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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah!
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”

And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale had me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.

When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.

All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“

I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.

Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

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Five Children’s Books for Armchair Traveling

TRAVEL & MAP BOOKS FOR KIDS

– A ROUNDUP-

I love everything about travel, the new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. And getting there is also a big part of the excitement. But right now, staying home during the pandemic means we have to find other ways to get that thrill. There are travel programs and international webcams to watch, online museums to visit, and best of all, there are books to read. Take advantage of the variety of books that kids of all ages can enjoy for unique vicarious experiences. I hope you’ll share these books so that, while at home, your children can adventure both near and far simply by turning a page.

 

 

TinyTravelers INDIA cvrTINY TRAVELERS TREASURE QUEST: INDIA
Written by Steven Wolfe Pereira + Susie Jaramillo
Illustrated by Meiyee Tan + Abigail Gross

(Encantos; $12.99, Ages 3-6)

Help your kids become global citizens by introducing them to a vast array of fascinating destinations in this fabulous board book series. The 28-pages in Tiny Travelers Treasure Quest: India provide an engaging illustrated journey into the heart of India. My first trip to India was over 30 years ago and yet that trip has remained with me all these years because of the scenic beauty, the delicious food, the warm, welcoming people, and the majesty of the monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love how the book is filled with facts about the “language, history, food, nature, music, and more,” in every colorful spread. There’s a seek-and-find element woven into the text that parents can choose to play with their children during the first reading, or return to the next time. Top that off with the rhyming prose, “Bollywood movies / are one of a kind. / They have dancing, singing / and costumes combined!” and kids will be hooked. Find more info and books in the series including China, Mexico, Puerto Rico at TinyTravelers.com.

MyFirstBookofLondon coverMY FIRST BOOK OF LONDON
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Walker Books U.S.; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Covering 15 topics, My First Book of London, a large-format picture book, is just one title in this fun series that combines vibrant graphic illustrations, brief narrative and simple words to give an overview of the most well-known attractions and things to do in this beloved city. I actually laughed out loud when on the first spread I saw that for Buckingham Palace not only was Queen Elizabeth II included, but also a Corgi! I wasn’t quite sure why a fire engine was featured, (must look that up) but I’m glad that the “flag-waving crowd” and “Changing of the Guard” were depicted. Arrhenius has zeroed in on London’s museums, too, one of my favorite things about this city. There is a museum for everyone’s interests, from the famed British Museum with its mummy collection to the V&A Museum (Victoria & Albert), my personal fave. Use the book as a dictionary, as a seek-and-find book, or simply as a wonderful way to get familiar with what makes this English city so popular.

LuluandRockyinIndianapolis cvrLULU AND ROCKY IN INDIANAPOLIS
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

The fourth book in this beautifully illustrated U.S. travel series is Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis, informational fiction that is part story, part travelogue, and 100% interesting! The books all feature fox cousins, main characters Lulu and Rocky, and their penguin pal Pufferson. There is a welcome consistency in how each story begins the same way making it easy to read the books out of order. First readers get a sneak peek at Aunt Fancy composing a letter, then comes a map of the featured city (in this Indiana’s state capital), followed by Lulu receiving the purple envelope in which Aunt Fancy invites her to bring Pufferson to meet up with Rocky at the destination. Once together the trio embarks on an adventure in a different city that will make you want to pack your bags and hit the road to join them. Kids’ll discover that there is so much more to the “Hoosier’s paradise” than the famed motor race. In the backmatter’s two-paged “More to Know” section, each attraction visited is described in more detail so you can plan a future trip to Indy. Make sure to include the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world!

50MapsoftheWorld cover50 MAPS OF THE WORLD
Written & researched by Kalya Ryan and Ben Handicott
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30, Ages 7-10)

Another picture book for armchair travelers is the detailed 50 Maps of the World, recommended for tweens. Not your mother’s atlas, this large-format book is an easy way for kids to connect with our world through travel, culture, historical and current famous personalities, geography and animals without leaving home. There is a helpful intro so kids know what to expect before diving in. What I love about this book is not just how good it feels to hold in your lap, but I also appreciate how much info has been packed into every page so there are multiple ways to approach it. Take South Africa for example. Sometimes you may pick up the book to learn the key facts about its largest cities, population, official languages, etc. Other times you may want to find out about its natural attractions such as Hole in the Wall, Tugela Falls, or Kruger National Park. You can even study a timeline or discover who once called this country home such as Elon Musk, cricketer De Villiers, Nelson Mandela, inventor Thato Kgatlhanye, or actress Charlize Theron.

Cities in Layers coverCITIES IN LAYERS: Six Famous Cities Through Time
Written by Philip Steele
Illustrated by Andrés Lozano
(Big Picture Press; $22.00, Ages 8-12)

What makes Cities in Layers so cool and accessible is how it takes kids back in time to two previous eras in history per city in addition to the present time via fact-filled pages, bright visual maps, as well as info about people who lived there. There’s even a cleverly designed “die-cut  element,” that “allows readers to really peel back layers of time.” This visually appealing large-format, 64-page picture book will delight tweens as they see the changes in the six famous cities unfold right before their eyes. Starting with an intro and a timeline, the book then covers Rome, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Beijing, China; London, U.K.; and New York City, U.S.A. Cities in Layers would be the perfect companion to stories from those time periods. When looking at London from 1863, kids could learn about authors from the Victorian era, or they could read about the Great Depression when checking out the map of NYC from 1931. What’s interesting is that Steele has chosen different centuries to focus on for each city so while the pages for Paris zero in on 1380, 1793, and today, the section on Istanbul covers 550 ce, 1616 as well as the present day.  A two-page spread at the end ponders what future cities will look like while addressing population growth, the scarcity of resources, and technology. This fascinating read combines history, maps, architecture, and progress with its unique perspective that will no doubt spark interesting discussions.

