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Best New Christmas Books for Children Part One

OUR ANNUAL KIDS’ CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP …

IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!

– PART ONE –

Wreath free Christmas clip art image

 

Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins cover illustrationMRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Mark Chambers
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

For anyone interested in a holiday book with a strong female character, I recommend Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Mark Chambers. When Santa wakes up “stuffy” and “sneezy” on the morning of Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus fearlessly steps in to save the day. She is a proactive problem solver. “‘I may not have magic,’” she says, “‘but I’ve got a brain!’” As she and the reindeer encounter challenges along the way, Mrs. Claus’s resourcefulness helps her stay in control and on task. “[S]tuff[ing] some ribbon to plug up the hole” in the leaky fuel tank, she keeps calm and carries on.

In addition to Mrs. Claus’s gumption, I love the endearing and homey touches in the illustrations:  Santa’s headboard and footboard with their Christmas tree cutouts, his bedspread with complementary tree designs, his reindeer-patterned socks resting on his footboard, and Mrs. Claus’s updated green plaid skirt. Modern day details also make the story relatable to young readers. Holding a Starbucks look-alike cup in her hand, Mrs. Claus starts off her journey waving goodbye to her elves. Her strong organizational skills can be seen as she maps out “her route” (perhaps using Waze?) on what looks like an iPhone. And on what looks like an iPad, she makes “a supply list and check[s] on the weather.” Even her sleigh has an attachment for her tablet that she uses to check off deliveries!

Through rhyme and clever illustrations, children will love to get to know Mrs. Claus’s spunky, can-do spirit.

 

Coming Home book cover artworkCOMING HOME
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, Coming Home, is a touching tale about a robin’s harrowing journey home to his mate-just in time for Christmas. Before the story begins, readers are given information about the Scandinavian red robin’s migration to find refuge in Britain from the harsher winters up north. In steady rhythm and repetitive language, Morpurgo narrates the robin’s struggles with snow, sleet, predators, fatigue, and fear. “Beat, my wings, beat faster. Easy, my heart, go steady. Steady.” The story’s underlying themes of perseverance and determination are evident in the robin’s journey—a journey, in fact, symbolic of life’s storms and struggles and the ways we can cope with them. We can find community with others who are on a similar path (as the robin does when he joins a flock of thrushes) and seek cycles of rest and rejuvenation. When the unexpected happens, we can also, like the robin, surrender to the mercy of another’s tenderhearted care.

If you’re looking for a quiet holiday book that highlights the winter season, I highly recommend this story. Double page, bird’s eye view spreads of a dark and deep blue forest as well as close ups of the bird seeking shelter from the rough winter weather complement each other nicely. A great bedtime story to end the day (and the winter season), Coming Home is a hopeful and soothing tale both adults and children will come home to again and again.

 

Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway book cover illustrationTOUGH COOKIE: A CHRISTMAS STORY
Written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A hilarious fractured fairy tale, Tough Cookie is the story of a cookie with an identity crisis. In a town called the “Land of Holiday Treats” where everything is sugary and sweet, our hero feels like the odd cookie out.

Shaped like a classic gingerbread man, he jumps fresh out of the oven and runs out the door with the familiar “run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me-I’m the….” He  soon discovers, though, that this same old script isn’t true for every cookie. When a curious passerby, Fox, takes up on the cookie’s challenge, the cookie realizes that he’s not only sluggish, but also positively unpalatable. Shocked and dismayed, the cookie tries to fit the mold, but, alas, to no avail. At his breaking point, “Cookie crumble[s]” but then is introduced to a special group of cookies. They have been following him all day eager to share with him his true identity. Proud of his unique role in the community, the cookie joyfully joins his cohorts, singing a new tune: “‘Look, look, look at me! You can’t reach me-I’m a….” (You’ll have to get the book to find out!)

