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Kids Picture Book Review – Go, Girls, Go!

GO, GIRLS, GO!
Written by Frances Gilbert
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

go girls go book cover

 

Who said transportation stories are just for boys? Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief Frances Gilbert never did, and her new picture book, Go, Girls, Go! proves it. This energetic rhyming story with its bold and bright artwork puts girls behind a wealth of wheels to inspire future Danica Patricks, Sally Rides and Molly Williamses.

 

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Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

A dozen diverse and spirited drivers, pilots, motorcyclists and more demonstrate that girls get a kick out of things that go Wooo!, Whirr! and Toot! just the same as boys do. And who knows what future vehicles might strike their fancy when they see themselves positively depicted on the pages of this picture book? Gilbert’s written about girls conducting trains, operating giant cranes and flying planes because anything and everything is possible, especially when powered by girls.

 

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Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

What I especially enjoyed about Go, Girls, Go! was the anticipatory page turns that had me wondering what would come next in terms of rhyme, sound effectsVroom! Hoot! Clank!types of transportation and of course, the illustrations. I immediately found myself repeating “Go, Girls, Go!” with as much enthusiasm as a preschooler. In other words, be prepared for multiple, lively read-alouds because this is not a quiet book. It’s also a celebration of girls moving over from the more passive passenger seat and taking control, and that’s something to shout about.

 

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Interior artwork from Go, Girls, Go! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Allison Black, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2019.

 

Allison Black’s cheerful, graphic-style illustrations complement Gilbert’s entertaining and fast-paced rhyming prose. Youngsters will happily follow the visuals while learning the words because the modes of transportation are easily identifiable and the rhythmic language is easy to memorize. What a fun way to get excited about things that go Roar! Honk! and Crunch! So make tracks to your local bookseller and get a copy to help your child’s imagination soar.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Follow Frances Gilbert on Twitter @gogirlsgobooks

Follow Allison Black on Twitter @allisonblackart

Click here to read a guest post by Frances Gilbert about using rhyme in Go, Girls, Go!

 

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Reasons to be Thankful – New Thanksgiving Board Books for Kids

THANKSGIVING 2019
∼A BOARD BOOKS ROUNDUP∼

 

free Thanksgiving Clip Art

 

 

look and be grateful bbcoverLOOK AND BE GRATEFUL
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Holiday House Publishing; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

This sturdy board-book edition of the hardcover picture book from 2015 is great to share all year long. With just 24 pages of spare and inspiring text, dePaola’s peaceful, pleasing art takes center stage. The little boy on the cover wakes up to behold the beauty of a new day and the wonderful things that surround him. “Open your eyes, and see, and say thank you.” Children learn with each simple sentence and illustration to be present and look at each day as a gift. Look and be Grateful is a gentle and sweet introduction to mindfulness and gratitude which are never too early to share.

 

Be Thankful PoutPout Fish cvrBE THANKFUL, POUT-POUT FISH
by  Deborah Diesen
Pictures based on illustrations created
by Dan Hanna
(Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

Little fans of the beloved Pout-Pout Fish will be delighted he’s back, under the sea, serving up tasty dishes for Thanksgiving in Be Thankful, Pout-Pout Fish. Mr. Fish has invited friends and family from near and far to join him at the celebration. It’s a pot-luck dinner for which all of the guests are grateful. When the meal is over and everyone’s full, Mr. Fish is feeling especially thankful not only for the food, but for the full feeling in his heart.

Told in 12 full-color pages, this rhyming board-book makes a sweet addition to any toddler’s Pout-Pout Fish book collection. It’s also an ideal gift when visiting during the holiday. Dive into a copy and share today.

 

five little thank yous coverFIVE LITTLE THANK-YOUS
Written by Cindy Jin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I love the die-cut turkey feathers design of this 12-page board book. Inspired by the hand-print turkey art craft so many children proudly create at Thanksgiving time, each finger/feather in Five Little Thank-Yous represents a paper-cut illustrated spread devoted to a particular thank-you message. It starts off with “Thank you for this sweet, warm home, blessed with family all my own.” The four other feathers mention thanks for food, friends, love and “…most of all, I’m thankful to be the one and only, special me.” What a terrific and important message to impart to children at Thanksgiving.

 

 

T is for Turkey cvrT IS FOR THANKS (AND TURKEY!)
A Flanimals Book
Written by Melinda Rathjen
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(WorthyKids; $7.99, Ages 1-3)

Fab and felt-clad Turkey (on the cover) is just one of the adorable Flanimals animal characters in this 20-page cumulative concept board book.T is for Thanks (and Turkey!) explores themes of gratitude and friendship courtesy of the letter T. The story begins when Tiger gives Turtle some tulips in a tea pot as a gift. Such a lovely gesture! Sadly, the present breaks when Turtle sneezes. Turkey’s on hand to offer some tissues. In fact he humorously always wants to be included in the cumulative repetition that kids will love. “T is for Thanks and Tape and Thunderstorm. And Turkey!” Some tape mends the broken tea pot and Turkey’s wings keep the rain off Tiger while Turtle’s retreated into his shell.

It’s great how the friends get up to some fun antics that kids will relate to all while sticking to the letter T. Things get messy though when Turkey gets onto a trampoline with tacos given to him by Toad. That causes no end of trouble as you might imagine. But with caring, thoughtful friends, everything will work out in the end providing everyone (and Turkey!) is on good behavior.

This book provides many levels of entertainment and positive reinforcement whether it’s counting the tulips (three), noting with little ones how all the animals’ names begin with T, seeing what else they can spot in the art that might pertain to thankfulness and the letter T, and most importantly, seeing the kind way friends treat each other.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a review of another Thanksgiving book.