Also, check out these other books:

OUR WORLD: A First Book of Geography
Written by Sue Lowell Gallion
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
(Phaidon; $18.95, Ages 2-5)

A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe.

 

 

Maps DeluxeEdition coverMAPS: Deluxe Edition
Written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska & Daniel Mizielinski
(Big Picture Press; $50, Ages 10 and up)

Discover the world in this updated edition of the beloved bestseller,
featuring twenty-four all-new maps. A great large-format book for budding cartophiles and travel enthusiasts.

 

 

 

 

BIGFOOT VISITS THE BIG CITIES OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by D. L. Miller
(Little Fox; $14.99, All Ages)

A seek-and-find challenge for the whole family!

 

 

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Picture Book Review – The Artist Who Loved Cats

THE ARTIST WHO LOVED CATS:
The Inspiring Tale of Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen

Written by Susan S. Bernardo

Illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher

(Inner Flower Child Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

TheArtistWhoLovedCats cvr

 

I’ve had this book on my TBR shelf for way too long and should have reviewed it sooner, but I’m so happy to finally be able to share it with you now.  The Artist Who Loved Cats grabbed my attention when it arrived via mail because its cover was gorgeous and full of cats. In fact, I recognized one cat in particular, le Chat Noir.

If you’ve ever traveled to France or are a francophile like me, you too may recognize artist Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s famed black feline.  It’s impossible to miss reproductions of Le Chat Noir images sold at almost every bookseller’s stand either in postcard, purse, keychain, or print form when strolling along the banks of the Seine in Paris. His advertising posters from the late 1800s and early 1900s featuring bicycles, cocoa, and chocolat are also well-known.

Author Susan Bernardo was inspired to write this picture book “during a trip to Paris in 2014” when she stayed in Montmartre “and found a lovely little bronze cat sculpture in an antiques store,” near her AirBnB. As a student in Paris, I lived close to Montmartre and yet never considered the backstory of the prolific artist whose beautiful art decorated our dorm room walls and still remains so popular. I’m delighted Bernardo has created a book to introduce Steinlen’s story to children. 

 

TheArtistWhoLovedCats int1
Interior spread from The Artist Who Loved Cats written by Susan S. Bernardo and illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher, Inner Flower Child Books ©2019.

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Steinlen seemed destined to draw cats. As a child growing up in Switzerland he sketched them in “every which way.” But, following advice from his father, he began a career in textiles and fabric design. Eventually, the artist felt eager “to embrace the creative life.” Paris in the 1880s was a vibrant hub for artists, musicians, writers, and dancers. That’s why Steinlen moved there in 1881. Through a fellow Swiss ex-pat pal and Le Chat Noir cabaret owner, the artist was hired to do illustrations for the Montmartre cabaret’s newsletter. His cats became the talk of the town and things took off from there. While the story is charmingly narrated in rhyme by the antique shop cat, and can at times be uneven, the reason to read this book with children is to spark curiosity not only about the artist Steinlen, but about other countries, and the arts too. Bernardo’s biography conveys the essence of what made Steinlen tick. He clearly was able to capture in his art just what the public wanted.

Steinlen’s artwork celebrated the ordinary everyday things in life which he encountered and though we may know him for his posters, he also made sculptures, storybooks, and songbook covers. And kids who love kitties will not be disappointed with how frequently Steinlen’s feline friends appeared in his art. His love of cats is evident throughout this book.

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TheArtistWhoLovedCats_int2
Interior spread from The Artist Who Loved Cats written by Susan S. Bernardo and illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher, Inner Flower Child Books ©2019.

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Fletcher’s fabulous illustrations fill every page with the kind of exuberance that probably emanated from Steinlen’s presence. Her Parisian scenes will take you back in time as will her cabaret and studio spreads. Each illustration provides a chance for children to count cats and check out their antics.

Bernardo’s used the cat bronze sculpture as a clever jumping-off point to discuss the artist’s life but she also takes the opportunity to point out how old items like those found in an antique shop can unlock myriad mysteries and feed children’s imagination. She’s even included a fun search and find activity at the end of the book. In addition to locating antiques, children are told to look out for certain famous people of Steinlen’s era including artist Toulouse-Lautrec and musician Maurice Ravel. Readers will learn from the detailed backmatter that “Steinlen used his art to protest social injustice and war and to celebrate the lives of working people.” His work influenced many other artists but ultimately his passion was for his art to make the world a better place.

