids to the real meaning behind Valentine’s Day—love.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

What is Love coverWHAT IS LOVE?
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
(Chronicle Kids; $17.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Shelf Awareness

I read What is Love? again and again and each time I got something new out of it. The water-colored art and heart-felt prose of this book are perfect to read on Valentine’s Day or any night as a bedtime story. It’s written by NYT bestselling author for children, Mac Barnett, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner. He teams up with illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis, who is also an author and illustrator of bestselling picture books.

Ellis’s watercolor paintings of greens, pinks, and blues gloriously take the reader on an artistic adventure as the protagonist sets off on a journey into the world, suggested by his grandmother, to find the meaning of love. But he soon learns that love is different for everyone. He first meets a fisherman hugging a very large fish who smiles and says “Love is a fish” when asked what love is. The boy disagrees since he finds fish slimy and bad-tasting. “The fisherman sighed. You do not understand.”

The actor loves applause, the cat loves the night and the soldier loves his horse. The characters gather together in a beautiful spread showing, “A sports car, a donut, a lizard, a ring. The first snow of winter, a maple in summer. A grizzly bear, this pebble right here-these are all things people told me love is.”

Barnett returns the boy home taller and wiser to a grandmother who is older and still wise and asks “Did you answer your question?” Ellis closes the story with a loving embrace of the two smiling with a black background and butterflies flying nearby as the boy answers “Yes.”

This modern-day take on old-time classical picture books about love reminds us that love can be more than one thing and that we are all surrounded by it even on days when we feel like it’s lost.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The House of Love coverTHE HOUSE OF LOVE
Written by Adriana Trigiani
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

With a lovely name like Mia Valentina Amore, which means My Valentine, Valentine’s Day is always an extra special one for the main character in The House of Love, a storybook from NYT’s bestselling adult author Adriana Trigiani with art from popular illustrator Amy June Bates.

Together with her Mama, Mia helps prepare the house for the holiday. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the home is described as slightly run down with some broken window glass, faded wallpaper, creaky stairs but also a place that, when everyone was around, “… had rooms exploding with conversation, laughter, and sometimes even an argument.”

The youngest of seven children, Mia is concerned her siblings won’t be back in time for the Valentine’s Day party. But Mama takes Mia’s mind off things by keeping her busy crafting family Valentines, decorating, and baking. This delightful mother-daughter day is spent bonding and creating special memories that only they two share. At the day’s end, after the whole family has eaten and celebrated, Mia realizes that everyone has gotten a special Valentine except her, making her feel sad and forgotten. Little does she know that something special just for her awaits beneath her pillow. Bates’s beautiful art conveys charm and an old-world feeling, like peeking into the Walton’s home. This slice-of-life story reminds readers that a house and family may be far from perfect but when it’s filled with love, it’s THE BEST place to be.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Love Grows Everywhere coverLOVE GROWS EVERYWHERE
Written by Barry Timms
Illustrated by Tisha Lee
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Here’s a rhyming picture book for Valentine’s Day, or any day really, that celebrates how special love is. Using plants as the inspiration, author Timms presents a lovely lyrical look at how the love that makes plants grow is the very same one that can nurture many different kinds of relationships in our lives.

Yes, thought and care are all love needs/to help it grow, like tiny seeds,/that might seem nothing much at first/till up into the light they burst.

This is such a beautiful sentiment and one that children will easily understand especially the spreads devoted to making friends. Love is about helping those in need, it’s about being there for those close to us and making time for new people too.  Lee, in her picture book debut, has created rich art with diverse characters that is a delight to see page after page in various scenes. The illustrations exude the same warmth the plants do making it feel like spring is just around the corner. What an uplifting read to share this Valentine’s Day!  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Slug in Love coverSLUG IN LOVE 
Written by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Nadia Shireen
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This new picture book cracked me up. Between its sweet surprise near the end and the inviting rhyme that is just perfect for beginning readers, Slug in Love is a terrific book to read aloud this Valentine’s Day.

Illustrator Shireen has added to Bright’s bouncy rhythm with bold colors and geometric-shaped animals that pop off the page and might be fun for kids to try drawing themselves.

The thing is that Doug, the slug, is a huggy sort of guy, but not everyone he encounters agrees. No one is eager to embrace this little slug.  After looking for love from spiders, caterpillars, and other assorted creatures, Doug thinks he’s found the squelchy, slimy, yucky, sticky love he’s after, only he’s wrong. Is he destined to be alone? What’s a slug supposed to do? Well, as it happens, love comes to Doug in a most unexpected way. And that, it turns out, has made his search and this picture book worthwhile.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I was hoping to have a review copy of Love in The Library before this post went live so I could share this true love story set in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII. But when I went to schedule this, it sadly had not arrived. I hope you will add this picture book to your reading list

 

Additional Recommendations:

Peekaboo Love coverPEEKABOO: LOVE
Written by Camilla Reid

illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The latest interactive board book in the Peekaboo You series, Peekaboo: Love is packed with things to “push, pull, or turn on every spread,” sure to entertain your little strawberries.

MY HEART GROWS
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Joanne Liu
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

A clever novelty board book, My Heart Grows features a die-cut heart that grows along with the love the parents in this story feel. Seeing a child experience new things fills the hearts of the parents and grandparents depicted in this story. The child-like art is vibrant and adorable making this a great Valentine’s Day gift for someone special in your life.

 

Further Valentine’s Day Reading:

I Love You Because I Love You
Written by Muon Thi Van 
Illustrated by Jessica Love

Share this:

Picture Book Review – How Beautiful

HOW BEAUTIFUL

Written by Antonella Capetti

Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

How Beautiful cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Life is simple for the little caterpillar who appreciates sleeping, eating, and crawling around until an unknown thing calls him beautiful setting him off on an adventure in the forest to answer the question, “what does beautiful mean?” How Beautiful is written by Italian school teacher and picture book author Antonella Capetti and illustrated by bestselling picture book illustrator Melissa Castrillón.