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Children’s Book Blog Tour – Greta and the Giants

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO

ILLUSTRATOR OF GRETA AND THE GIANTS

 

 

ABOUT GRETA AND THE GIANTS
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7) 

Greta is a little girl who lives in a beautiful forest threatened by Giants. When the Giants first came to the forest, they chopped down trees to make houses. Then they chopped down more trees and made even bigger homes. The houses grew into towns and the towns grew into cities, until now there is hardly any forest left. Greta knows she has to help the animals, but how? Luckily Greta has an idea that will lead to the Giants and the animals working together in harmony. An additional section at the back explains that in reality the fight against the giants isn’t over and Greta needs the reader’s help.

This book has been printed sustainably in the UK on 100% recycled paper. By buying a copy of this book, you are making a donation of 3% of the cover price to Greenpeace UK

INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO

zoe persico

Self-portrait of Zoe Persico

Please tell us how you came to be a picture book illustrator? 

Growing up I had many artistic influences that led me to go into what I do today, especially in books. I struggled with reading, but the illustrations always kept me eagerly invested and inspired. I originally wanted to be an animator, but quickly figured out that illustrating was my passion and wanted to figure out how I could achieve it as my career. I returned to my love for children’s books and knew I wanted to create works of art that would help others like they did for me. With family, friends, my partner, and educators who always supported me every step of the way I signed onto my current agency, got an early jump start into my career, and graduated college. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for over five years now and happily receiving great projects such as Greta and the Giants.

 

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Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

What medium/technique did you use to create the illustrations in GRETA AND THE GIANTS and how did the metaphor of the giants as symbols of corporate greed influence your choices?

I use Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 to create my illustrations, though I am heavily influenced by traditional materials and try to capture the magic of them through digital means. I use custom brushes that emulate watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, and so on. Before starting the final art for Greta and the Giants I knew that I really wanted to push some new painting techniques, so I practiced using traditional materials beforehand to figure out how I can capture them digitally.

The giants were quite a challenge! I needed to figure out how to portray the giants in a fantastical, but realistic way. It would have been too easy to use stereotypes as a crutch for their design and using certain physical traits to show how “ugly” they are is harmful because that’s telling readers having those traits are negative. I thought that illustrating them mostly from perspectives of Greta and the citizens of the forest, such as them looking up and only seeing their shoes and pants as well as not being able to see their faces as clearly due to the massive distance between them, was a perfect and simple way to achieve that the giants “have their heads in the clouds” more than anything else. They realize that they are causing harm and want to do better and I wanted to make sure their designs were an easy transition to the last spreads of the book as well. They have always worn normal clothes just like everyone else and their size doesn’t change. They are still giants! The change comes into how the new compositions show a better connection and understanding between them and the forest dwellers.

I was taken immediately by the gorgeous jewel tones in your palette. Please explain the decision behind that.

Thank you! I had a lot of fun with this palette for this book. When the design team told me they really wanted to a painterly look and using light for color and mood contrast I was immediately excited. I’ve always tried to push these elements in my personal work and I knew I wanted to push myself even more for this project. Since I have been painting traditionally on the side more, I’ve found new color palettes that I wanted to emulate in Greta and the Giants. I used warm tones for heavily lit areas and went with cool tones for shadows. I mixed colors on top of each other like I would with watercolors to keep interest and connection in each area. I have been in love with using a very bright candy red lately and knew it would be the perfect accent color in a sea of multiple shades of green. For the last spread I wanted to go with a sunset palette to help end the book on a warm and uplifting note. Overall, I would say the goal for this book was to have a mostly nature-inspired palette (greens, browns, oranges) with accents of fantasy-inspired colors (pinks and blues).

 

Greta and the Giants.Interior Spread2.jpg

Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

What inspired you about this particular story?

Throughout the years I’ve been finding ways to alleviate my carbon footprint on the planet as best as I can and having the chance to work on this project was right up my alley. I was inspired on now only how I can help show others on what we can do to help fight climate change, but to come together and speak up against “giants” by the power of your voice. I hope the illustrations in Greta and the Giants inspire children to ask questions. I hope it inspires parents and guardians to teach them about what is happening. I hope it inspires adults to speak out and vote.

Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?

Yes! Funny enough my favorite illustrations are the spreads that include the city. I rarely paint urban subjects and it was a fun challenge to depict what the giant city could look like from a distance. I’m proud of how it turned out!

I also enjoy illustrating animals as well. Any time I got to paint the fox was always fun for me!

What was the biggest challenge of creating the art for this picture book that’s dealing with a serious topic aimed at younger readers?

I would say finding the right visual balance of fantastical and visually showing a depiction of a real life issue. I wouldn’t be doing the message justice if I went a super happy and bright route for the illustrations. I want to show the dark sides of what’s happening to our home and make it easy to readers to understand that. I also wanted to show signs of hope and warmth as well. I use bright and inviting colors and character designs that young readers can gravitate towards. I paint light shining down on characters such as Greta to show that she is a beacon of hope. It’s little things like this that I add in my illustrations to help readers understand that things are serious, but we don’t have to be kept in the dark. It’s amazing how color and light and design choices can naturally click in your brain to know when something is “relaxing” or “melancholic” or “frustrating”. Illustrations are so important and I love that I get to create them.

 

Greta and the Giants.Interior Spread3.jpg

Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

As the giants learn about the negative impact of all their building and polluting, they begin to take on less fierce qualities. Was this intentional?

Absolutely. As I mentioned in the previous question regarding the giants, I really wanted to portray the giants in a way that they aren’t so different from the rest of the forest dwellers. Earlier spreads of the book emphasize how tall they are, how hard it is to see their faces from far away, and so on. There’s a disconnect and the giants aren’t aware of the damage they are causing. Towards the last spreads you can see their faces better and their postures and expressions are much more approachable. They are still giants, but there is now a more positive relationship between them and the folks living below them. I am hoping our real life “giants” can listen and start a positive dialogue with us to a better and healthier future.