Author Susan S. Bernardo

Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – No Voice Too Small

NO VOICE TOO SMALL:
Fourteen Young Americans Making History

Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson
and Jeanette Bradley

Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

(Charlesbridge; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

No Voice Too Small cvr

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

There’s no better time than right now to make our voices heard. But this isn’t about our voices. It’s about our children’s voices. And, in particular, it’s about the diverse voices in No Voice Too Small that stand out from the daily din of our world. The fourteen children selected for this rich collection of poetry and prose may not have been known to you prior to reading this book, but you’ll remember them afterward.

Though not your kids, these powerfully productive activists will make you feel proud that they never let their age or inexperience hold them back. They saw something they needed to address and ran with it by organizing marches and walks, fundraising, protesting, DJing, and even starring in a TEDxTeen talk.
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NVTS int Ziad Ahmed
Interior spread of Ziad Ahmed from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

 

The editors have invited 14 #ownvoices authors and poets to compose poems inspired by the “young Americans who opened hearts, challenged minds, and changed our world.” They include S. Bear Bergman, Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Grimes, Hena Khan, Andrea J. Loney, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Fiona Morris, G. Neri, Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorrell, Charles Waters, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Janet Wong. The three editors have also contributed.

The poetry provides a compelling and creative way into each highlighted individual’s unique situation. And, as a poetry lover, I appreciated the variety of poetic forms that offers readers an opportunity to experience: Ballad, Cinquain, Concrete poem, Elegy, Free Verse, Onomatopoeic poem, Reverso, Spoken word poem, Tanka and Triolet. Perhaps the subjects covered (racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, Type 1 diabetes, gun violence, and more) will prompt kids to write their own poems on a topic that resonates with them.

The children’s names that follow are ones to watch out for since I’m certain they will continue to make headlines as they fight for their beliefs for years to come. They are: Levi Draheim, Cierra Fields, Judy Adams, DJ Annie Red, Marley Dias, Ziad Ahmed, Jazz Jennings, Jasilyn Charger, Noah Barnes, Zach Wahls, Mari Copeny, Viridiana Sanchez Santos, Adora Svitak, and Nza-Ari Khepra. I was glued to the pages learning about them all, and intend to reread the poems multiple times. Joseph Bruchac’s free verse poem Water Protector inspired by Jasilyn Charger especially moved me. Her protests and runs aim to bring awareness and protections for water preservation for “the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as millions of people downstream.” It opens with this unforgettable line, “We need the river more than it needs us.”

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NVTS int Jasilyn Charger
Interior spread of Jasilyn Charger from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

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The prose accompanying each poetic spread contains the specific background about the cause these fourteen kids and teens have pursued, along with tips on how kids can get involved and amplify these causes with their own voices.

I reached out to editor and illustrator, Jeanette Bradley, because I was so impressed with her illustrations, the book’s layout, and the kraft paper-like pages and wanted to know more. “The art is created digitally using Procreate for the iPad. It is drawn as if it were charcoal and pastels on kraft paper, but both the paper and the pastels are digital tools. The art was inspired by the book design done by Art Director Diane Earley. Because the book contains multiple layers of text, and poems have unique shapes, the book design had to be done before the illustrations. I then had to draw to fit the art into the remaining space on the spread. When I got the page proofs, Diane’s choice of font made me think of a sign hand-lettered on cardboard, which inspired me to use kraft paper as a midtone background and draw into it with both light and dark ‘pastels.'”

The backmatter includes details on each poet’s connection to the subject they wrote about, a description of the poetry forms, and an additional free verse poem by the editors. The separate endpapers include quotes from all of the children featured in No Voice Too Small.

This timely anthology of youth activism is the go-to book for students and families who are not only looking for a rewarding read, but are especially eager to find inspiration and motivation. I hope that the excellent examples of kids making themselves heard and making a difference will spark something positive in your youngster because they are our future, and their voices do matter.

    •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: The editors of No Voice Too Small are donating one percent of hardcover sales to Teaching For Change, (teachingforchange.org), “a nonprofit that helps youth learn to participate actively in a diverse democracy.”

 

Find out more about Jeanette Bradley here.

Find out more about Keila V. Dawson here.

Find out more about Lindsay H. Metcalf here.

 

Click here to order a copy of No Voice Too Small or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/5/20

 

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Kids Chapter Book Review – The Case of The Bad Apples

THE CASE OF THE BAD APPLES:
A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Deborah Zemke

(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 5-11)

 

badapples cover

 

Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”

Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.

 

BadApples int10
Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?

As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as  Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.

 

BadApples int16
Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Zemke’s illustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.

Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts.
I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).  

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for an educator’s guide.

Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049 

 

 

Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/14/20

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Grandparents Day Picture Book Review – Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day

NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY

Written by Ann Stott

Illustrated by Andrew Joyner

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

NanaSaysIWillBeFamousOneDay cvr

 

 

My homebody nana sewed, cooked, and baked, unlike the senior center tennis champion nana in Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day written by Ann Stott and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. She is incredibly involved in many aspects of her grandchild’s life so the obvious contrast between the two grandmas intrigued me. I was eager to learn about a real hands-on grandma. I know my nana loved me like this nana loves her grandson but the similarities end there. By the way, this nana is also a poodle-like character and her grandson is a precious pup.

From the first two spreads, readers realize that Nana and her grandson, the story’s narrator, are the two members of a mutual admiration society. “Nana was my very first word.” He then says, “My whole life, Nana has been my biggest fan. She comes to all my games and school events. I can usually find her in the front row.”