Castrillón’s stunning illustrations capture the serenity and peacefulness the caterpillar feels while resting in the forest leaves. From the lovely warm golds and reds, we can imagine what life is like for the caterpillar as he talks to the bee and rests inside a red flower. “He never questioned anything.”

 

How Beautiful int1
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Soon a hand with thin fingers lifts the caterpillar off the ground. Caterpillar is confused by this unusual twig because it has no leaves and moves faster than any twig he has ever seen. The opposite page introduces a new scene with Unknown Thing standing in front of  the caterpillar (ódraws a pig-tailed girl in the distance) who says, “’You’re so beautiful.’ Then it gently laid him and the twig down, and as suddenly as it arrived, it went away.”

 The unquestioning little white bug with the big pink cheeks begins to question for the very first time, so he embarks on a journey to find out if others in the forest know what beautiful means. He begins by asking the big purple-hued bear with bees buzzing by. “’Oh, this is beautiful,’ the bear answered. Lifting up a honeycomb between its paws.” But the blackbird nearby disagreed.

 

How Beautiful int2
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Hmm, it was time to ask others living in the forest. Frolicking in the yellow leaves are three squirrels and the caterpillar asks them “What does beautiful mean?” Honeycomb is not their answer. Instead, they reply that they like dry leaves. Blackbird again disagrees. “Those are not beautiful. Those are fun.”

 

How Beautiful int3
Interior art from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Caterpillar begins to feel sad when he previously felt so content. The once happy-faced caterpillar is now depictd with a sad face as confusion takes over his thoughts. He asks a deer which ends up being no help. “If only he could go home to his leaf, and get rid of the blackbird and the bothersome question.” The page darkens as night sets in and the tired animals of the forest lay on the ground looking up at the sky. “How beautiful! They all exclaimed.” They finally agreed.

Capetti’s prose provide great conversation starters asking the reader, what do you consider beautiful? Why do two people (or animals) who are asked the same question give different answers? Teachers will be delighted to come up with questions to ask during storytime. Capetti’s story opens up a topic of self-discovery for young kids to understand that sometimes questions have more than one answer. How Beautiful is written and illustrated in a thought-provoking way, showing children that it is okay to question what they don’t know. This story shines a light on how the animals may have had different opinions about what is beautiful but by the end of the day, they all found something they could agree on.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Little Narwhal, Not Alone

 

LITTLE NARWHAL, NOT ALONE

BY TIFFANY STONE

ILLUSTRATED BY ASHLYN ANSTEE

(GREYSTONE KIDS; $17.95; AGES 4-8)

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone cover

 

 

Children’s poet and critically acclaimed picture book author Tiffany Stone has brought ocean life to the surface in Little Narwhal, Not Alone, a story that is based on the unlikely real-life friendship between two different species of whales—beluga whales and narwhals who usually do not interact.

Poetic, rhyming language flows through each page, while playful illustrations by Ashlyn Anstee guide the reader on this unexpected journey. We are introduced to the sweet little narwhal, with the blue and white tusk protruding from his head, who loves his frozen home. However, the mischievous little whale is also prone to wandering away. “But little narwhal longs to roam, to see the sea beyond this ice, past polar bears to brand-new sights. And so while others hunt and play, narwhal sets off on his way.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int1
Interior spread from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Anstee’s childhood summers swimming in the waters of the Canadian west coast are reflected through her cool palette of colorful fish art and the greens of the “northern sky.” This little narwhal swims by schools of fish with Stone’s inviting onomatopoeia of SWISH SWISH! and WHEEEEE! sure to entice young readers to repeat out loud as they join the fun adventure.

Well, needless to say, the fun adventure may not be as much fun as Little Narwhal thought. While looking for narwhal friends to play with, he unexpectantly swims towards a new noise.  But instead of friends, he sees a boat propeller and dives deep to get away. “He swims … and swims … and swims some more. His flippers ache. His fluke is sore. But far off from his frozen home, little narwhal’s all alone.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int2
Interior spread from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

 

His head popping out from the green waters, the far-from-home narwhal sees something in the icy distance. When he reaches his destination he discovers whales that seem familiar yet at the same time look like nothing he has ever seen. Anstee draws beluga whales missing the protruding tusk, and readers are now aware that something is different about these whales. “They look like him-or close enough-though no one sports a twisty tusk.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int3
Interior art from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Introducing the reader to the theme of acceptance and overcoming differences, Narwal’s wave hello is not understood by the beluga whales. He is determined to find something he shares with the white tuskless creatures so when the pod swims away he follows.

It’s easy to feel the narwhal’s initial sadness and discouragement, and want to reach through the page and give him a big hug. But soon enough  “all the whales begin to play. And … SQUIRT … the new whales welcome him!” Narwhal plays old games and new games with the beluga whales who have now become his friends.

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int4
Interior art from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Marine Biologist, Marie Noel, Ph.D., explains in the back matter that a young narwhal was spotted in the St. Lawrence River estuary in Quebec, Canada, among a group of young belugas four years in a row. Typically, she says, beluga whales and narwhals do not interact but this young narwhal may have been adopted by the group of young belugas. Every summer, researchers are now keeping an eye on the whales of the St. Lawrence and this remarkable friendship.

The unique nature of this unlikely friendship tale makes Little Narwhal, Not Alone a powerful read for young children modeling that they may not be exactly like their friends, but despite differences, there are many things that can bring them together.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – The Bad Mood!

THE BAD MOOD!

Written by Moritz  Petz

Illustrated by Amélie Jackowski

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

The Bad Mood cover

 

 

Badger woke up in a bad mood! After working in his garden, he starts to feel better but knows he must make amends when he finds out that his grumpy, rude remarks from the morning have left his friends upset with him in The Bad Mood! written by Moritz Petz, with illustrations by Amélie Jackowski. Now available as an unjacketed hardcover, this beloved classic has been translated into more than ten languages.