Which illustrators have most influenced you as an artist?

I have so many! Some illustrators that have influenced me include Amélie Fléchais, Elena and Olivia Ceballos, Yvan Duque, Matthew Forsythe, Rebecca Green, Robin James, and many many more.

 

Thank you Zoe for your thoughtful answers. I hope everyone picks up a copy of Greta and the Giants to appreciate the beautiful artwork you’ve described in the interview and to see how wonderfully it complements the story.

• FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ZOE ON HER WEBSITE.
• PUBLICATION DATE IS NOVEMBER 19 BUT YOU CAN PRE-ORDER A COPY HERE TODAY.
• CLICK HERE FOR A HELPFUL DISCUSSION GUIDE.

READ MORE!

Visit the below bloggers for reviews and other Greta and the Giants related coverage.

Tuesday 11/12: This West Coast Mommy

Wednesday 11/13: Happily Ever Elephants 

Thursday 11/14: Here Wee Read

Friday 11/15: Picture Book Play Date  

 

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel

 

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Halloween Picture Books 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

A ROUNDUP

PART 3

free clip art pumpkin

 

 

Skulls book coverSKULLS!
Written by Blair Thornburgh
Illustrated by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Halloween or any day for that matter, Skulls! will entertain young readers with its eye-opening facts and fun watercolor illustrations featuring oblong faces and childlike representation.

Blair Thornburgh’s hit the nail on the head with this unique picture book that introduces kids to an important part of the human body via an adorable young narrator. Made up of twenty-two different smaller bones, the skull accounts for “about 10 percent of our body weight” but we often don’t think about it. When we do, as Thornburgh points out so perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing, kind of gross and thoroughly entertaining.

We tend to take for granted how a skull is “like a car seat for your brain,” keeping it safe and in place. It’s also actually full of holes otherwise it would be so much heavier. “But most important of all: skulls are not trying to be scary.” Once kids learn about all the cool skull-related things shared in Skulls!, they’ll probably want to share them with you, especially the jaw and mouth ones. And when they do, they’ll probably ask for a grilled cheese sandwich which means they’ve learned something. After they’ve eaten they’ll probably thank you for helping their “skull grow hard and strong.” In turn, you can use your mandible bone and connecting muscles to smile.

Happy Halloween Pirates book coverHAPPY HALLOWEEN, PIRATES!
Written by W. Harry Kirn
Illustrated by Inna Chernyak
(Clever Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3 and up)

Happy Halloween, Pirates! is a large-sized, kid-friendly, 18-page lift-the-flap board book that’s a rollicking, rhyming read aloud for Halloween. Toddlers will love hearing the story then peeking under the flaps to see what treasures the illustrator has buried beneath.

Shiver me timbers! A pirate crew receives an invitation via crow to a Halloween party. The action starts immediately as they and assorted pirate ship creatures (a cat, some mice) plan their costumes.

Next the pirates go ashore to have some fun with friends galore. They find the haunted party house and join in the festivities. Whoa! The kids who invited their sea-faring pirate pals surprise them by dressing up as pirates themselves on board a mini pirate ship! Between the flowing rhyme, the interactivity of the flaps and the vibrant artwork, children will stay entertained this Halloween as they play with and say Happy Halloween, Pirates! And who doesn’t enjoy a pirate party?

Ghastly Ghosts Book CoverGHASTLY GHOSTS
Written by Teresa Bateman
Illustrated by Ken Lamug
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

My level of manageable frightening can be found in Ghastly Ghosts. This pleasing and well paced rhyming picture book starts off by setting a Halloweenish mood, but the main character, Old Dave, refuses to be scared by the moaning noises emanating from coal shed. The rhyme works wonderfully in moving the story forward with a subtle upbeat vibe so as not to make little ones’ (or my) hair stand on end. The art style is appealing with a lovely palette that also keeps the fright level slight.

Old Dave wishes for some company as it gets lonely up in the middle of nowhere which is exactly where he lives. But alas, no one goes out on a night so dark and freezing, and if they do it’s not to the place where a ghostly choir can be heard loudly saying, “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” Oh how I admire Old Dave’s guts. Rather than cower at the scary sounds, our hero faces off with the spirits who he reckons might also enjoy the warmth of his cottage once he replenishes his coal supply. Still more of the “Ghastly ghosts …” chorus erupts, but they’re interrupted by brave Old Dave. “I know. I do. I’d like to bet you’re cold ghosts too.” Together with the ghosts, Old Dave’s coal pail gets filled and everyone is welcome in his now warm and cozy place. “In fact, they’re quite good company. His friendless nights are history.”

clever little witch book coverCLEVER LITTLE WITCH
Written by Muon Thi Van
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

Clever Little Witch is more of a sibling tale than a Halloween one, but since witches abound during this season, it still feels appropriate to share. Plus Thi Van has written a story that will definitely resonate with older kids who’d like nothing more to get rid of their younger siblings.

In this charming picture book narrated by Little Linh, we learn instantly from her that she’s “the cleverest little witch on Mãi Mãi Island” if she does say so herself! She tells us what she needs which are a broomstick, a book of spells and a rare and magical pet. What she doesn’t need is an annoying baby brother who does things like ride her broom without asking, chew pages from her spell book or use her magical mouse “as a flashlight.” Yup, the little guy’s gotta go!

Baby Phu is offered around by his older sister, but no one on the island has any desire to take her little bro off her hands. Nope, not the troll, not the forest fairy queen and not the Orphanage for Lost and Magical Creatures. Youngsters will get a huge kick out of these scenes when the reasons why Baby Phu is rejected are explained. The troll, for instance, got hiccups from the last baby brother he ate.