 

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NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY. Text copyright © 2020 by Ann Stott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Andrew Joyner. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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This set up works well with the puppy’s description of the various things that Nana does to always be there for him. That’s sweet of course. However, Nana has what I’d call a quasi pushy way to get front and center for the pup, and the examples of that behavior build beautifully throughout the book’s 32 pages. Whether she’s practically shoving her grandpup’s teammates off the bench at the pool or parking herself near the football field’s fifty-yard line to offer playing tips, her presence is ubiquitous.

At the pup’s basketball game, Nana suffers a setback “trying to get a front-row seat.” It’s actually good that Stott has shown a consequence for Nana’s in-your-face fawning. She is advised to stay off her injured foot. Never one to sit still, Nana is now forced to curb her active enthusiasm. Can she handle temporarily relinquishing her role as fan #1? Readers will be delighted to see there’s a very good chance that being on the receiving end of all the attention will make both Nana and her grandpup very happy.
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NANA SAYS I WILL BE FAMOUS ONE DAY. Text copyright © 2020 by Ann Stott. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Andrew Joyner. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Stott’s taken a grandma’s adoration to an extreme and it’s fun, especially if parents or caregivers reading the story to a child know someone with similar qualities. Joyner’s canine characters are not just charming but full of expression and humor. Be sure to check out the art more closely for book title names in several of the illustrations. This is a terrific read for National Grandparents Day or any time spent with a fan. Rah-rah!

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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    Click here to order a copy of Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for Children Week 9/7

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    DID YOU KNOW?
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  • Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we also have a whole day dedicated to our grandparents. On the first Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate National Grandparents Day. This year the date falls on September 13.
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    In 1977, Senator Randolph, with the help of other senators, introduced a joint resolution to the senate requesting the president to “issue annually a proclamation designating the first Sunday of September after Labor Day of each year as ‘National GrandparentsDay’.”
    e
    Congress passed the legislation, proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent’s Day. On August 3, 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, and the day was finally celebrated the following year.
    e
    The holiday experts at National Today share five facts about the holiday:
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    1. It Has Its Own Song
    The official song for National Grandparents Day is “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa” by Johnny Prill.
    2. It Has Its Own Flower
    The official flower is the “forget-me-not” flower.
    3. It’s Not Actually a Public Holiday
    Even though it was signed in as a national holiday it is celebrated more as an observance than a public holiday.
    4. On Average 4 Million Cards Were Sent
    People are honoring their grandparents with cards, it’s the least we can do.
    5. Highest Day for Visits in Nursing Homes
    There are many days you’d want to spend with your grandparents but National Grandparents Day was on average the highest day for nursing home visits. Although you may not be able to see them in person this year, make sure to give them a call!
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Picture Book Blog Tour – Short & Sweet by Josh Funk

 

SHORT & SWEET:

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast #4

Written by Josh Funk

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

 

GOODREADSWITHRONNA
is delighted to be a part of the
“Long & Savory”
monthlong virtual blog tour!

Scroll down for other bloggers to check out.

 

Short and Sweet book cover

 

★Starred Review – School Library Journal

REVIEW:

Come join me on Crust Boulevard for a visit inside the fridge where Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast live. If you haven’t read the previous three books in this hilarious series, that definitely won’t detract from your enjoyment of the popular food friends’ fun and frolic.

In Short & Sweet, the latest installment from author Josh Funk and illustrator Brendan Kearney, time may be running out for Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. The meal-worthy mates have discovered they’re going stale! Fortunately, their new friend, Baron von Waffle, suggests they “check out Professor Biscotti’s brochure,” for what could be a cure.

 

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Interior spread from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast decide the professor’s despoiling machine is what’s needed to save them so, accompanied by the Baron, they head to the laboratory.

 

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Interior art from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

In just minutes the decaying duo gets zapped back to health. However, one slight glitch in Professor Biscotti’s device has caused the food friends to shrink down to kid-size. They also do not seem to recognize their pal Baron von Waffle and dash off in fear. 

 

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Interior art from Short & Sweet written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

The chaos that’s occurred has caused the Baron’s feelings to be hurt. He’s worried Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are so scared of him that he’ll lose their friendship. While the professor works on fixing her despoiling machine, Baron von Waffle works on a way to lure his pals back to the lab. 

Meanwhile, the frightened food first finds safety at a nearby pasta playground and then a local library. I love how Funk, a huge fan of libraries, has successfully fit one into his story. In a way, it’s a love of reading that leads Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast back to Baron Waffle. He believes he’s come up with a clever way to entice the two breakfast food buddies back to the lab and hopefully, with Professor B’s help, maximize them back to friend-size! Will the teeny twosome be restored to grown-ups? Well, I certainly won’t be a spoiler!

