FOR KIDS 2023
~ A Roundup~
I LOVE YOU, COCKATOO!
Written and illustrated by Sarah Aspinall
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 2-5)
Author-illustrator Sarah Aspinall captures the tender moment of a pink feathered Cockatoo sitting on his pink feathered Mama’s lap as she lovingly brushes out her child’s feathers in her recently released picture book I Love You, Cockatoo!
Cockatoo’s big eyes widen when Mama randomly does what mothers often do blurting out the words, I love you, Cockatoo to her precious son. It seems odd to Cockatoo that she could love him all the time so he asks, even when I’m grumpy and tired? Mama kindly responds, even when you’re grumpy and tired. The repetition of the answer mimicking the question continues when Papa expresses his love for Cockatoo, even when I wake you up at night … Even Aunt P loves him when the two are eating breakfast together and Cockatoo makes a mess. So much love to go around!
But, as stories often do, things take a turn when the playful Cockatoo takes advantage of that love when he reenacts a shouting pirate while Mama is trying to have some alone time in the bath. And Papa scolds him when he is awakened from his afternoon nap by Cockatoo’s loud green drum. Our little friend hops onto a nearby branch and thinks that perhaps they don’t love him ALL the time after all.
Aspinall’s adorable vibrant illustrations showcase each character’s personality with Papa’s glasses, Mama’s long eyelashes, and Aunt P’s yellow feathers when they locate a concerned Cockatoo alone in the tree. Readers discover along with Cockatoo after clever adults pose those same questions to Cockatoo that if he still loves them despite occasional grumpiness, it makes sense that they too still love him ALL of the time no matter what! This reassuring read is a fabulous Valentine’s Day addition for home, preschool, and library. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
THE CATALOGUE OF HUGS
Written by Joshua David Stein and Augustus Heeren Stein
Illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
(Rise x Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 2-5)
This uplifting (pun intended) picture book showing 25 types of hugs not only warmed my heart but had me grinning with every page turn. It was such fun to see what new hug name and accompanying artwork would greet me. The cover, of course, is the Sloth. Then there’s the Classic, the Backpack, the Necklace, and even the Tantrum, confirming that when it comes to showing varying emotions (love, playfulness, sadness), there are all kinds of hugs as there are all kinds of people. A positive for me was the inclusion of a diverse group of parental figures and individuals with differing abilities whether that’s someone in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg. The art is loosely drawn yet expressive with not a large color palette and it works wonderfully. This cool father-son collaboration clearly stems from years of hugging experience! There’s also a final spread that includes imaginative hug names without any illustrations which will no doubt invite children to invent their own style of one-on-one and family hugs. Do you know a hugger? I think we all do! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
THE VERY BEST HUG
Written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Illustrated by Alison Brown
(Bloomsbury; $18.99; Ages 0-5)
From the creators of the #1 bestseller I Love You Night and Day comes the perfect for Valentine’s Day picture book The Very Best Hug by award-winning author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrator Alison Brown. The rhyming words bounced off my tongue when I read the book aloud, putting a fast smile on my face. How can you not grin from cheek to cheek when you read
Have you ever wondered who gives the very BEST hug?
The kind that’s warm and cozy and snug?
Extra squeezy, but never too tight,
the kind that fits you COMPLETELY right?
Prasadam-Halls asks How about a kangaroo kiss? Or a Walrus Wiggle? A Penguin Peck? Or a porcupine Prickle? Cheerful art depicts the child ready to put on her red pajama bottoms after being kissed by the kangaroo. Below that illustration readers see the pajama top still on the floor as the girl is hugged tightly by the walrus. Brown’s adorable illustrations also portray the little girl playing with the animals on her staircase, and rolling with a narwhal on the ground. The girl is brave stepping into that furry-purry lair for a lion squish! or a leopard squash! with a beautiful blue-toned spread.