When Little Linh turns to her magical book of spells she sees that “Baby Phu had eaten half the spell.” Clever as she was, she could certainly figure out what the rest was and transform her brother into a goldfish. When the spells go awry and she creates first a frog, then a seal and finally a dragon that steals her wand, things are not looking good. The story’s heroine chases the dragon on her broom. But when the dragon’s tail accidentally knocks down the broom and Little Linh begins falling, guess who comes to her rescue before she crashes to the ground? YESthe dragon, much to her surprise! Does the dragon stay a dragon or does he turn back into Baby Phu who becomes more appreciated? Ahh, you’ll have to visit Mãi Mãi Island to see for yourself! Hyewon Yum’s illustrations of acrylic gouache and color pencil are full of energy. The variety of colors she uses exudes a warm and happy feeling with every page turn. What a sweet, humorous and imaginative sibling story to share with kids!

Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster cvrGINNY GOBLIN CANNOT HAVE A MONSTER FOR A PET
Written by David Goodner
Illustrated by Louis Thomas
(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Ginny is a force of nature and, though perhaps not the best role model for children, will definitely make them laugh and maybe even answer back to the narrator speaking right to them, and that’s just what an ideal read aloud like Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet should do.

As I read this picture book, the follow-up to Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, I thought about a little girl some 22 years ago. No matter what her parents told her, she’d do the opposite. I always worried about her, but she’s actually doing great now that she got all those wild escapades out of her system … and a horse as a pet.

What’s so fabulous about this story is that Ginny’s crazy antics ultimately get her just what she wanted in the first place which is a goat, a non-monsterish pet unlike all the unbelievable others she goes in search of page after riotous page to drive her point home. Whether it’s on a beach where the narrator hopes “she’ll find a tropical fish, or a cute little hermit crab,” Ginny always has something else in mind and goes for it. In one case that means going into the deep, dark sea in a submarine seeking a kraken. We’re reminded that krakens “are unfathomable monsters, and Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet.” I can just hear the kids at story time repeating that phrase and loving it.

So what do you suppose happens next? You guessed it, as will young readers. Down she goes into a cave in search of a dragon. That sized pet won’t fit in a house will it? So of course Ginny’s taken to a forest where birds who make great pets live. Ha! Instead Ginny catches a basilik, but a magical pet isn’t the answer either. If you think she’s done thinking about getting a monster for a pet because she’s distracted by a visit to a space museum, think again. Ginny commandeers a rocket to outer space where an acid-spitting alien is on her agenda but not the narrator’s.

Goodner skillfully brings the readers and Ginny back to Earth where the idea of a pet like a goat is suddenly looking a lot better than it originally did! Paired with Thomas’s whimsical gouache and pen-and-ink artwork, Goodner’s prose take youngsters on an amusing and mischievous  journey that will delight them and anyone lucky enough to read the story to them.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read another Halloween Books Roundup here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Shubh Diwali!

SHUBH DIWALI!
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Shub Diwali book cover

 

Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.

From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.

 

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Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!

 

Shubh Diwali IN02

Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”

 

Shubh Diwali IN03

Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Home in the Woods

HOME IN THE WOODS
Written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Home in the Woods cover

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

“This book is inspired not only by the stories from [my grandmother],” says Wheeler, “but by the entire generation that experienced the Great Depression. They will soon be gone, and if we haven’t yet collected their stories, the time is now.”

 

Home in the Woods, the latest picture book by Eliza Wheeler is a treat for the eyes and soul. The embossed title on the book jacket is gorgeous as is the winter scape underneath. The water color and ink artwork is simply stunning.

Travel back in time as this compelling story, based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s life in the Wisconsin woods during the Great Depression, pulls readers right into each meticulously and movingly illustrated page.

Told from the perspective of Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, Home in the Woods introduces readers to the six-year-old and her seven siblings along with Mum, a newly widowed and stoic 34-year-old. This 40-page book unfolds over four seasons beginning in Summer when the time is ideal to move into an abandoned tar-paper shack they find in the woods. “You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says Mum. While Marvel doesn’t believe the rundown hut can ever be a treasure let alone a home, she carries on nonetheless relying on the closeness of her family and her mother’s optimism. That energy is conveyed in scenes like the one where seven of the siblings (the youngest, at 3- months-old, is at home with Mum) happily collect berries. Wheeler subtly shows how nature plays an important role in both the family’s struggle and survival.

 

Int1 HomeintheWoods Wheeler

Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The blue tones of Summer shift when Autumn arrives and “rust and ruby leaves” provide a beautiful backdrop for this season’s art. Everyone in the family pitches in whether it’s splitting wood to heat the shack or pulling weeds and picking “veggies.” As baby Eva munches a carrot, Mum cooks preserves and the children prepare for winter by stocking up the cellar with whatever they were able to harvest.

On a visit to Bennett’s General Store, the siblings look longingly at the inviting shop window, but they have learned how to do without. They can only afford to “buy some basics.” Cleverly, the kids have invented a game they’ve dubbed General Store that keeps them entertained for hours. Beside the hut, Marvel displays “mud sweets,” little Lowell is the jeweler, older sister Bea sells fine hats (note the creativity of the hats Mum is admiring), and the others all find fulfilling counters to man.

When Winter’s bitter winds blow, the family huddles by the pot-belly stove as the two oldest boys “trek out to hunt for food.” Blue tones return, but the flames of the fire, the glowing lantern, the gold in the children’s crowns, and in the patchwork pieces as Mum teaches Bea to quilt all depict a warmth that is the fabric of this loving family. Marvel shares how her brother Rich teaches her to read in another touching illustration that is rich with contentment.

 

int2 HomeintheWoods Wheeler

Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

int3 HomeintheWoods Wheeler

Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The illustration above clues readers into Mum’s silent fears for her family while the words, “But Mum stays awake into the night …” tell us what we’ve guessed all along. Living in the woods, barely eking out a living, and supporting her family of nine has taken its toll on this strong woman. Mum prays for her children to get safely through winter and the Depression.