The premise of this picture book is such fun and adds a new dimension to the zany, adventure-packed Lady P and Sir FT collection. Once again, the talented team of Funk and Kearney have brought us a read-aloud that starts its rollicking from the very first spread. Filled with wordplay that easily rolls off the tongue, Short & Sweet can also boast engaging, well-metered rhyme in a fast-paced story that kids will want to hear over and over. Kearney’s high-spirited art is bursting with visual treats. You’ll find cucumber footrests at Professor Biscotti’s lab, punny book titles in the library, and perhaps my fave, Juice Springsteen sporting his trademark headband above his brow while rockin’ out atop a pot pie in the final spread. There’s lots to love in book #4 so get a copy, get comfy, and get ready to be entertained. Just remember not to read on an empty stomach!

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Scroll down for more info about
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: SHORT & SWEET

BIO:

Josh Funk is the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the ​It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Click here to order a copy of Short & Sweet. If you’d like other books in the series, click here.

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above. Thanks!

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Middle Grade Nonfiction – Who Got Game?

 

WHO GOT GAME?:
Baseball – Amazing But True Stories

Written by Derrick Barnes

Illustrated by John John Bajet

(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8 and up)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Of all the sports games I’ve ever attended, baseball ranks number one. In fact, before the pandemic, my family had plans to see the Quakes, our favorite minor league team, this summer. A few years ago we even visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which I loved. Despite MLB’s shortened season, baseball remains America’s pastime and I’ve got the ideal book to read as a companion to catching the sport on TV: Who Got Game?: Baseball – Amazing But True Stories! written by Newbery Honor Winner Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet.

Dig into a box of Cracker Jack or open a bag of peanuts to munch on as you read the book in either one sitting, or slowly (with many seventh inning stretches) to savor all the “unrecognized and unheralded figures and the untold stories that hold important spaces in baseball history.” If you’re a die-hard fan, you will easily devour every page. If you’re simply looking for some inspirational stories to feed your soul, you too will get your fill.

Who Got Game? is divided into four chapters with headings that immediately clue you in to the subject matter: “Pivotal Players,” “Sensational Stories,” “Radical Records,” and “Colossal Comebacks.” Read them in order or jump around depending on what strikes your fancy. After that, Barnes recommends you take note of what you learn, remember the people who stood out and their stories, “then tell everyone you meet!”

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Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

Find out about Andrew “Rube” Foster, the father of the Negro Leagues in Chapter #1. All-Black baseball teams emerged in the 1860s, but they were unofficial and remained that for several decades. Foster noted that when the White players came to Texas and he would practice with them, they were organized and professional. He wanted the same thing for the Negro Leagues and so, in 1920, Foster, along with “seven owners of other all-Black teams, created the Negro National League (NNL).” In fact, in 1947 Jackie Robinson was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, first part of the NNL, and then the NAL (Negro American League) before leaving to join the Major Leagues as the first Black player.

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Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

In Chapter #2 (all the chapter numbers are cleverly located in a baseball graphic), you’ll be blown away by the story of 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell began learning baseball from the moment she could walk. Her dad taught her and then her neighbor, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, (an eventual Hall of Fame pitcher), took over. Not bad for a local coach! Her talent earned her a place on an all-girl team in Tennessee where she was spotted by a “big-time publicity guy” named Joe Engel. Engel “invited her to join his all-male team in a game that was the stuff of legend.” Imagine sitting in the stadium and seeing Babe Ruth come up to bat and, opposite him, at the pitcher’s mound, stands a teen-aged girl. Four pitches later he was out! She followed that by striking out another pro, Lou Gehrig, in just three pitches! No small feat when you’re up against two of baseball’s greats. Was this arranged? All three of the players involved never admitted to it, so we’ll never know. Regardless, it had to be a sight to see.

Bajet’s cartoon-style art has a nostalgic feel about it and helps ground every story shared. I especially liked the illustration of “Royals Legend George Brett and The Pine Tar Incident” and as a former New Yorker and Mets fan, I also loved the pictures of Roberto Clemente. Seven pages of useful back matter such as additional tips and resources, websites to explore and a glossary, complete the book.

There are lots more stories of unsung heroes, winners, losers, and all kinds of records broken and career comebacks to read about in this fabulous compendium that will make you appreciate the beloved game of baseball. Pick up a copy of Who Got Game? today while the season’s still on to enjoy each game, even more, knowing about all the amazing but true stories. “Holy cow!”

Click here for an Educator’s Guide.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another book by Derrick Barnes here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Best Day Ever

BEST DAY EVER

Written by Michael J. Armstrong

Illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans

(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

 

Best Day Ever book cover

 

In Best Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrong with art by Églantine Ceulemans, William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.

 

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Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?

 

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Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!

Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.

 

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Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

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Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

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Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Stray by Molly Ruttan

THE STRAY

Written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, in The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.

In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on. In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.

 

 

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Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.

 

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Interior art from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others. Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.

 

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Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.

NOTEWORTHY FACT: Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space. 

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about The Stray in my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Molly here.

Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Stray here.

 

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Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

THE BOY WHO THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX:
The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Written by Marcie Wessels

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5 and up)

 

TBWTOTB cover

 

I like the play on words in the title, The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, which you’ll understand after you read the review of this interesting and recommended nonfiction picture book.

The book’s main character, Ralph Baer, was born in Cologne Germany and enjoyed doing things other kids his age did, like riding his scooter or playing stick hockey. Wessels doesn’t mention specific dates, but adults and older readers will know the action was unfolding in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power, which is mentioned. Around that time, readers are told, Hitler began making life difficult for the country’s Jewish people. And, since Ralph was Jewish, “Even former friends became enemies.” He was bullied, and attacks by the Nazis were not uncommon.