The animals may enjoy showing their affection for the girl in a big group squeeze, but the look on her face shows she may not be that comfortable face down on her belly. The animals console her with chocolate chip cookies and milk as she realizes the best hug isn’t from any of them. Their hugs are rough and tumbly, but someone else’s are sweet and comforting! SO … Who gives the best hugs? You’ve got it! You’ve guessed! And I will leave you in suspense about the ending. (Hint: it is a woman with brown hair). The animals happily return to being stuffed and scattered all over her bedroom. I’d recommend this for a cuddly bedtime read! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
LITTLE HEARTS: FINDING HEARTS IN NATURE
Written by Charles Ghigna
Illustrated by Jacqueline East
(Red Comet Press; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Charles Ghigna, known to the readers from his more than 5,000 poems as Father Goose, has done it again with his latest poetic picture book that explores a world full of hearts on the ground and hearts above. Little Hearts: Finding Hearts In Nature is both a cozy read with its words of love and a peaceful journey into the lives of four softly rendered animals. Jacqueline East’s earth-colored illustrations of the pig, the bear, the rabbit, and the fox play off the beauty that surrounds the animal friends.
The little bear notices two birds seated on a branch with their bodies entwined like a heart, while the pig discovers the spider’s silky gift of love-a little heart of lace. The friends move on to pick a few strawberries from the heart-shaped strawberry field. Then they find an apple tree upon the hill. What a sweet surprise. Two hearts before your eyes!
This tender story read begged me to sit back and ponder East’s heart-shaped drawings of leaves and petals, something that often goes unnoticed. The next time I come across a heart-shaped rock, I take it home for safekeeping as I think of this book. This February 14, look up in the sky and you may find a cloud that looks like a Valentine. A fluffy heart of white! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Farrar Straus Giroux; $18.99, Ages 4-6)
Escargot is my favorite snail so I’m thrilled he’s back and as debonair as ever! In this picture book where Escargot speaks directly to us readers, we soon learn the suave snail has been invited to a Snailentine’s Day party where perhaps we too will find our snailentine. I’m in! Are you? So, even if you do not have tentacles, the secret to being a beautiful French snail, Escargot tells us, is joie de vivre.
Heading to the party the snail wants to know what we look for in a snailentine and how they make us feel. If you feel shy, Escargot shares invaluable tips on convenient ways to hide. But more importantly, he will offer tips on how to dance with élan, that’s French for a mix of style and enthusiasm. An unexpected twist in this très formidable tale is that Escargot winds up at a party he hadn’t planned on attending but finds it an enchanting evening nonetheless! Slater’s use of French words makes this an irresistible read-aloud, especially if you add an accent charmant, and maybe even a beret to get in the mood. Kids will have fun looking through Hanson’s gorgeous art, especially the first spread and also the endpapers. Her illustrations’ muted tones are gentle on the eye and pair parfaitement with Slater’s humor and heart. Don’t miss this Valentine’s Day treat! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
(Union Square Kids; $16.99; Ages 3-8)
The adored character in this picture book can do no wrong according to his parents, and I must admit he is rather cute. In Lovebird Lou we learn that Lou comes from a long line of lovebirds who spend their days telling each other how much they are loved. (Not a bad way to spend a day). Lovebirds were all Lou knew until his flock visited the other side of the island.
Tammi Sauer, the author of more than 30 picture books, writes about all the wonderful things other birds are doing. The pelicans twist into a figure eight, the nightingales sing, and the flamingos wade into the water on one leg. And every time Lou tells his parents he wants to be like the other birds, he gets positive reinforcement along with pinches on his cheek. Sauer also uses catchy nicknames for Lou such as sugar cookie and mixes them into the text with creativity and charm. There’s no denying Lou’s family loves him so whatever he desires is fine by them. In spread, illustrator and character designer Stephanie Laberis draws Lou attempting to fly like a pelican flopping into the green pasture. “You’re the best pelican ever!” said his mother. “We love you, Lou!” said the others.