 

int4 HomeintheWoods Wheeler

Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The cycle of seasons culminates in Spring. “The cottonwoods are all in bloom” and a spirit of rebirth and renewal fills everyone’s hearts just as the family’s pail is filled with fresh milk at Erickson’s Farm. The children rejoice in the thrilling sound of birdsong and the blossoming of flowers. Enveloped by hope, the family has gotten through the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerged to find that the power of togetherness, teamwork and love has brought to them the promise of better days ahead and the true meaning of home.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Where is My Balloon?

WHERE IS MY BALLOON?
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

where is my balloon book cover

 

I became an Owl and Monkey fan after reading the hilarious I Have a Balloon so I was eager to read the second picture book featuring this adorable pair. In Where is My Balloon? by Ariel Bernstein with illustrations by Scott Magoon, Monkey’s looking after Owl’s adored red balloon and accidentally pops it while playing with it. Ooops!

 

Where is My Balloon int1

Interior spread from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

Rather than immediately owning up to what he did, Monkey first brings Owl a pillow and claims it’s the red balloon. The humor is in how long the charade will go on and what wild items Monkey will present to his friend in an effort to placate him. The ultimate goalavoid telling the truth about what happened. As in the previous story, Magoon’s artful expressions conveyed on the faces and in the two characters’ body language adds to the enjoyment. The generous use of white space keeps our eyes glued to the two animals’ antics. We watch closely as Monkey seeks out silly substitutes for the balloon. After a chair, a fire engine and a parachute don’t do the trick, Monkey, wracked with guilt, breaks down and confesses. Then he apologizes.

 

Where is My Balloon int2

Interior spread from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

The illustrations of Owl’s reactions to his popped balloon are some of my favorites. As his despairing and frenzied mood heightens, Owl tears up the sock, also accidentally. The scene when the bird realizes what he’s done cracks me up as he subtly tries to kick the ruined sock off the tree top, out of Monkey’s sight. With the shoe now on the other foot (or in this case perhaps sock is more appropriate), Owl attempts the same subterfuge that had been done to him. Only this time the significance of Owl’s sporting a yellow hat with a red star is not lost on Monkey whose resigned response is classic.

 

Where is my Balloon interior3

Interior illustrations from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

Where is My Balloon? is a super story to share with children when you’re looking for a tale that tackles the topic of being honest and asking for forgiveness in a light and lively way. Bernstein’s tight turn of phrase and Magoon’s playful art will keep kids engaged with every page turn. While youngsters may be well aware of what’s going on after the pillow is offered, they’ll be delighted to read along or be read to in order to find out how the dilemmas get resolved. Even adult readers will be charmed by this clever circular story making it a fun go-to read for story time or anytime!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read my review for I Have a Balloon here.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Two Tough Trucks

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS
by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez
Illustrated by Hilary Leung
(Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Two Tough Trucks Book Cover

 

In Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez with art by Hilary Leung, Mack and Rig, two vehicles with very different personalities, are heading off for their first day of Truck School. Red Mack is confident and bold. Blue Rig is reluctant and nervous. This sentence describes them to a T: “Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.”

 

Two Tough Trucks Int1

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

When the aptly named teacher, Miss Rhodes, pairs the two trucks for a circuit on the track, Mack takes off and doesn’t look back. Rig on the other hand finds the course daunting, facing what seems like one insurmountable challenge after the other. The next drill takes the class to a hill, one which Mack knows he can easily climb. Rig doesn’t feel so sure and comes in “dead last.” The two trucks don’t really connect, each one thinking little of the other. “My partner’s a drag,” is Mack’s take. “That hotshot,” said Rig, “He sure loves to brag.” What will your children think of the characters? It’s a great opportunity to seek their input. The repetition of VROOM! ZOOM! throughout invites sound effects and participation by the littlest readers

 

Two Tough Trucks int2

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

It’s not looking hopeful for these two six-wheelers. If there’s a way forward towards friendship, it’s eluding them. But then there’s light on the horizon for Rig when the class is tasked with learning how to go backward while hauling cargo. That’s when Rig excels at last! Hold on! Was that a look of doubt creeping onto blundering Mack’s face? Exasperated, the big, red truck is ready to give up. VROOM! DOOM?

With this shift in ability, Rig’s gained confidence but not a big head. He kindly helps his partner tackle the task until Mack masters it, too. Schwartz and Gomez get youngsters engaged with the colorful characters and the pace of this story. Kids’ll cheer as the vehicles bond after accomplishing what they needed to as a team. It’s wonderful to see how working together with positive attitudes yields mutual success.

 

Two Tough Trucks int3

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

Leung’s lively illustrations emphasize the individual vehicles. Rig wears a camouflage design bandana and Mack, a baseball cap to match his trim. I like the movement the illustrations convey and how the southwestern style art palate bleeds off the page. Of note and adorable is how, in the end, after a friendship has developed, the two pals have exchanged head ware. Have your kids also keep an eye out for the cute turtle and roadrunner who appear in multiple spreads.

Two Tough Trucks is clearly more than a first day of school picture book. It’s a super rhyming story about learning to  get along, having each other’s back and being a good sport. The title works too. Each vehicle has its strengths and weaknesses, true. It’s not letting those areas that need improvement immobilize them that makes them tough, especially together as a team. Rev up your engines and make tracks to your nearest bookstore for a copy of Two Tough Trucks today!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz.
Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez.

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Kids Picture Book Review – This Is a Sea Cow by Cassandra Federman

THIS IS A SEA COW
Written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

This Is a Sea Cow cover

 

This Is a Sea Cow, the debut picture book by Cassandra Federman, will have kids laughing out loud at story time especially at the lines about how much a sea cow weighs, how her milk “squirts out of her armpits!” and the size of their brains. Federman knows how to quickly pull her readers into this funny and informative story about the popular underwater mammal perhaps better known as a manatee. The titular sea cow actually prefers to be called a manatee for multiple reasons kids will learn about. Fact: Happy faces plastered with huge grins will appear throughout the duration of this book.