 

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Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

“With no one to play with, Ralph spent more time indoors, tinkering with his construction set.” Not only was Ralph able to complete all the models in the manual, he also came up with many clever ideas of his own.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page-003
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Restrictions on Jews didn’t stop Ralph from learning even despite being kicked out of school at age 14 for being Jewish. In 1938 Ralph and his family fled Germany. Once in America, his inventiveness proved invaluable. When he saw a way to speed up handiwork that he, his sister and his mother were doing to help make ends meet, Ralph created a prototype machine. Soon they doubled the amount of projects being completed, increasing their earnings. Always industrious, Ralph took a radio repair course which led to “… fixing radios for the entire neighborhood.”

In the army, since necessity is the mother of invention, Ralph constructed a radio for his barracks from whatever bits and pieces he could find. Then, after WWII he learned how to build a TV set (the box in the title I referred to earlier). The advent of television heralded in a new era in family entertainment and Ralph saw immense “possibilities.” I was impressed with how Ralph’s career anticipated or paralleled the rise of home technology.

While Ralph saw the TV as a vehicle for playing games, his ideas were initially disregarded. He eventually held jobs building equipment for the U.S. military and for NASA. In fact “he embedded a radio transmitter in the handle of the video camera that astronaut Neil Armstrong took to the moon.” As time passed Ralph still envisioned the potential of TV and imagined “using an external box to control the TV to play games.” With the blessings and funding from one of his bosses, Ralph secretly created a home gaming system and “… the Brown Box, was born!” After numerous rejections, Magnavox took on Ralph’s invention and in 1972, the first iteration of the Odyssey went on sale. As we all know, the video game industry would grow in leaps and bounds over the decades and Baer can be credited with being one of its pioneers.

Wessels has made the story of Ralph Baer’s innovations an accessible and fascinating one. She’s managed to take a lifetime of Baer’s ingenuity and whittle it down to just 48 pages. While the book may read quickly, it definitely invites revisiting to let the scope of Baer’s achievements sink in. When children read the book or have it read to them, they’ll learn about more of Baer’s inventions and can find further sources for information in the back matter. Castro’s comic-like art wonderfully complements Wessel’s words. There is just enough realism to the illustrations when detailing the technology. She also conveys the right mood with the red palate during the dark days of Hitler. I’d love to see her do a graphic novel and could easily see Wessel’s story succeed in that format, too. The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box is a motivating STEM bio that will definitely resonate with unconventional thinkers and could very well inspire kids to pursue exciting new paths in learning.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Federico and the Wolf

FEDERICO AND THE WOLF

Written by Rebecca J. Gomez

Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolf is for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.

The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.

 

FedericoandtheWolf int1
Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.

 

FedericoandtheWolf int2
Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.

Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.

Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.

Find out more about Rebecca here.

Find out more about Elisa here.

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Five New Children’s Books for Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2020
RECOMMENDED READS FOR KIDS
-A ROUNDUP-

 

Clip Art Independence Day

 

The selection of books here, while not necessarily being about July 4th or the Revolutionary War, all have to do with our country, and what it means to have gained our independence and become a democracy. I hope the books inspire children to read more on the topics covered, and to think about how they can make a difference, no matter how small, in their own communities.

 

Free for You and Me cvrFREE FOR YOU AND ME:
What Our First Amendment Means
Written by Christy Mihaly
Illustrated by Manu Montoya
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

When at last America declared itself free from British rule, the Constitution was written “with rules for every institution.” However, something more was needed to guarantee five “of the most fundamental American freedoms,” and so the First Amendment, along with nine others (and making up the Bill of Rights) was drafted.

Using verse, occasional speech bubbles, and bright, diverse, kid-centric illustrations, Free for You and Me explains in easily understandable language just what these powerful 45 words represent. Kids will enjoy seeing other kids on the pages debating the meaning of the expression, “It’s a free country” making this picture book ideal for classroom discussion or for any budding historians and legal scholars.

Mihaly explains how our First Amendment means “we the people of the United States have five important freedoms,” many of which we see at work on a daily basis. Americans are guaranteed “freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather in a peaceful rally or protest, and the freedom to tell our leaders what we want them to do.” If your child has recently marched with you in a protest, that’s due to our First Amendment rights.

In this book, kids learn the importance of the First Amendment through the example of a mayor who wants to shut down their playground. They organize a rally and get signatures on a petition in an effort to save it. Other good examples are presented as in the case of Freedom of Speech. Readers find out about Congressman Matthew Lyon who was arrested and spent four months in jail in 1798 for criticizing President John Adams. This would never have happened were it not for a law Adams and his Federalist government passed called the Sedition Act. Once Jefferson was elected, the Sedition Act expired. I had never heard about this before, but my 19-year-old son had so a lively conversation ensued.

The timeliness of this educational picture book will not be lost on those who support a free press, the right to free speech and to assemble peacefully, as well as the freedom of religion and freedom to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Mihaly, a former lawyer, understands the principles upon which our democracy was established. With her knowledge of the First Amendment, she succeeds in conveying the freedoms it entails in an engaging and accessible way for young readers. We can never take these hard-fought for liberties for granted. Four pages of back matter go into more detail.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE!
Written by Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

The students of Stanton Elementary School aren’t old enough to vote when their school closes every two years on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. That’s when it turns into a polling station. They are, however, are old enough to spread the word in Vote for Our Future!