Bad moods are quite contagious and relatable to most children and adults. Like Badger ultimately realizes, a bad mood can consume all of our senses. Jackowski’s drawing of Badger’s long face says it all as does Petz’s prose when Badger says, “I’m in a bad mood today! This might be dangerous. Maybe I’d better stay at home.” If only he’d gone with his gut.

Deciding that his forest friends should notice that he is in a bad mood, Badger angrily sets out to begin his day. “Everybody ought to know how miserable I feel.” The pale green sky is the only thing calm as he stomps away from the door of his treehouse causing the mail to fly out of the mailbox.

 

The Bad Mood int1
Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Turning the page, the reader is greeted by cheerful Raccoon with his long striped black-and-white tail and yoyo in hand. Raccoon does what we assume he does whenever he is greeted by a friend and wishes Badger a good morning. “’Good morning? What’s so good about it?’ Badger replied, and stomped off.” Raccoon stood there shocked that not even so much as a goodbye was offered!

 

The Bad Mood int art2
Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Badger’s mood becomes more explosive when Moose asks if he slept well and Badger counters it is “none of your business.” Badger is pleased with his response liking that both Deer and Raccoon know he is in a bad mood. He continues along his walk and passes more friends and “He was as rude to them as he could be.” This becomes a teachable moment for parents and caregivers. A discussion on how to treat people may even be initiated by little ones who realize this behavior does not win friends.

After Badger’s walk, he begins to work in his garden and as he was “digging and weeding, the strangest thing happened. His bad mood just slipped right off him.” But when he went out to play with the animals in the late afternoon the woods were silent. Unfortunately, the tables had turned and Raccoon was in a bad mood. So were Squirrel, Mouse, and Hare.

 

The Bad Mood int art3
Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

It is then that Badger confides in Crow and the two come up with an idea to have a “bad-mood party.” Jackowski’s gorgeous art decorates the forest with smiling friends and colorful lanterns. Children see a happy scene when Badger asks for forgiveness and it’s given.

Petz’s words model for youngsters how to apologize when they have done something they are not proud of. This beautifully written story is sure to invite multiple reads. Its simple but valuable lesson, that it’s normal to sometimes be in a bad mood, reminds kids that taking a deep breath is much better than taking it out on your friends. The Bad Mood! needs to be added to the mindfulness section in school classrooms.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Share this:

Children’s Picture Book Review – I Hear You, Forest

 

 

I HEAR YOU, FOREST

Written by Kallie George

Illustrated by Carmen Mok

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 3-7)

 

I Hear You Forest cover

 

When a child walks through the forest and hears its majestic sounds, we’re reminded by author Kallie George that the forest needs to be heard in I Hear You, Forest, with breathtaking illustrations by Carmen Mok .

As a new mom, George knows the importance of helping babies and toddlers juggle their emotions. And the simple words, “I hear you” let them know they are heard and they are respected. The story takes the reader on a walk, guided by the child protagonist, stopping to hear what the forest has to say while feeling George’s love of nature in the gentle prose. The full-page green palette, surrounded by yellow flowers and tiny birds, serenades the dark-haired girl taking time to metaphorically stop and smell the roses (although there are no roses just tall trees and happy wildlife).

 

I Hear You Forest int art1
Interior spread from I Hear You, Forest written by Kallie George and illustrated by Carmen Mok, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

The young girl in the red jumpsuit lays motionless on the forest ground with yellow birds flying overhead, and white rabbits hopping happily across the grass. “Creak, creak. I hear you, Trees, stretching skyward. Are you trying to tickle clouds?”

 

I Hear You Forest int art2
Interior spread from I Hear You, Forest written by Kallie George and illustrated by Carmen Mok, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

The words are simple but the message is strong, as Mok’s art shows her stopping to notice the nature around her. She is living in the present moment. Such a wonderful message to learn at a young age. What child hasn’t done this on a sunny day? Peaking behind the green leaves, the girl spies a nest with eggs. “So that’s where Robin hides her eggs.”

Interacting with her new forest friends, the child holds a blinking contest with a frog and sings along with the soft blue stream. Mok’s illustrations bring the reader into the story as if they too were sitting on a forest floor. Her face takes in the smells of nature standing under a squirrel-packed tree limb. “Nibble, nibble. I hear you, Squirrels, tasting treasures. Is it time to stop and snack?”

Through each lush and atmospheric page turn, we meet new animals and feel the empathy the child experiences for the beauty and marvel that surrounds her. Holding her mother’s hand, the girl simply says “I (heart) you, Forest.” As she turns, she witnesses the animals watching them walk away.

Sitting in my backyard as I write, listening to the birds singing nearby, I feel just what the young girl felt. It’s powerful, rewarding, and relaxing, too. I encourage parents to read this book to their children and then take them on a stroll through their local park or forest. You’ll truly enjoy the outdoors when you stop, listen and learn. I’m pleased to know this is the first in a series of books and look forward to reading the other books that follow because “The forest has lots to say … if you listen.” 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

#nature #interconnectedness #communication #empathy #imagination #awareness

 

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Chicken Chickens

 

CHICKEN CHICKENS

Written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

The charming Chicken Chickens by author-illustrator Valeri Gorbachev is back after 20 years, just in time to help a new generation of children overcome being labeled a “chicken” when feeling fearful about experiencing something new.

This 40-page picture book is about twin chickens who go to a playground with Mother Hen for the very first time. The soft colors of green, yellow, and brown bring warmth to a busy playground of cats on swings, turtles in sandboxes, and dogs on seesaws. When Mother Hen walks in holding each chicken’s fingers in hand, “The little chickens were a little scared. There was so much going on all around them.” Many children will be able to relate to that initial stimulus overload.

 

Chicken Chickens int1
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Still holding each other’s fingers (hmm do chickens have hands?), the chickens freeze up with their beaks wide open, observing the flurry of activity going on around them. Gorbachev’s art perfectly conveys the poultry’s feeling of being overwhelmed by the crowds. Despite the park animals showing kindness by asking the chickens to play and welcoming them into the new environment, we hear the chickens say, “No, thank you,” they replied. “We’re just little chickens.”