 

This Is a Sea Cow int1

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

One thing I particularly adore about This Is a Sea Cow is the format Federman uses. The story unfolds as a child’s school book report about sea cows. Soon, however, the sea cow, who is the subject of the report, begins responding to the facts presented. This interactive approach is certain to engage young readers. I’m guessing they’ll start talking back to the book much like the audience does in an English pantomime.

At first the adorable blue-crayon-colored sea cow disputes most of what the student writes when it’s not complimentary. Fact: weight of 1,000 pounds. Response: “Hey! That’s personal information.” With each eagerly awaited page turn, youngsters will note how the student author highlights a fact or two the sea cow cannot disagree with. There’s the small size of its brain (see bottom illustration) and how small-brained explorers  thought sea cows were mermaids. The report’s flattered blue subject basks in being considered the mythical water nymph. Those irresistible illustrations are some of my faves.

 

Thisisaseacow 3 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The book’s colorful, kid-like artwork cleverly incorporates a variety of features guaranteed to keep a child’s interest. There are speech bubbles (just some of the bubbles they’ll read about … the others being gassy ones), hand lettering, hand drawings, and paper cutouts. Interspersed with these are photos of real objects such as scissors, crayons, shells, staples, paper clips and a backpack.

 

Thisisaseacow 2 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The pleasing twist at the end will charm children who, like the second grade writer, easily fall for the sea cow, small brain, gassiness, toenails and all! And if that’s not sweet and silly enough, several other cute creatures chime in after being mentioned. Federman’s adept use of kid-friendly prose in this light-hearted look at the much-loved manatee will make this a regularly requested read for animal lovers.

Helpful back matter provides kids, parents and teachers with additional interesting info about sea cows like where they live and how fast they can swim. The names of several websites where readers can adopt a manatee or help injured ones are also included. Head over to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy today and make a manatee (and me) happy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find This Is a Sea Cow activities for children on the Albert Whitman website here.

Read a review about more sea creatures here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – My Name is Wakawakaloch!

MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!
Written by Chana Stiefel
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch! book cover

 

 

With My Name is Wakawakaloch!, Chana Stiefel has written a story that will resonate with so many children as it has with yours truly, someone with a name that people rarely pronounce correctly. I’ve been called Ronnie, Rhoda, Rona and Rhonda (always sung back with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me” for effect), and Ronald. It means so much to me when people actually hear my name and repeat it correctly. So when I received my review copy of Stiefel’s new picture book I was eager to read what the main character, plucky, pig-tailed Wakawakaloch, had to deal with. And when I did, it cracked me up.

Even readers who have an easy name to pronounce should get their hands on a copy of My Name is Wakawakaloch! because it’s a great way to step into someone else’s shoes (although everyone’s barefoot in this picture book!) to understand the frustration that this adorable main character feels. Set in the Stone Age featuring funny “Flintstones”-like artistic touches from illustrator Mary Sullivan, this charming picture book also invites read-aloud opportunities, especially when it comes to saying the hysterical names that Stiefel’s made up.

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch int spread1 by Mary Sullivan

Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

When classmate Boog in Sabertooth Safety Class hollers “Look out, Wammabammaslamma!” Wakawakaloch shouts back, as she constantly has to, “That NOT my name!” I relate to the young Neanderthal’s rage, remembering all the different things kids called me in school. Also worth noting – these are cave kids conversing so the grammar or lack thereof really adds to the read-aloud experience. Sullivan’s illustrations of the characters wonderfully and whimsically portray a full range of emotions and actions at play throughout the story (and don’t miss her endpapers, too).

When the exasperated Wakawakaloch expresses to her parents how much she wishes she had a different name, one that could be found on a T-shirt, they don’t even get what a T-shirt is which I totally love. So will young readers. Stiefel doesn’t mention key chains, but that’s another unusual name story!

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch in2t illustration by Mary Sullivan

Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

Wakawakaloch’s folks send her to the local Elder called Mooch who has a sharp sense of humor despite stinking “like rotting mammoth poop.” She tells him her troubles and he in turn tells her she needs to be a backwards seer in addition to a forward thinker. She leaves Elder Mooch more annoyed than satisfied but as she tosses and turns in bed that night, a vision on her cave’s walls sheds light on what the Elder was talking about. Her ancestor and namesake was brave and heroic and now it’s time for Wakawakaloch to follow in her footsteps. What her newfound wisdom leads to will be a spoiler if I spell it out, but suffice it to say it fits this entertaining story to a T! Kids will laugh along with Wakawakaloch, not at her, while also appreciating that while a simple name may be nice, sometimes something special can be found in one that’s a bit more complicated and uncommon, or maybe I should say both on the (cave) wall as well as off the wall?

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a review of another book illustrated by Mary Sullivan on this blog.

 

 

 

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

int spread1 IAmaThief

Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

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Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
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One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
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I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
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Int art IAmaThief

Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
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As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
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BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
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A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
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  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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Young Adult Novel Review – Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein

CURSED
by Karol Ruth Silverstein
(Charlesbridge Teen; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Cursed Book Cover

 

I loved Cursed, the debut YA novel by Karol Ruth Silverstein, even before I read it because the cover spoke to me, and was perfect. Now, having finished the book, I can confirm how well this cover works. Its dual-meaning title presented in a bold red printer’s-block-style lettering, the warning on the bottom, along with the emojis capture the entire essence of the story. I think you’ll agree once you’ve read Cursed, too.