The diverse cast of characters, energetically represented in bold and vivid illustrations, introduce a topic that is timely for all ages. McNamara’s sweet and intuitive children first ask “what’s a polling station?” The children’s eyes widen as they learn that “the reason people vote is to choose who makes the laws of the country.” LaToya with her big pink glasses raises her hand and says, “we should all vote to make the future better.” But Lizzy reminds her that they just aren’t old enough.

So what are they old enough to do? Player illustrates boys and girls from all backgrounds looking through books and “searching online to find all kinds of information. They even took a trip to their local election office and picked up forms.” The research shows that “kids have to live with adult choices. The kids of Stanton Elementary School were ready to spread the word.”

McNamara takes the reader through the small town where Cady and her mom make flyers. They pass them out to a busy dad, who didn’t even know there was an election, to Nadiya and her auntie, wearing hijabs on their heads, who go door to door telling neighbors that “voting is a right.” Player’s vibrant and colorful art of people from various ethnic groups shows the reader that all people have the right to vote.

With each excuse from adults that the children are given, an even better comeback is heard in return. “I don’t like standing in lines,” one lady tells Nadiya. Nadiya’s auntie doesn’t like standing in lines either, but Nadiya says if you can stand in line for coffee you can stand in line to vote. I love how fearless the kids are when the adults come up with excuses for why they aren’t voting and how the kids don’t take no for an answer.

Player shows “people voting for the first time, and the fiftieth time, with their sons and daughters, their nieces and nephews, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and friends.” When voting was complete and the ballots were counted, Stanton Elementary went back to being a school and “the future began to change.”

McNamara writes in the back matter titled Get Out The Vote! that when adults vote for people and causes they believe in, they speak for us and make laws that are good for everyone in the country. She lists various Acts that have been signed to prompt further discussions between adults and kids. Player’s drawings of stickers such as Yes, I Voted help to get the message across that voting does matter and that every vote really can make a difference. Have the primaries happened in your state? If not, get out and vote! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

For Spacious Skies coverFOR SPACIOUS SKIES:
Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration
for “America the Beautiful”
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Olga Baumert
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I loved getting to know the origin story for the beloved song so many people think is our national anthem, but isn’t. I also learned that not only was the poem that was later turned into a song, written by a woman, but a very independent one at that.

Katharine Lee Bates was raised by her widowed mother who “grew and sold vegetables to help Katharine go to school.” Katharine’s smarts led to higher education and her passion for the written word led to her career as an author and professor at a time when young women were encouraged to pursue marriage and homemaking. She was also a reformer. In addition to teaching, Katharine worked hard to improve the lives of those most vulnerable in society, while also using her talents to help the suffrage movement.

A summer teaching job took her across the country by train from Boston to Colorado where she first glimpsed America’s boundless beauty. On July 4, 1893 Katharine’s mind was flooded with “memories of the ocean” as she set eyes on amber stalks of wheat swaying in the Kansas fields. A trip up to Pike’s Peak and its majestic views clearly inspired her to compose the poem we know and love. It was first published on July 4, 1895 and, with each additional publication, underwent several revisions. In 1910 it was paired with the famous melody by composer Samuel A. Ward we still sing today. This terrific and inspiring biography with its glorious Grandma Moses-esque illustrations perfectly blends the story of Katharine Lee Bates’s life and career, and country with the poem that celebrates its expansive splendor. Back matter and a timeline round out this recommended read.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

We the People coverWE THE PEOPLE:
The United States Constitution
Explored and Explained
Written by Aura Lewis and Evan Sargent
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $24.99, Ages 10-14)

Even adults can take advantage of this comprehensive look at our Constitution because of the colorful and inviting picture book format designed with middle grade readers in mind. Plus it’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on hand to refer to, especially when kids ask questions you may be unable to answer.

This quote from the authors on the intro page speaks volumes about what you can expect when you pick up a copy of We the People: “… we believe that having a deeper understanding of our Constitution can inspire change. Anyone can understand how the government works, and every single person has the power to get involved and make a difference.”

The 128 pages of the book are divided up into brief, digestible chapters, with plenty of white space so that your eye can travel to the most important parts quickly. The authors have included excerpts from the Constitution which have been paraphrased in kid-friendly English so they’re easily understood especially when presented as they relate to our daily lives.

One of my favorite sections was about the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, intended to guarantee that “no one can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.” The chapter features a bottom border illustration of both the suffragettes on the left holding signs and modern day protestors on the right also carrying signs. The spread (like those throughout the book) has interesting factoids such as the one about young conservative Tennessee politician, Harry Burns, whose mother influenced his decision “that tipped the scales in favor of the 19th Amendment.” On the four pages devoted to this amendment there are also thought provoking questions that a teacher or librarian can pose to their students.