They watch pigs spinning around on the merry-go-round, but decline the offer to join them since they might get dizzy. They look up at the big cats swinging but decline the offer to swing since they might fall off. When the reader turns the page, they are drawn into the blue sky and brown slide with smiling and laughing frogs and mice playing. With eyes wide open, the chickens decline. “We’re just little chickens.”

 

Chicken Chickens int2
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

When they get the courage to climb the stairs to the top of the slide, the twin chickens become immobilized when looking down. “Slide down!” shouted one of the frogs. “Don’t be such chicken chickens!” That’s when the big brown beaver with the white buck teeth climbs to the top of the slide and tells the chickens not to worry “Everybody is afraid the first time they slide.” Beaver suggests the chickens hold on to his tail as they slide together giving the chickens the confidence they need.

 

Chicken Chickens int3
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

This incredibly sweet story about conquering one’s fears is a wonderful addition to every home and school library. It’s a lesson not only in realizing that everyone has fears of some sort, but also models how important showing kindness and empathy is toward a friend who may be struggling in certain situations. I found this book extremely heartfelt, and am so pleased that it has been reprinted for children who never had the chance to read it the first time around. The play on words using chickens as the protagonists made me laugh. “Hurray for the chicken chickens!”

Click here to read a preview.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Share this:

Picture Book Review – Where’s My Cow?

WHERE’S MY COW?

Written by Susan Blackaby

Illustrated by Scott Brundage

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 5-8)

 

 

Where's My Cow cover

 

Anxious Egret is afraid to fly beyond the pasture which means leaving his constant companion Cow. That is until Cow devises a way to stand out in a crowd so Egret will know where to fly and find her in Where’s My Cow? a heart-warming story by Susan Blackaby with illustrations by Scott Brundage.

A bucolic setting forms the calm backdrop for this charming picture book. The reader opens the book to sunrise with the herd of cows wandering the pasture, a flock of birds heading off to explore, and one egret in particular perfectly content perched on his friend cow’s head. Why not just remain when there is so much that can go wrong if one goes too far?

 

Where's My Cow int1
Interior spread from Where’s My Cow? written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Scott Brundage, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

The worldly cow with so many stories to tell is the perfect pal for the apprehensive egret. Riding on the cow’s rump, Egret enjoys tales about all the places Cow has been. “She knew about ukuleles and picnics. She discussed kites and kayaks. She had once tasted a toasted marshmallow. The cow’s stories gave the egret ideas.”

Brundage draws uncertainty in the egret’s eyes as he announces one sunny morning that he might be ready to fly. Cow listens with the facial expressions a concerned mom might give to a child whom she knows suffers from a bit of separation anxiety. Cow encourages the bird to see the beach, reinforcing the idea that Cow will be waiting the whole time. The dialogue between the two is so relatable for any child wanting to venture beyond their comfort zone but worried to leave a parent behind.

The problem is realized when the egret flies above the pasture only to look down and see the large herd, uncertain which one is his friend. Egret is so nervous he Ker-thumps to the ground to the surprised cow. “’I didn’t go,” said the egret. “How would I ever find you again?’”

 

Where's My Cow? int2
Interior spread from Where’s My Cow? written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Scott Brundage, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

Blackaby’s creativity is demonstrated with how best an anxious egret could locate his cow friend amongst the herd. The cow wags his ears but that is hard to see. “The cow thought about it. Next time I’ll switch my tail.” Great idea but all the “…tails switched and hitched every which way. Where’s my cow? WHERE’S MY COW?”

The illustrations of sea and sand take the reader along on the journey with Egret looking for ways to make the cow stand out. And with every bit of confidence he gains knowing he can now locate the cow, the egret creates his own adventures. The patient cow goes along with ribbons, seashells, and sticks tied to his body never complaining like any parent would do. “And at the end of the day, when the rosy sky is full of birds and the pasture is full of cows, the little egret wonders, Where’s my cow? And there she is.”

This book is recommended for any child wanting to explore the world but worried that their parent will not be there upon their return. This is a relatable story and a reassuring read to share before a young child goes off to their first birthday party, playdate, or any event that will separate them from those with whom they feel comfortable and safe.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Share this:

Children’s Picture Book Review – My Dog Banana

MY DOG BANANA

Written by Roxane Brouillard

Illustrated by Giulia Sagramola

Translated by Simon de Jocas and Paula Ayer

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

My Dog Banana Cover

 

When neighbors question a boy walking with a banana attached to a red leash, the child confidently explains that he is walking his dog Banana in Roxanne Brouillard’s debut picture book,  My Dog Banana, with charming artwork by Giulia Sagramola, in her first picture book as well.

The cover instantly grabbed my attention because, well, how often have you seen a boy walking a banana on a leash? The boy’s mouth is drawn as a big smile, while the neighbors surrounding him have mouths agape. Even the Lhasa Apso is confused! Sagramola draws a black line directed at each person speaking giving the art a graphic novel feel. “What are you doing?” the boy with the backward green baseball cap asks pointing at the banana. “I’m walking my dog,” the dark-haired boy responds with hand on hip.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 1
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Faded green trees are drawn in the background so the reader’s attention is on the latest neighbor introduced with each page turn. We see the confusion with question marks above heads and raised eyebrows. The boy just doesn’t understand why the neighbors don’t see Banana the dog. The people try their best to see what the boy sees, but with each question asked to the boy he has a logical answer in return. “It isn’t moving,the woman returning from a Farmer’s Market says with fruit in her bag. “She is very tired today,” with emphasis on the She, not the It.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 2
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Turning each page, more neighbors appear with confused faces. Sagramola’s drawings of hands in the air and pointed fingers add to the humor of Brouillard’s words. The Lhasa Apso goes nose-to-nose with the banana to see if she can get a reaction but no luck. The boy has an answer for everything until the neighbors stop asking questions and begin to laugh. He remains true to himself and doesn’t give in to their laughter. When the boy and Banana finally give up and walk away from the adults and children’s hysterics on the last page, the Banana speaks and says, “Woof! Woof!”