When I attended the book launch and heard Karol read from the opening chapter I couldn’t wait to find a chunk of time to finally read the novel undisturbed. In so many ways this is Karol’s story, an #ownvoices novel not only in that Karol authored it, but she has also lived with the chronic illness she writes about honestly and creatively using spot on “sarcasm, and bouts of profanity” that you will sorely miss when the novel ends. To give you an idea of what to expect, Karol recently tweeted this:

“Hi, I’m Karol. My book, #Cursed from @CharlesbridgeYA is about 14 year-old Erica (aka Ricky), who’s newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and seriously pissed off about it. It’s funny, frank and full of f-bombs.”

With that in mind, join me in Rickyville where the journey of Erica (aka Ricky and annoyingly Ricky Raccoon to her dad) Bloom is presented in 62 brief chapters with teasing titles that will add to your reading pleasure. I know that may sound semi-snarky but it’s so Ricky-like and snarkiness is one of her secret weapons, well not so secret. Six months prior to the story’s beginning, Ricky was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an illness of the joints, although she doesn’t immediately share that information with readers. She simply describes the excruciating pain and major inconveniences she has to deal with on a daily basis and that’s a big part of what’s fueling her f-bombs.

The cursing is also what gets Ricky into trouble at school, when she eventually goes. Early on in the novel, written in first person-present tense, Ricky explains how she’s actually been cutting school while hiding it primarily from her father, Dr. Dad (a dentist-doctor), and mother and sister. There’s tons of stuff she can’t deal with at glorious Grant Middle School, one being that as a ninth grader she has to attend a middle school and not a high school. Another reason is that it’s a new school because she’s moved into her divorced dad’s Batch Pad⁠—Ricky gives everything neat nick names including The-Disaster-Formerly-Known-as-my-Parents—in a different part of Philadelphia from her family home. Add to that how difficult it is getting to school and then having to navigate the building when any part of her body can hurt at any given moment with the dagger-like or burning pain usually in her knees, feet and ankles. It doesn’t help matters that when she finally does return to Grant she feels humiliated by the things typical girls her age do “when their biggest worry is looking their best all day.”

There’s a strong cinematic sense conveyed in Cursed because Karol not only hails from Philly where the story is based, but she also has a screenwriting background. It’s easy to picture every place described in the novel. From the city itself and Dr. Bloom’s Batch Pad, the school with its grueling long corridors to the nurse’s office where she spends a lot of time and becomes friends with Oliver. From the waiting room outside the principal’s office, her speech teacher, Mr. Jenkins’ classroom, to the music room where her crush Julio practices, and the doctor’s office where she gets her intravenous medication. Add these strong visuals to the already compelling, engrossing and downright funny storytelling and at once you are totally in Ricky’s head as she tries to cope emotionally and physically with her disability as she approaches age 15.

Once Ricky’s Charade (skipping school) is discovered, she’s got to work her butt off to graduate with her class or risk being held back aka Operation Catch-Up-So-I-Can-Get-The-Hell-Out-of-This-Crap-Ass-School. Helping her accomplish this is the friendship she’s cautiously allowing to blossom with Oliver, a childhood cancer survivor who has such a can-do attitude that some of it has to rub off on Ricky, right? I felt hopeful when Ricky met Oliver. At her old school after having been diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis and telling her friends “… they all abandoned me. I can’t risk that again.” Oliver is not the abandoning type. But is Ricky?

Some of my favorite scenes in Cursed are the ones where Ricky’s vulnerabilities and strengths are exposed like when I learned how much she dislikes her current arthritis specialist, Dr. Blickstein (aka Dr. Blech-stein) because he never speaks to her and treats her like she’s invisible, choosing instead to relay info to her mom. When she finally decides to change doctors and finds one who’s caring and truly interested in her feelings, I wanted to cheer out loud. Another time, when she comes to the aid of a girl who’s part of a clique, I felt her compassion. She may try hiding that side of herself, but as a reader I knew she had a lot of it just by her observations about the people around her. And wait until her final project, the speech in Mr. Jenkins’ class. That’s all I’ll say or I may start sobbing.

Watching Ricky grow from being a teen who feels cursed, “Like you did something horrible in a past life,” and unable to be comfortable in her own skin to one who is more willing to come to terms with her illness and more open to letting people get close to her is what kept me turning the pages. I mean that’s in addition to the dynamite dialogue, witty asides and meaningful insights into living with arthritis. It was a privilege to get to know Ricky. The changes in her arrive slowly and are sometimes subtle, but they do happen making it all the more worthwhile to be on her team. Stick with Ricky and you’ll be rewarded with this read.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read an interview with Karol by author Lee Wind on The Official SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Blog.

Click here to read more on “How Stories about Disability Help Create Empathy” at We Need Diverse Books.

Read another YA novel review here.

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part One

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART ONE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.

 

flight school book cvrFLIGHT SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.

There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.

Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.

Bunny's Book Club Goes to School coverBUNNY’S BOOK CLUB GOES TO SCHOOL
Written by Annie Silvestro
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.

Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.

Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.

With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.

Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.

If I Built a School coverIF I BUILT A SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.

Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.

This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”

I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!

See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.

 

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Kids Book Review – The Broken Bees’ Nest by Lydia Lukidis

THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST
Written by Lydia Lukidis
Illustrated by André Ceolin
(Kane Press; $5.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

The Broken Bees’ Nest by Lydia Lukidis with illustrations by André Ceolin is part of the Makers Make It Work Series. “The goal of each Makers Make It Work book is to pique children’s interest through an engaging story about making, show how it translates to everyday life, and get kids excited about exploring new ideas and creating things with their own hands.” Lukidis has chosen bees and beekeeping as her topic and it’s really quite fascinating since I happen to know a local beekeeper but have no idea what’s involved. Additionally, bee colonies are under constant threat from pesticides and, in certain circumstances even Mother Nature, so we need to pay more attention to helping these invaluable pollinators thrive.