Lou begins to realize that despite unending family support he is not meant to be a pelican or a flamingo, or a nightingale. “Being a bird is for the birds,” he says. Deciding he would rather not be a bird, Lou leaves the flock and tries sitting still next to a sign that reads #1 Rock. He was an excellent rock. Well, that is until he realizes it was scary being a rock alone out there without the lovebirds. The art turns from light colors to dark with Lou running back home under the moonlight to the open arms of his parents who of course tell him they love him to which he joyfully responds “I love you, too!” Lou knew lovebirds were good at the most important thing of all. Another fabulous book to be read by parents and teachers any time of the year, but especially fitting for Valentine’s Day.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
GRUMPY MONKEY VALENTINE GROSS-OUT
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Kids; $10.99; Ages 4-8)
New York Times Best Selling author Suzanne Lang has teamed up, once again with her husband, Emmy winner Max Lang, illustrator of over 20 books, in the latest addition to the Grumpy Monkey series Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out.
I have to admit I was not familiar with the Grumpy Monkey series, but the title alone is grabbing. So, when I opened the first page and read the protagonist’s name Jim Panzee (get it – Chimpanzee), I was hooked and eager to read more. The story opens with Jim, the protagonist, lying next to a stream, arms overhead, amongst the frogs and butterflies when Oxpecker flies overhead with a flower carried in its talons. The bird gleefully tells Jim, “My boyfriend gave it to me because we’re in love!”
Needless to say, Jim finds love to be quite gross and knows his friend Norman will feel the same way. But Jim locates the larger chimpanzee sitting on a low branch making love cards. Even Norman liked Valentine’s Day!
Max Lang’s hilarious illustrations are filled with purple snakes, heart-shaped leaves, and drawings of various smitten creatures gazing into each other’s eyes. It’s hard not to smile at all the animal couples getting on Jim’s nerves. Jim has the hardest time with the kissing ones such as two chimps sharing a smooch. Jim finds Valentine’s Day to be the GROSSEST HOLIDAY!
Wise Norman returns to explain to Jim that there are all kinds of love. You have a love for your parents and they have a love for you. Suzanne Lang’s prose explains to the reader that Valentine’s Day is about showing the people you love that you love them. Now convinced it’s not all gross, Jim decides to make valentines for all his friends and family to show them how much he cares. All goes well until the last page when two birds’ beaks join together with closed eyes (I now know how birds kiss) and Jim shouts GROSS
This book deserves to be a Valentine’s Day staple for young readers. It has made me a fan of Jim Panzee, one of the best character names I’ve ever read. A page of stickers in the back is a bonus included in this LOL picture book. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Carolrhoda Books; $18.99, Ages 5-9)
Let’s talk T. rex and team. Fans of the popular Dino series will enjoy this latest picture book that is packed with love-action as dinos get ready for the big day! As February breezes in,/Dinos giggle, swoon, and grin. Gott’s whimsical illustrations show your favorite dinos at school making cards, going shopping, having crushes, all culminating in a Valentine’s Day dino dance party.
I counted more than a dozen different types of dinosaurs appearing on the pages doing all the necessary preparations to show they care with gifts of chocolate, handmade prezzies, baked goods, and more. During craft time, this line made me LOL: Apatosaurus just can’t win./Scissors are so hard for him. And Gott’s art is spot on particularly in the scene when Minmi spies Leso coming into the room and, as her heart takes a leap, so does her marker. The heart she was drawing continues off the page onto the table!! Best of all, Wheeler’s story is written in a fast-paced rhyme scheme. Though at times she takes liberties with the end rhymes, I don’t think kids will care. The story concludes with a teaser for the next book out this fall which is for Hanukkah! Can’t wait to see dinos play dreidel!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
COZY IN LOVE
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $19.99, Ages 4-8)
I adore the heartwarming cover illustration from Jan Brett’s heartwarming tale told both in prose and through her beloved border art. Note: The Alaskan seaweed in the borders are from Seaweeds of the World and the heart-shaped stones are from Fox Island. You’ll also see puffins and beluga whales who live near Teardrop Inlet in this story.
Inspired by a cast of creatures she encountered on her Alaskan adventures, Brett brings back her character Cozy who in this new picture book worries that he’ll never catch the eye of his favorite musk ox, Lofti after losing a battle of strength to a fellow musk ox.