This light-hearted sweet story, with an assortment of diverse characters, will bring laughter to the reader and allow them to question what is real and not real. Did Banana really Woof? Only your imagination can answer that question.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Share this:

13+ New Halloween Books for 2021

 

 

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

 

Spookytale coverSPOOKYTALE (An Abrams Trail Tale)
Written by Christopher Franceschelli

Illustrated by Allison Black
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

Christopher Franceschelli’s latest book in his Abrams Block Book series is Spookytale, an interactive board book. We travel along with a boy, girl, and dog to their far-off destination: a haunted house. This journey takes them through the woods, across the bridge, and so forth. Each scene has die-cut pieces that lift to reveal fun Halloween-themed surprises. Fun hole-punched areas add textural interest.

The simple text is offset with rich illustrations by Allison Black. Pages have a lot going on; in subsequent readings, kids will find something new. Done in autumnal tones with pops of bright colors, costumed kids and smiling monsters are equally cute. The final scene is a dramatic quadruple gatefold that reveals all the festivities inside the house.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zant

 

TrickorTreat Bugs to Eat coverTRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT
Written by Tracy C. Gold
Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
(So
urcebooks Explore; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

I love Halloween books and Tracy C. Gold’s Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat is one of my favorites to date. The words are set to the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” rhyme: “Hear my calls / bounce off walls, / echoing as darkness falls.” From there, Gold has gotten clever by presenting a story about a bat out trick-or-treating, weaving in lots of animals facts. For example, we learn bats are nocturnal, use echolocation, and they sure eat a lot of bugs—up to a thousand insects each night!

Coupled with the exceptional text is Nancy Leschnikoff’s outstanding art. I don’t know how many times I exclaimed, “It’s so cute!” while I read this book, but the expressive bat really is that adorable. Surrounding scenic art is just as great (love the raccoon!). The nightscape is rendered in appealing shades of blues and purples.

At only eight-by-eight inches, this 32-page picture book fits well in small hands. Between the engaging story, excellent art, and informative back matter, this book’s got it all.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Poultrygeist coverPOULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Kids will cluck out loud upon reading this chicken-centric ghost tale children’s book. In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell?), the story opens with an unsuspecting chicken getting run down by a massive truck and becoming a ghost. I mean, why was he crossing the road in the first place, right?

Soon, all the other local animals that have been hit by vehicles gather around the newly dead chicken to explain the ropes. The humor in this fast-paced read is that they want the newly deceased fowl to begin haunting, only this “spring chicken” has no desire to frighten others. In fact, at one point he turns to the reader and asks, “Pssst? Are you OK?” The sweet surprise is when the fryer asserts himself, accidentally scaring off the troublesome spirits.

The story comes hilariously full circle when the scene switches from the pleased poultrygeist to a squirrel crossing the same dangerous roadway. Pete Oswald’s expressive art in Poultrygeist adds another fun layer to this dark and delightful Halloween story that perhaps unintentionally and hilariously drives home the point to look both ways when crossing

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

How to Haunt a House coverHOW TO HAUNT A HOUSE
Written
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Carolyn Crimi’s rhyming picture book, How to Haunt a House, features ghosts in a classroom being taught the teacher’s “special ghost technique” for haunting. Groana, Moana, and Shrieky are assigned three houses; all goes well until the last one which proves to be a challenge. The ghosts must figure out something new that will scare the ghouls who live there. It’s got to be tough when, instead of fleeing, “the small girl kissed those scrawny rats.”

Comical illustrations by Edward Miller enhance the text’s humor. His evocative characters are a kick; I especially like the skulking, glaring black cats. The book’s underlying message, “Do not give up! You’ll find a way!” is tackled lightheartedly yet still shows how, sometimes, you need to come at a problem from a new direction in order to solve it.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton coverIF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON
Written by Rebecca Evans
Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling
(Page Street Kids; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

I never thought I would want to meet a skeleton until I met the adorable protagonist in If You Ever Meet A Skeleton written by Rebecca Evans, who was inspired to write this story after meeting a skeleton in a museum.

Sleeping underground with other skeletons and a few bugs, Skeleton climbs to the surface looking for a friend. He finds three kids dressed in costumes on Halloween night. Dreiling illustrates the skeleton with a piece of blond hair giving the reader a feel for what he looked like before his demise. Evans’ rhyming words take what could be a scary topic and turn it into a humorous read. “Skeletons might seem spooky—white bones without the skin, no eyes, no ears, no lips, just one big toothy grin.”

Children dressed as witches, pirates, and ninja warriors with round faces and toothy grins are not sure what to make of this unusual creature, but Evans takes the reader through a wonderful understanding of how a skeleton, thought different from themselves, can be friend material. “Skeletons have no guts, so they aren’t brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo.’”

This is a great addition to the fall reading list for the school classroom. And how great it is to have a friend who will go “trick-or-treating with you then share their chocolate bar, just like best buddies do.”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Boo Stew coverBOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A little girl named Curly Locks who loves to cook is the heroine of Boo Stew, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears fractured fairy tale. This Halloween story features food that won’t tempt your taste buds but just might be the right food to feed a scary soul or three.

It seems the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp might be hungry and while they’re invading homes to steal food, they’re causing chaos, especially at the mayor’s house. After they chase him out with an ominous “Gitchey Boo, Gitchey Bon! Gitchey Goo, Gitchey Gone!” the blacksmith, and the chicken rancher also try to vanquish the scary villains with no luck.