Written and illustrated by the youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, Edward Hemingway brings much fun to the story, especially for younger audiences. Just about everything in his illustrations of Christmastown beams with a happy face. Large text, colorful pastels, and traditional holiday colors create a warm, festive, and inviting atmosphere. Hemingway’s humorous play on words through baking references keeps the pace energetic. Added touches are cookie recipes at the end of the story as well as front and back matter illustrations of adorable cookie characters.  I found myself playing a “Where’s Waldo” kind of game by trying to locate each character in the pages of the story (they are there!). I’m certain little ones will find many more creative ways to engage with Cookie’s quest of self-discovery.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
(Two Lions;  $17.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Digital, Ages 4-8)

 

cover art for It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

Josh Funk is fab at doing funny. His first fractured fairy tale (good news, there’ll be more!), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, breaks with picture book convention and the fourth wall or maybe it’s the fourth page in this case, by introducing an uproarious dialogue between the narrator and the main character (to name a few) that kids and parents alike will eat up. Parents, caregivers and more experienced readers will be unable to resist the urge to to jump in and take on voicing all the characters’ roles if reading aloud. Being a fractured fairy tale, this story unfolds with a humorous back and forth between the narrator and the titular Jack (see artwork below) whom he must awaken in order to get on with his storytelling. Soon Jack has his magic beans, but he’s also been growing frustrated with the direction of the tale, often making demands of the narrator that are not unlike those of a child who doesn’t want to do his homework, brush his teeth or go to bed.

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

While climbing the seriously high stalk, Jack sees his pal Cindy (Cinderella) on her palace balcony. Here readers first see the hilarious and unexpected interplay between some beloved fairytales that will no doubt be a feature of Funk’s future fractured fairy tales and a most welcomed one. Inside the giant’s house, an enormous shadow on the wall and “a booming voice” signal just what’s in store for Jack. Then, quite unexpectedly and most certainly not in the original version, our hero gets a bit sassy about the giant’s poor rhyming skills. This does not bode well for Jack and before too long it’s looking like he’s going to be the main ingredient of Giant Stew. Once again interrupting the narrator who’s so desperate to continue the story, Jack casually but oh so cleverly mentions something to the giant that he’s hoping will change his fate and positively influence an alternative ending. Funk’s flair for terrific twists promises to satisfy all readers eager to see the pieces of this fractured fairy tale come together seamlessly.

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a very visual book that instantly invites readers to study all the details on every page of Taylor’s appealing artwork. On the back of the book’s jacket cover, readers are told to “Look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice, and other fairy tale friends hidden though out the book!” I quite enjoyed leafing back through the pages to see what characters I might have overlooked on the first read and so will your youngsters. Get a copy today to get in on the jokes. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will make fairy tale devotees of a whole new generation of young readers while sprouting a whole new crop of Funk fans along the way.

Josh Funk

Edwardian Taylor

All interior spreads from It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk are courtesy of Two Lions.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang

You Are (Not) Small
written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant (Two Lions, $ 16.99, Ages 2-6).

You-Are-Not-Small-cvr.jpg

A plump, purplish bear-like creature is merrily blowing dandelion seeds across the opening page of this clever, humorous picture book. Enter one large, fuzzy orange-brown foot, stage right. “You are small,” says the new critter to the weed-clutching little one.

This innocent observation kicks off a spirited dialogue between the two. “I am not small. You are big,” purple critter retorts. But the larger one gestures to his pals, noting that he is one of many, all alike. Then more purple ones appear to back up their buddy as well.

Tempers flare, and the dialogue becomes an argument. (Sound familiar, parents?) There are pointed fingers, angry frowns, even insistent shouting. The size debate escalates until BOOM! A huge hairy paw crashes down, followed by diminutive pink critters with yellow parachutes. Fear not, the last line will guarantee laughs from every reader.

You Are (Not) Small is a short, simple book with text that could work as an easy reader, and illustrations that are engaging enough for the youngest picture book set. Readers of all ages will absorb the meta-message about keeping things in perspective and learning to appreciate differences without necessarily comparing them.

This is a great picture book for those who feel small or tall due to their relative ages or statures. It will spark fun conversations about the way we see ourselves and one another. The thickly-outlined, expressive animals are appealing in a Muppet-like fashion. They all share tiny round ears and large oval noses that make them appear to be related despite their differences in size. At just 91 words, this is a short and funny bedtime book choice with (not) a little kid appeal!

Click here for a very cool downloadable growth chart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

      Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Let’s Build by Sue Fliess

LET’S BUILD BY SUE FLIESS WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY MIKI SAKAMOTO
IS REVIEWED BY MARYANNE LOCHER.

What’s better than the weekend? Spending it with your dad, especially when you’re building a clubhouse together in your yard.

Lets-Build-cvr.jpg

Let’s Build by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Miki Sakamoto, Two Lions Publishing, 2014.

Let’s Build, a picture book written by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Miki Sakamoto, (Two Lions; 2014; Ages 4-8; $14.99) shows us that having fun can sometimes be hard work, and that hard work can often be fun. From idea to finished product, a dad and his son work together as a team. The son picks the perfect spot in the yard, the dad draws up plans, then they both make tracks to the hardware store for supplies.