 

TBBNest Int2 page 4-5

Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

Arun and his little sister, Keya, were looking for the perfect place for a treehouse. When Arun spotted a huge oak he knew it was the one. However there was a catch. A colony of bees had already made that tree its home. Arun also noted that it looked like the beehive was broken. That couldn’t be a good thing. Fortunately for the kids, their neighbor, Dr. Chen, was a beekeeper who kept bees in homemade wooden beehives in her backyard. She also sold honey at the local farmers’ market. She’d know what to do.

Curious and eager to help, Dr. Chen accompanied the siblings to the tree where the broken bees’ nest was located. Keya wasn’t as keen as her brother and worried about getting stung. It helped that Dr. Chen was a pro and recommended wearing protective clothing which she provided for the children. Once she confirmed the comb was damaged, most likely by a honey-loving raccoon, she explained how they’d smoke out the bees. What a cool experience for Arun!

 

TBBNest Int5 page 15

Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

Once they safely secured the Queen Bee and the hive, they brought them to Dr. Chen’s. That’s when it was time to start the fun and very sticky honey prep work.

 

TBBNest Int3 page 22

Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

TBBN Int4 page 23

Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

At home following a busy day, Keya wondered if the bees would be happy in their new home especially now that she and Arun intended to use their old home, the massive oak, for their tree house. Arun had a plan that he felt certain would help his sister feel better. It didn’t hurt that Dr. Chen stopped by the next morning and assured everyone that the bees were adjusting well. She even dropped off a jar of honey the kids had helped package. Lukidis brings the story to a satisfying ending, one that includes the parents, a special picnic and a sweet surprise.

The artwork by Ceolin depicts diverse characters working together both as neighbors and STEM explorers and is a great fit with Lukidis’s easy-to-read and always interesting text. Throughout the 32 pages of The Broken Bees’ Nest, factoids about honeybees are incorporated into little boxes (as shown in several illustrations above) where the info can help enlighten young readers whether mentioning that honey was discovered inside the Egyptian pyramids or what a honeycomb is. Then, in the book’s back matter, there are some questions teachers or parents can ask to engage children once they’ve finished the story. Also included is an educational activityplanting a bee-friendly garden of blue, purple and yellow flowers that are sure to attract some honeybees.

The Broken Bees’ Nest is a leveled reader for the educational market targeting K-3. Kane Press, a division of Lerner Publishing, distributes their books to libraries, and schools. But Lukidis’s book is also available on Amazon for individuals to purchase. Lukidis says “It’s an especially fun read for parents so they can introduce STEM topics to their children starting at a young age.” And I agree! Got a budding beekeeper at home or a child keen on nature and helping our environment? Then order your copy of the book here so you and the entire family can begin learning about the importance of bees in our world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Graphic Novel Review: Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop Blog Tour

✹BLOG TOUR✹

DEAR JUSTICE LEAGUE

Written by Michael Northrop

Illustrated by Gustavo Duarte

(DC Zoom/DC Entertainment; $9.99, Ages 6-10)

 

Dear Justice League cover

 

Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to be part of the Dear Justice League blog tour celebrating this week’s launch of a rollicking good read and recommended middle grade graphic novel from DC Zoom.

The premise is a simple yet oh so satisfying one. Fictitious kids from all over America pen Dear Abby-type letters to their fave superheroes and then lo and behold, they get replies. Not what you were expecting, right?

Middle grade readers, reluctant and struggling readers as well as fans of graphic novels will enjoy every single page of Northrop’s and Duarte’s fast and uproarious read. It’s playful and action-packed, and who doesn’t love a story where there’s never a dull moment? Northrup delivers dynamic dialogue that pairs perfectly with Duarte’s art.  His hilarious illustrations, full of every facial expression possible, jump off the page and pull you in. They deserve to be looked at multiple times.

I got into the novel quickly, intrigued by the first question posed to none other than my childhood hero, Superman. Wondering if the Man of Steel had ever messed up, the letter writer is shown having botched up his attempt at an invention. And while you’d think heroes are especially busy saving the day in multiple ways with no time for correspondence, Clark Kent’s alter ego surprises young Ben Silsby with an answer. Texting, flying and superhero-ing however do not safely go together leading to a hilarious string of close calls demonstrating that it’s not just Kryptonite that can bring him down.

Wonder Woman 7 int art from Dear Justice League

Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

I especially loved having the chance to meet seven other members of the Justice League, each presented in their own chapter addressing a particular issue raised via email, text or snail mail. Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Batman all make appearances and make you want to spend more time with them. The Dear Justice League questions range from silly (does Hawkgirl eat small mammals, does Aquaman smell like fish) to those that will resonate with the targeted age group about bullying, moving to a new school, being perfect, fitting in, friendship and teamwork.

Dear Batman 10

Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

Another aspect of the book that worked well was the thread running through the entire story about an invasion of evil, insect-like Shock Troopers from the planet Molt-On. Here’s where I was first introduced to Hawkgirl and was impressed by her sense of humor though a bit wary of how much soda she seemed to consume. But most of all, I enjoyed seeing the superheros hang out at HQ, chatting together while revealing snippets of their characters. When they ultimately fought off the Shock Troops through a well coordinated team effort, I felt happy and eager to read more about each of them individually and as a league. Next up for me is definitely Superman of Smallville, available 9/3/19.

Dear Aquaman 20

Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to share this graphic novel showing sometimes serious, yet often tongue-in-cheek adventures that demonstrate how even superheroes have the same vulnerabilities kids have. They may fight foes but are far from perfect. So head to your local independent bookseller to buy a copy of Dear Justice League for your kids because these graphic novels are bound to win new DC superhero fans and delight old ones.

Click here to read a preview.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

CHECK OUT MORE BLOG TOUR POSTS HERE:

THE BOOK RAT
BOOKISH REALMS REVIEWS
THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS
THE CHILDREN’S WAR
WORD SPELUNKING
THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS

 

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