Curly Locks, fearless and clever, steps up and entices the Scares with her Boo Stew. With its moose ear broth, toenail clippings, and gnat juice, Boo Stew does the job. A deal is struck and the creatures head back to the swamp. The townsfolk get a Scare-free Toadsuck and Curly Locks … well she gets to prepare all sorts of concoctions for the appreciative Scares since no one else will eat her cooking anyway! Washington has taken the Goldilocks tale and spun a unique, engaging Halloween story. Ebbeler’s colorful, detailed, and dynamic illustrations set a tone that’s just right for this humorous picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Ghouls' Guide to Good GrammarTHE GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GOOD GRAMMAR
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

Learning proper grammar can be quite daunting for young kids, especially for those still learning over Zoom, but Leslie Kimmelman has created a fabulous storytime picture book that can be read during the Halloween season or any time of the year. The Ghouls’ Guide To Good Grammar is a hilarious take on how different a sentence can read if a comma is misplaced or other grammar isn’t correct. Sullivan’s illustration of a sweet young girl holding a bowl of cat food for Sylvester reads “Time to eat, Sylvester.” But when the giant ghoul with sharp teeth peeks around the corner with all eyes on the little grey and white cat he thinks “Time to eat Sylvester.” A very different and dastardly meaning when the comma is removed!

Turning the page, the reader learns that “contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word.” This sounds confusing until the reader visually sees Sullivan’s colorful drawing of six ghouls surrounded by bugs and spilled soda in “Ghouls’ really gross bedroom.” Kimmelman changes the location of the apostrophe to read “Ghoul’s really gross bedroom” and now we see it was one mischievous ghoul who made the mess all on his lonesome.

This treat of a story concludes with a Ghoul Grammar Quiz asking the reader which of the sentences shown has no mistakes. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is an ideal teaching tool for a parent or a teacher to use to transform the often tough topic of punctuation into a frightfully fun learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

There's a Ghost in this House coverTHERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books; $27.99, Ages 4-8)

I may not be the target age range for this creative book but I had a blast reading it. First of all, There’s a Ghost in this House is less a straightforward picture book―although Jeffers has illustrated it with a little girl, some adorable (and giggling in places) ghosts, and lots of striped clothing―and more a seek-and-find interactive story so children can be in control of how many ghosts they’d like to discover over the course of 80 pages.

Jeffers has taken found black and white photos of an imposing 18th-century mansion and then brought in bits of color with the addition of the young girl narrator/guide. Readers join her to tour the house as she looks for ghosts which are printed white on transparent vellum paper throughout the book and appear when the paper is placed against the b+w house interiors. That’s such a fantastic idea because I never knew what poses the ghosts would be in and where exactly they’d show up each time. 

Since the ghouls are not menacing in the least, children can enjoy this book without fear. Parents and caregivers can admire the cleverness of the presentation while also deciding how many ghosts to expose.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack coverBRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Matthew Rivera
(Henry Holt BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Matthew Rivera illustrates a green zombie girl with a red scar across her forehead seeking brains to eat in Brains! Not Just A Zombie Snack. Focusing on the fascinating science of the body, STEM picture book author Stacy McAnulty teaches the reader about the importance of the brain and how, without it, reading a picture book would be impossible. This educational read breaks down the five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste and how the brain receives messages from these senses. What better time than Halloween to explore this subject?!

Zombie Girl is desperate for some brain to eat and in her search for this delectable snack, the reader discovers “Neurons! They do the work, and you have about 86 billion of them.” Zombie holds up two cans of Neurons and Glial Cells with anxious eyes ready to eat. “When you learn something new, like how to add numbers, play the piano, tie up a zombie, you aren’t making more neurons—you’re making new and stronger pathways.”

My brain took in a whole lot of information that I was not aware of such as a 75-year-old human’s brain is 10 percent smaller than max size (so 2.7 pounds-ish) instead of 3 pounds in a grown-up human. The best advice the reader learns is that “if you want to run away from a zombie later. You’ll want your cerebellum.”

The helpful back matter includes Brain Facts such as A human brain is only about 2-3 percent of an adult’s body weight, but it uses almost 20 percent of the body’s energy. I also was surprised to learn that Albert Einstein’s brain was stolen by Dr. Thomas Harvey and cut into 240 blocks to be studied upon his death. This is something I would like to learn more about!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Poison for Breakfast coverPOISON FOR BREAKFAST
by Lemony Snicket

Chapter Spot art by Margaux Kent
(Liveright; $17.95, All Ages)

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will certainly be a hit with his fans because the author’s style is quite unique, a word which here means “weird in undefinable ways.” Though marketed to older MG and YA readers, this book appeals to adults as well. This true story begins when Mr. Snicket (as he prefers to be addressed) finds a bewildering and frightening note under his door that reads, “You had poison for breakfast.”

We go along with Mr. Snicket as he reviews each item consumed for breakfast to uncover the culprit. He meanders to locations where the breakfast items originated. Though we eventually discover what’s behind this mystery, the pleasure is in the circuitous journey told in a way that only Lemony Snicket can, complete with endnotes elaborating topics touched upon.

I enjoy the distinctive structure, odd tidbits, and repetition. So, make yourself a poached egg as Mr. Snicket recommends, and settle in for a fun read. A list-maker myself, I find Mr. Snicket’s lists particularly amusing. And, as a writer, knowing the three rules of writing will undoubtedly help me better my craft. They are: (1) Include the element of surprise, (2) Leave something out, and, (3) Well, no one really knows the third rule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Ghoul Next Door coverTHE GHOUL NEXT DOOR 
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Cat Farris
(Harper Alley; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get your ghoul on with The Ghoul Next Door, a terrific new middle-grade graphic novel featuring just enough ghouls, ghosts, and atmospheric underworld to make you read it in one sitting and then start all over again.

Welcome to Anders Landing, est. 1692, a place sought out by accused witches to avoid the witch hunts and trials of Salem taking place the same year. Things go downhill quickly for main character Grey who, after picking up an unlucky penny, takes a shortcut to school through the local cemetery. Grey doesn’t want to lug his bulky Salem Witch-themed school project the long way like his superstitious friend, Marshall. When Grey trips on an open grave and drops his project in it, he panics. Looking down he sees his cemetery project grasped by a monster-ish hand. Then, it’s gone.