There is so much wonderful information to absorb that I recommend readers take in a few chapters at a time to let the facts sink in. One particular chapter that, leading up to this year’s presidential election, might prompt discussion is about the 12th Amendment and the electoral college. Everyone who reads We the People will likely find something covered that will resonate with them whether it’s about the rights of the accused, term limits, or D.C.’s residents (now looking for statehood) being given the right to vote for president. Get this book today and you’ll get the picture!
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

STAR-SPANGLED:
The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and
the American Anthem
Written by Tim Grove
(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Okay, I’m going to embarrass myself here and admit I did not know the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem, was about a battle against the British over a fort in Baltimore. I mean I knew it was about a battle based on the lyrics and I knew the battle fought was with the British, and that’s it. I’m not even sure I was taught the anthem’s history in school. Now, thanks to Tim Grove’s well-researched historical nonfiction novel, I’ve been educated and kids can be, too. Oh and by the way, this occurred during the War of 1812 (which incidentally lasted until 1815).

Told from various perspectives, because what better way to convey the complexity of history than from more than one angle, Grove’s book introduces readers to a host of British and American characters. We meet Mary Pickersgill, (a sewing business owner specializing in flags or colors), Thomas Kemp (a Baltimore shipyard owner), Francis Scott Key, (a thirty-five-year-old lawyer with six children), Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (a top British military officer in the Chesapeake Bay region), and 10 others whose stories are woven together to bring the full picture of the intense battle to light. Star-Spangled also addresses the background of the war and events leading up to battle to help put its significance in context. If America lost Baltimore, our young country’s independence could be at stake. Grove notes that Pickersgill, Kemp, and Key were all slave owners and that Key, was a “tireless opponent of the slave trade” yet in his role as a U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., opposed abolitionists. He was also “a leading proponent” of the colonization movement, something I definitely did not know about.

As we meet each person, we learn the role they played in the the book’s subheading, The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. In fact, Star-Spangled reads like an Erik Larson novel where all the events are building up to the major one so anticipation is high despite knowing the outcome. And don’t be surprised if you become so engrossed that you finish the book in one go!

I had an advance review copy so I was unable to see the full-color photographs from the final edition, but my copy did contain the fascinating archival material interspersed throughout the book. There’s actually a photo of the “flag that Key saw. Over the years, before the flag came to the Smithsonian Institution, people cut various pieces off for souvenirs.” There’s also a photo of Francis Key’s “original draft of his poem.” This contains four verses and is preserved at the Maryland Historical Society.

Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy of this enlightening book. I hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in classrooms and libraries around the country so our rich history can be better understood and discussed. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Picture Book Review – Ronan the Librarian

RONAN THE LIBRARIAN

Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie

Illustrated by Victoria Maderna

(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Ronan the Librarian cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

 

What do you get when you mix books with a barbarian? You get the delightfully disarming Ronan the Librarian by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with art by Victoria Maderna.

When we first meet Ronan, the barbarian leader, he’s a typical marauder, pillaging with his cohorts and pretty much content. His usual raids involve bringing back jewels and gold, that is until his latest plundering reveals a chest full of books. Not exactly what was in the cards. While at first Ronan considers the haul useless“Kindling? Origami? Toilet paper?”it doesn’t take long for him to get pulled in by a picture and hooked on the book. He reads late into the night, oversleeping in fact. From that moment on, Ronan was a changed marauder.

 

Ronan interior 1
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

Wherever Ronan travels to invade, raid and then trade, his mind is always focused on the current book he was devouring, eager to return home to it at day’s end. As the leader, Ronan shifts the pillaging priority from taking baubles to books and his collection grows and grows. It becomes so huge he needs a library to contain it. Much to Ronan’s disappointment, his partners in pillage show no interest in reading. “Barbarians do not read books.”

Determined to whet their literary appetites, Ronan decides to read a mythical tale aloud to his community. Yet everyone appears to carry on with their work, leaving the barbarian bibliophile convinced his story has not made an impact. However, when he later discovers the library has been invaded, not by pillagers, but by curious villagers, Ronan could not be happier. “It turns out, barbarians do read books.” Ronan lives happily ever after only now he can add librarian to his skill set. With stories filling their minds, everyone’s lives grow richer because we all know what treasures can be found inside the pages of a book.

 

ronan the librarian interior 2
Interior spread from Ronan the Librarian written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie with illustrations by Victoria Maderna, Roaring Brook Press ©2020.

 

I love how Luebbe and Cattie have taken the most unlikely of characters to ever want to read and turned that on its head. Who can’t fall for a big bearded barbarian smitten by the love of reading? Kids will love saying some of the goofy barbarian expressions like “Uff da!” They’ll also find adorable characters (I like Helgi), wonderful rhythm, and repetition that will make this a much requested read. In addition to enjoying every page, kids should make sure to revisit the art. Maderna’s added some fun details in her lively illustrations like a goat eating the paper from the book haul and again in the library munching on a book, a dinosaur skeleton under the floorboards in Ronan’s home, a library sandwich board that reads “Come Read! Free Mead,” and a library bulletin board with some very funny “Rules and Advice” notices. Parents, teachers and librarians will enjoy sharing Ronan the Librarian, a book that subtly and cleverly extols the virtues of reading. This witty picture book begs to be read at library story times and will make even the most reluctant of readers root for Ronan, even if you may think he could use a shave.

Learn more about the authors at www.becktyarabooks.com

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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