Here’s a handsaw,
bolts and screws.
Look! Some plywood
we can use.

There are opportunities to learn about safety when using tools …

Time to hammer.
Swing it now?
Wait! Here, let me
show you how.

… and about keeping your work area safe for pets. (No animals are harmed, but there are blue and red dog and squirrel paw prints all over the pages.)

Paint the outside
blue and red.
Oops! I dripped some on Dad’s head!

As in so many of her books, Fliess writes in verse, and in a meter that hits the nail on the head. Sakamoto uses acrylics and gouache then Photoshop to create the brightly colored illustrations that bring the story to life. Together, author and illustrator have constructed a solid picture book.
I’d recommend this book for anyone planning to build a clubhouse, fort, or playhouse with their son or daughter.

Here are some links to other Sue Fliess books we’ve reviewed.

How To Be a Pirate

Robots, Robots Everywhere!

Tons of  Trucks

A Dress for Me!

Shoes for Me!

The Poem That Will Not End by Joan Bransfield Graham

The Rhythm is Gonna Get You!

Today Ronna joins the tail end of a blog tour for Joan Bransfield Graham’s new book, The Poem That Will Not End: fun with poetic form and voices, with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker (Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $17.99, Ages 5 and up).

The Poem that will not end

The Poem That Will Not End by Joan Bransfield Graham with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker, Two Lions, 2014.

JBG’s book was having a tour.
Clever blog tours are hard to ignore.
So I just read her book
And you must take a look
‘Coz good poetry’s never a bore!

If this book doesn’t inspire kids to try their hand at poetry, I don’t know what will? I found myself relating to the main character, Ryan, who cannot quell his urge to compose poetry. Even his name, Ryan O’Brian, rhymes. Poetry fills his waking hours – at breakfast (see image below), walking to school, in the playground and even in the cafeteria where he must resort to using food to share his Couplet for French Fries.

Two lines are not enough to express
How much I adore your potato-ness.

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Interior image from The Poem That Will Not End by Joan Bransfield Graham with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker, Two Lions, 2014.

As the story progresses, Ryan dabbles in an excellent array of poetry (that begs to be read aloud) written in every wonderful style from Limerick to Quatrain. What’s so wonderful about this poetry collection is that it’s an engaging story incorporating poems to share Ryan’s feelings and teach poetry at the same time. Throughout the rest of Ryan’s day, he creates poems on the soccer field, poems outside in the rain and one in the bathtub (part of Fever below), that’s very, very clean!

FEVER

I cannot stop this fever in my brain,
I feel compelled to write, and write, and write.
Day in, day out, the words just fall like rain.

The story ends when Ryan’s completed a word-filled 24 hour cycle of poetry and can no longer produce another poem. His teacher, Ms. Frost (hmmmm …) gives the class an assignment to write a poem about spring. What she doesn’t know is that Ryan’s brain has reached poetry capacity! After he explains his poetry predicament to his teacher, she’s more than happy to have him hand in “recent work” that we’ve all read.

Brooker’s cheerful artwork jumps off the page and is a beautiful blend of collage with drawing and photos. I found myself carefully examiming every illustration to absorb all that Brooker delivers. Kids, parents and teachers will appreciate the helpful guide at the end explaining every kind of poetic form and voice used to create The Poem That Will Not End. By including examples as varied as Acrostic to Villanelle, Graham’s clever book serves double duty as both a joyous celebration of the magic a good poem makes and a primer on how to do it well.

Check out these other great bloggers’ sites to see what fun they had with Graham’s book!

Poetry for Children–Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX, a behind-the-scenes look,
Tales from the Rushmore Kid–Tina Nichols Coury, editor interview with Melanie Kroupa,
Double Olympic Poetry Challenge–an international event!
No Water River–Renee LaTulippe (in Italy–using “Soccer Ball” as a prompt, write an apostrophe poem for a piece of Olympic sporting equipment),
Teaching Authors–Six Authors Who Also Teach–(USA–using “Bike” as a prompt, write a maskpoem for the same sports item–skis, skates, etc.
The Miss Rumphius Effect–Dr. Tricia Stohr-Hunt, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA,
Jama’s Alphabet Soup–Jama Kim Rattigan–review of book, potato recipe, plus write “food couplet” (a la “Couplet for French Fries”) to be entered into giveaway
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