That evening something enters his bedroom and begins leaving gifts, not the birthday present sort, but finger bones, a doll of his likeness, and assorted other items that freak him out. This creature clearly likes Grey and replaces the original cemetery model with an even better one. Grey may score points in class with the new project, but Marshall thinks it’s best to tell some adults about all the creepy goings-on. While he initially didn’t believe Grey, he’s now changed his mind after a trip to the cemetery where he gets a glimpse of the ghoul. Lavinia, as she’s called, saves Grey from an army of rats and a friendship begins. In foreshadowing the story’s conflict, she warns the two humans to keep mum about what they know or they risk the ire of those underground and put her in jeopardy.

Readers learn that the ghoulish creatures that live below the surface (Grey and Marshall are considered human surface dwellers), aside from enjoying eating the newly dead, greatly dislike and mistrust humans and fear discovery. As payback, they kidnap Marshall leading Grey and Lavinia on a dangerous mission underground to rescue him before he’s killed. What ensues is a page-turning adventure with the right mix of dialogue, fantastical and haunting art, and heart, although technically I don’t think a ghoul has one. The friendship of Lavinia and Grey challenges the ‘no contact with humans’ rule laid out by Lavinia’s community and feels satisfying and fresh (although using that word here feels kind of ghoulish). She risks everything for Grey while he also puts his life on the line to help both his old and new friends and ultimately himself. Read this in the daytime if you live anywhere near a cemetery.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

THE HALLOWEEN MOONThe Halloween Moon cover
Written by Joseph Fink
(Quill Tree Books; $16.99, Ages 10-13)

What if time stood still and it could be Halloween forever? The candy part is tempting, but if everyone you loved had fallen into a deep, otherworldly sleep, it might not be so sweet. That’s exactly what 13-year-old protagonist Esther Gold is dealing with in Joseph Fink’s imaginative novel, The Halloween Moon. Blending fantasy and magic in a contemporary Southern California setting, Fink opens the book with a prologue detailing a robbery of something seemingly quite small which proves to have huge significance in the story. 

Esther lives for Halloween but her best friend, Agustín, does not. So when Esther’s parents announce she has aged out of trick-or-treating, having become an adult at her bat mitzvah, she realizes she’ll have to circumvent this new rule. When that plan involves Agustín, he seems game. Did he agree a bit too easily? Did she like that he did? Those are just a few of the questions Esther faces on this very long Halloween night set under a huge orange Halloween moon. 

Odd goings-on occur as Esther and Agustín notice only a motley crew of trick-or-treaters with shadowy faces are out and about. Their clicky sounds are creepy too. Plus all the people usually into the holiday aren’t answering their doors. The pair soon discover that a sleeping spell has been cast over the community. An urgency hits when Esther realizes her little sister has gone missing. That’s also what brings Esther together with bully Sasha Min who has often lobbed anti-semitic and other hurtful insults her way. But since Sasha’s distraught over her kidnapped brother and unwakeable mother, she agrees to team up with the other two intrepid trick-or-treaters to find out what’s going on. Along the way, the teens take the rare awake adult, next-door neighbor, Mr. Gabler, onboard as they try to reverse the spell and bring the interminable Halloween nightmare safely to an end 

I enjoyed this book because, in addition to the mystery the teens hope to solve, readers get inside Esther’s head and learn that she’s been having difficulty accepting change in her life. Whether the change is about her giving up trick-or-treating, her changing feelings for Agustín, watching Grandma Debbie getting older and frailer, or about what might happen when she moves up into high school the following year, Fink ties Esther’s growth into the Halloween adventure in a satisfying way. The dynamic shared between Esther and Sasha as they try to resolve past conflicts is also one that should resonate with readers. Horror fans will note references to John Carpenter and the horror film genre in general.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN MAD LIBS  
by Mad Libs

(Mad Libs; $6.99, Ages 8-12)

Mad Libs are one of those things: we all know and enjoy them. As a parent, I wholeheartedly encourage playing Mad Libs whenever a boring moment strikes. Yes, they’re hilarious and spark the imagination, but also (secret parent trick) drill home the parts of speech: adverb versus adjective and so forth. And if you’re a little rusty, no fear. Following the instructions, there’s a “quick review” that easily explains that, for example, when an exclamation is called for, they mean something like “Wow!” “Ouch!” or “Ick!”

The Happy Howl-o-ween version takes all the best stuff about this holiday and mixes it up with the fill-in-the-blank fun of Mad Libs. There are 63 themed stories to create in three categories: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat (both by Tristan Roarke), and Day of the Dead (by Karl Jones).

Whether you’ve done these a million times or are just introducing them to a young child, pick up a copy for your car as a way to pass some time with laughs and learning.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

vampires hearts other dead things coverVAMPIRES, HEARTS, & OTHER DEAD THINGS
by Margie Fuston
(Margaret K. McElderry; $18.99, Ages 14 and up) 

Instead of celebrating her senior year, Victoria won’t give up on her terminally ill dad—even when her family is told there are no treatment options left to pursue. Her mom and sister seem better at letting go. Victoria, instead, turns to the passion of all-things-vampire that she shares with her father and decides it’s up to her to save him. Ten years ago, a vampire announced himself to the world, but, after some mishaps, the vampires went back into hiding. Victoria takes that trip to New Orleans she’d planned on doing with her dad and, while there, vows to find and get bitten by a vampire so she can save her father by turning him into one too.

The grief Victoria struggles with is realistically handled, as is the complex connection she has with Henry (her neighbor, former BFF, and maybe boyfriend). As in all good love stories, a bit of a love triangle comes into play, but the heart of the story involves Victoria’s relationships with her family and Henry. Messy emotions are laid bare in a hauntingly beautiful setting. I like how Victoria’s quest leads her through ever-increasing challenges that test her resolve to follow through with this plan.