Cozy is soon pulled away from his sulk and called to action when Puffin, Cozy’s pal, alerts him to young Bella’s plight. While Bella, a spirited beluga whale plays in Teardrop Inlet, Puffin knows that “Air is getting cold. Ice will trap her!” Despite being warned by her mother that when the sea freezes, the entrance to the inlet gets closed off, Bella doesn’t leave. Then, when she tries to exit, she cannot make it over a wall of ice. If she doesn’t get out soon, she’ll be trapped “with no way to reach the air.”
Though his musk ox herd is heading to sleep, Cozy is compelled to rescue Bella. At the same time, Lofti decides to see what he is getting up. Cozy gets an idea that if he can displace water in the inlet by filling it with heavy rocks, it will allow the water to rise and carry Bella out to sea. This time his show of strength might save a friend’s life. Exhausted by his successful efforts, Cozy settles down only to be joined by an admirer, Lofti! This happy ending not only sees Bella reunited with her family but a bighearted musk ox named Cozy who just happens to be in love. A feel-good picture book for animal lovers of all ages!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Gal Weizman
(Random House BYR; $5.99; Ages 4-6)
Where is my love? Skunk asks in this first level in the Step Into Reading series Love Stinks! This 32 page comic reader introduces new readers to rhyme, rhythm, and picture clues with bigger type and easy words.
Parents and caregivers will appreciate the Dear Parent intro page explaining speech balloons and captions, and panels along with questions to ask the child such as What is a character feeling? We turn the page to find Dog love and Cat love written in large letters with Weizman’s adorable characters gazing into each other’s eyes. Well, all except stinky Skunk who spurts out an odor that keeps him separated from the others.
Easy-flowing rhyme helps prompt little readers. Frog love./Fly love./Where is my love? The engaging artwork depicts frogs, ants, and flies in love but standing on the busy city street poor Skunk doesn’t see anyone for him. Place pronouns such as Here and There allow a beginning reader to hear and see those words in relation to characters on the page. And, if an adult reads along, they can easily point to what the skunk is doing and where. Simple sentences are brought in when Skunk is eating his ice cream cone alone Where is true love? he asks. Ending with a true heartfelt valentine’s tone, Skunk finds Stinky love! inside a trash can.
This humorous leveled reader with its Valentine theme is playful and fun while introducing kids to new words with accessible short sentences. The reader can choose to move on to the next step in the series or continue practicing Step 1 with Robot, Go Bot; Dragon Egg; or another good Valentine’s read, Mama Loves.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
HOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU
Written by Nicole Chen
Illustrated by Lenny Wen
(Alfred A. Knopf; $18.99; Ages 3-7)
Nicole Chen introduces readers to a girl named Hana and the multigenerational family members who love her with actions not just words. How We Say I Love You tells the story of a Taiwanese American family that includes Hana’s parents, her Ah Gong (grandfather), and Ah Ma (grandmother).
We first meet them in their busy living room decorated with a large family portrait on the wall, and a bonsai plant resting on a wooden hutch. Ah Gong, who wears big brown glasses and has grey hair, is sweeping while Hana’s dad is carrying a basket of laundry. In the kitchen, her pregnant mom is dressed in a blue apron stirring her love into a pot of steaming xi fan. Hana smiles sniffing the aroma. Ah Gong dances with each step walking Hana to school, and her father cheers her on the soccer field, “Jia you, Hana! Go, go, go!”
We know the baby will be loved when Hana lays on her mother’s stomach telling the unborn sibling about things like ice cream and swings. Author-Illustrator Lenny Wen created her superb illustrations with Photoshop and a graphic tablet, visually showcasing the love this family has for each other.
The Asian culture is conveyed through illustrations of their cuisine, and gold and purple flowers with bamboo stalks in the background of many of the pages. Wen hides a heart on each page, adding a fun search-and-find activity after finishing the book. And the back glossary teaches us Mandarin Chinese with words like Wan an (good night) and Jia you (a cheer of encouragement). Hana says, “In my family our love lives in all the things we do for one another. That is how we say “I love you.”
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Additional Recommended Reads
BAD KITTY DOES NOT LIKE VALENTINE’S DAY
Written and illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press; $9.99, Ages 2-5)
LITTLE OWL’S LOVE
Written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-5)