A new, vital addition to the vampire lore. Not only does this story add its own flair, but it explores previous books and movies—a pleasing touch for vampire aficionados.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN READS 

 

BOO! BAA! LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Age 0-5)

 

 

Vampenguin coverVAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

The Haunted Mustache coverTHE HAUNTED MUSTACHE: Book #1 Fright Nights
Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Teo Skaffa
(Aladdin; $6.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

 

What Lives in the Woods coverWHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE QUEEN MARY
by Shelli Timmons
(Arcadia Children’s Books; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – The Perfect Plan

 

THE PERFECT PLAN

Written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99; Ages 3-6)

 

 

The Perfect Plan cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Foreward Reviews, Kirkus

 

In The Perfect Plan, author/illustrator Leah Gilbert takes the reader along on a magical journey with Maya, the main character who hopes to build a special place for dreaming and playing in the forest. Through perseverance and teamwork, she builds a fort grander than anything she could have imagined in Gilbert’s enchanting second picture book.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert Opening Spread
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Transporting readers through spreads of tall brown trees and tiny yellow birds, Gilbert’s art encompasses all the beauty of an inviting forest. Tiny Maya gazes upward toward the sky envisioning a tree fort with a ladder to climb and windows to see out of. “’It will be the most INCREDIBLE and WONDERFUL tree fort in the world!’ she imagined.”

 Maya is a determined child, and quite the planner, and returns to her bedroom with her black cat by her side to research and design the perfect tree fort. “When she was sure she had thought of everything, she headed outside.”

With her perfect page turns, Gilbert returns the reader to the colorful green forest and the most perfect spot to build a fort. Gilbert depicts Maya pulling and pushing and thinking, but having trouble building a fort alone. Maya realizes that sometimes in life we need help and asking for help is okay. She begins by selling the idea of a fort to three little brown beavers. “I’m building the most OUTSTANDING and ORIGINAL tree fort in the world! Will you help me?” and of course they eagerly agree.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert 28
Interior art from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

 

Gilbert’s beautifully expressed words convey that not everyone is good at every job. This is an awesome reminder for both parents and kids! We see that beavers are great at cutting and chopping branches, but not so good at dragging heavy items. Gilbert introduces the kind moose and tells him that she is building “the STRONGEST and STURDIEST tree fort in the world!” Two big brown bears happily agreed to build and stack the frame, and the yellow birds with their natural ability to fly high “twisted and twirled, weaved and wound. Now all the branches were secured.”

 When Maya and the animals scanned the finished fort, Maya began to think something was missing only to be interrupted by a big storm. Maya ran for cover looking back at the fort, while worried that it would be ruined. But upon returning to the spot “Maya couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘It’s Perfect.’” Gilbert paints delightful purple flowers that have bloomed from the rain and the fort is now “far more than she had even imagined it would be.”

 

 

The Perfect Plan last page
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Gilbert celebrates creativity and shows children the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Kids see that magical things can happen when putting their heart and soul into something. The words can be re-read with new meanings found in the message each time, while the soft colorful art inspires kids to get out a paintbrush and create their own hideaway.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

 

 

Share this:

Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

Share this:

Kids Picture Book Review – Too Many Bubbles

 

TOO MANY BUBBLES: A STORY ABOUT MINDFULNESS

By Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma

Illustrated by Mags DeRoma

(Sourcebook Kids; $12.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

Too Many Bubbles cover art with mouse

 

 

When Izzy the mouse’s brain fills up with more and more bubbles of unwanted thoughts he escapes to a special spot to quiet his mind in Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma’s interactive picture book Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness, the first in the Books of Great Character series, with illustrations by Mags DeRoma.

My focus was omnipresent when I began writing this review, and even though I have taught mindfulness, reading this book was a reminder of the importance of deep breathing to escape the crazy bubbles in my own mind. DeRoma’s soft blue illustrations of Izzy riding his two-wheeler in his blue striped shirt and red helmet with “only one little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there.” We all know those days, but Izzy’s thought bubbles just wouldn’t go away.

 

TooManyBubbles INT6
Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

e

DeRoma illustrates two bubbles with squiggly lines above Izzy’s head. The reader doesn’t know what is bothering Izzy, but whatever it is his thoughts just won’t go away. That night Izzy is wide-awake when he should be sleeping, while his stuffed red mouse is fast asleep. Of course, the mouse sleeps with a toy mouse. And the next day Izzy is trying so hard to go through his day as he climbs the slide at the park while more bubbles appear. “At first, it was simply peculiar. But when another popped up, and another, and another, they started to really get in the way of things.” It’s easy to feel the sadness in Izzy’s blue face.

Trying to enjoy a spaghetti dinner is not easy when Izzy’s mind is crowded with more bubbles. It was inevitable that “Izzy was pushed clean off the page.” Red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange bubbles cover the center spread with no Izzy in sight. When the reader turns the page, a red-faced Izzy fills the two-page spread and instead of giving up Izzy knows “something had to be done.”

e

TooManyBubbles INT12
Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

e

We all have that special spot we like to escape to when challenges set in. Mine is sitting in my yard listening to the birds and squirrels run by. Izzy’s spot is the beach. As Izzy digs his little mouse toes in the sand, “there was a little more space for all the bubbles.” Watching a little white bear blow his bubbles towards the sea, our protagonist looks up and “Izzy took a deep breath in. Izzy let the deep breath out.”

The interactive book concludes when the reader is asked to assist Izzy by gently blowing on the bubbles. This is a fabulous way to teach mindfulness breathing to children. Izzy’s big deep breath makes everything a little bit brighter as the bubbles float away into the sky.

A LITTLE MORE MINDFUL is included in the back matter exploring ways kids can let go of thoughts taking over their day. “What is mindfulness? It is being aware in the present moment,” DeRoma and Peck explain. The mindfulness exercises are great tools for teachers to assist their students, or parents to share with their kids when a day is not going the way it should. And the adult reader can utilize these tools as well. Peck and DeRoma are founders of the boutique kids brand, Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play—and they’re also sisters-in-law.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: