Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Kwanzaa Books made the holidays bright!

My holds are in! I’ve got Kwanzaa books for everyone! (Okay, for kids. But that’s the most important audience here, right?) Let’s start the fun.

K is for Kwanzaa: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book, by Juwanda G. Ford/Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max, (Nov. 1997, Scholastic), $10.95, ISBN: 0-590-92200-9

Ages 3-7

This holiday abcedary starts off with a history of the Kwanzaa holiday and the seven Kwanzaa principles, then journeys into the alphabetic aspects of Kwanzaa. Using English and non-English words, readers learn a Kwanzaa vocabulary, from Africa to Zawadi. There are phonetic pronunciations for all African words, which is a huge help for readers just learning about Kwanzaa and its icons, and Juwanda G. Ford explains each aspect of the holiday simply and fully enough for a child to understand, appreciate, and learn: the mkeka is a special mat used when setting a Kwanzaa table, and mazao are the fruits and vegetables symbolizing the harvest, set on the mkeka; neighborhoods are part of the Kwanzaa celebration, promoting community, working together, and respecting where we live, to make the world a better place. Gele, the cloth that African and African-American use as a headwrap, shows pride in African heritage, as does Jewelry, which also allows families to practice the creativity principle, Kuumba.

Ken Wilson-Max’s illustrations are lovely, featuring African-American families and African icons, instilling a pride in the beauty of African heritage. His illustrations are boldly outlined and feature bright colors, appealing to little eyes. Each letter and its corresponding word are emphasized with bold, black font that let the words pop off the page. The alphabet

K is for Kwanzaa lets kids learn about the holiday from A to Z, and is an enduring holiday book. It’s a strong introduction to Kwanzaa, and to African heritage.

 

It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Kwanzaa!, by Rex Perry, (Sept. 2004, Jump at the Sun), $3.50, ISBN: 0-7868-0924-8

If the holiday standard, “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas” is stuck in your head as you read this Kwanzaa carol, don’t worry – I found myself reading along with a similar cadence, adjusting for some of the text. Families together, snow falling, and the repetitive phrase, “It’s beginning to look at lot like Kwanzaa!” invites readers to join this book’s family as they prepare for the holiday. The family wears Kwanzaa colors and kente, share food, and gifts, and touch on all of the holiday principles in the text. As Kwanzaa’s end nears, the family reflects on the holiday and the promises made for the year, and looks forward to the new year.

The artwork is bright, with bold outlines and warm colors that draws readers right into the story. Family members hold and dance with one another, having fun and showing affection, making the warmth contagious. You’ll want to cuddle your little ones as you read this rhyming story, guaranteed. The story focuses less on the facts and iconography – although they are present and alluded to in the text – and more on the family and togetherness theme of the season. A nice add to your holiday sections.

 

 

Celebrate Kwanzaa with Boots and Her Kittens, by Alma Flor Ada & F. Isabel Campoy/Illustrated by Valeria Docampo, Translated by Joe Hayes & Sharon Franco, (Feb. 2007, Alfaguara), $11.95, ISBN: 9781598201352

Ages 4-8

It’s time to come together and celebrate Kwanzaa, but wait! Boots the Cat is missing! A young boy and his family pull together and put the principles of Kwanzaa to work as they spend each day searching for the cat – with a sweet surprise on the last day.

Celebrate Kwanzaa with Boots and Her Kittens is half fiction, half non-fiction. The first half is the story of Boots and her family. The family dresses in African garb and have African decorations, including drums and masks, displayed in their home. The colors are warm and earthy. A page-a-day calendar and family members holding scroll with the day’s principles teach readers about each day’s principle and message.

The non-fiction section of the book uses photos and artwork to provide information about Kwanzaa, its place in African-American family homes, and how different families celebrate.

The combination of fiction and non-fiction in one spot makes this a good addition to your holiday shelves. It’s hard to find now, but check your local libraries for a copy!

 

A Kwanzaa Miracle, by Sharon Shavers Gayle/Illustrated by Frank Norfleet, (Sept. 1996, Troll Communications), $3.50, ISBN: 0-8167-4182-4

Ages 5-9

This touching story is all about families. Ashley and Darryl Parker are siblings who are excited for the holidays; their parents are on the planning committee for their building’s Kwanzaa celebration, but their grumpy neighbor, Mrs. Parker, doesn’t seem to be interested in anything other than snapping at the kids. When Ashley and Darryl have a snowball fight and hit Mrs. Parker’s window, they expect to feel her full fury – and discover that their neighbor is a kind, loving person. With this new development, they work with the families on the planning committee to honor Mrs. Parker and reunite her with her sister.

This is a loving, kind story that will touch any reader. It busts that “mean old neighbor” trope and reminds kids – and adults! – that everyone has their own challenges. Darryl and Ashley are good kids who build a bridge between their neighbor, their building (community), and her sister. It’s a great story, and the oil painted artwork by Frank Norfleet gives us realistic characters and settings, with warm colors and expressive, kind faces and body language. The principles of Kwanzaa, explained in the back matter, are communicated through the characters’ actions, opening up the chance to discuss with your readers, and see if they can find examples of each.

I wish this was still in print! It’s such a wonderful book – check your local libraries, and third party sellers have some available.

 

My First Kwanzaa, by Karen Katz, (Nov. 2003, Square Fish), $7.99, ISBN: 9781250050465

Ages 3-6

Karen Katz brings her adorable collage and mixed-media artwork to this adorable celebration of Kwanzaa. The text is spare but informative, speaking directly to children about each day of Kwanzaa, and how our protagonist – a young African-American girl – celebrates it. Phonetic pronunciation of the principles and and terms help introduce new vocabulary, and each explanation is empowering, offering ways for kids to take part in the celebration. From asking her mother to braid her hair “in a fancy African way” on the second day of Kwanzaa (kujichagulia – self-determination) and feeling pride in her heritage, to dreaming of being an African dancer like her Aunt Tasha on the fifth day (nia – purpose), to painting clay pots and weaving baskets on the sixth day (kuumba – creativity), there’s something for every child to take to heart.

Karen Katz’s illustrations are precious. Her characters have round, sweet faces with gentle expressions. They all wear bright colors and have braided, beaded, and natural hair. A kinara appears on every spread, another candle lit, to visually represent the days of Kwanzaa. Holiday cuteness for littles and bigger kids alike.

 

 

So that’s my Kwanzaa book wrap-up! What have I learned from this year and last year’s roundups? That we need more Kwanzaa and Hanukkah books: published more frequently, in greater volume, and that stay in print longer. How can we make that happen next year?

 

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

New Baby love: Lots of Love, Little One!

Lots of Love, Little One! (Forever and Always), by Sandra Magsamen, (Dec. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492683988

Ages 0-4

What better reason to celebrate love and life than a new baby? Although Lots of Love Little One can really be a book for anytime, anywhere, it’s perfect for a new baby/baby shower gift. Adorable illustrations and sweet phrases, like, “I love you more than all the stars that twinkle at night, and all the fireflies that glow so bright”, fill the pages with joy and adoration. The illustrations resemble stitched-together toys, and include a mother and baby elephant; spaghetti (it’s one of the rhymes); fireflies, and stars. A page dedicated to “I love you” in nine different languages includes Sioux, Hawaiian, and Swahili. The colors are bright and the art and words come together to create a love letter to the little ones in your life.

Sugary sweet, sure, but if you can’t give all the sweetness in the world to little ones, where’s the fun? An absolutely snuggly, cuddly book. Mommies-to-be, read this one to your bellies!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sesame Street talks LOVE!

Love from Sesame Street, by Sesame Workshop, (Dec. 2018, Sourcebooks), $12.99, ISBN: 9781492677499

Ages 2-6

Leave it to Sesame Street to make it clear: Love is love. It’s been a major part of their message since the show aired almost 50 years ago, and it’s even more relevant and important today. Spreads starring our favorite Sesame Street characters spread the word: Big Bird scrawls, “Love is a sunny day!” in sidewalk chalk, while Super Grover dashes across the sky, leaving the message, “Love is being an everyday hero” in his wake. Count von Count delights in being surrounded by numbers, delivering the message that “Love is infinite – bigger than all of the numbers”. Cookie Monster’s powerful message – “Love is cookies… and then more cookies” comes right before Abby’s nod to the power of love: “Love is magical and full of wonder”. Yes, Bert and Ernie are here, as is Julia, surrounded by her family. The characters gather to deliver the final, beautiful message: “Love is everywhere and all around us”. Get it? It’s all about love, in all of its exciting and unexpected forms.

Ernie Kwiat’s artwork really catches the eye here; less solid outlines, more brushwork, almost making the characters look like they’ve been brush-painted. The characters and the message are the standouts, and are colorful, bright, and bold. The scenery is there, but fades into the white background, letting the characters and their declarations take center stage.

I love this book. I know, I say that about all the Sesame Street books, and it’s true. I’ve grown up with the show; my kids have grown up with the show, and I love its ever-constant, upbeat personality and outlook. Everyone just needs to be nice to one another. That’s it. Kindness wins.

Love from Sesame Street is perfect for toddler and preschooler audiences. There are hundreds of Sesame Street crafts and coloring sheets out there, but I always find myself back at the main site, SesameStreet.org. Enjoy.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dragon Pearl takes Korean mythology to the stars

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, (Jan. 2019, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368013352

Ages 8-12

The latest from Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents line gives readers a space opera, Korean mythology, ghosts, nonbinary characters, and moral quandaries! Min is a 13-year-old shapeshifting female fox spirit who lives with her widowed mother and extended family on the planet Jinu. Her older brother, Jun, is part of the Space Force – where Min intends to follow him in a few years, when she hits age 16 – but things change when an investigator shows up at Min’s home, with news that Jun has deserted his post and is rumored to be searching for the Dragon Pearl, a mythical object that could help turn planets into paradises… or destroy them. Determined to find her brother and clear his name, Min runs away from home and finds her way onto a starship; when the ship falls under mercenary attack, she wakes up on the very ship her brother served on: the Pale Lightning. Assuming the form of Jang, a cadet who died during the mercenary attack and subsequent rescue attempt, Min tries to unravel the mystery of Jun’s disappearance, and stumbles onto a plot much bigger than she could have imagined. She joins forces with Jang’s friends: Hanuel, a female dragon spirit, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin spirit and continues her detective work.

Dragon Pearl is a space opera, complete with space battles, intrigue and shifting loyalties, and a mythos, based on Korean mythology, all of which come together to build an epic adventure that middle grade readers will devour. Min faces racism/species-ism as a fox spirit; she and her family present as humans, because foxes have a bad reputation for trickery being untrustworthy. She has to lie to Jang’s friends to keep her secret; that guilt is with her day in and day out, especially as her own friendship with them grows. She has to break rules for the greater good: to find her brother, who’s also considered a deserter. She’ll deal with the fallout as it comes; Min’s family is her priority. Is she a hero? Is she a traitor? It depends on whose point of view you’re viewing from. The same can be said of the Dragon Pearl, which can create a lush homeworld or destroy a planet. Is it a valuable treasure or a cursed trinket?

Let’s talk about the rich characters Yoon Ha Lee creates. Min and her fellow cadets inhabit a universe where rank and personal pronouns are part of the uniform. Sujin, the goblin cadet, uses “they/their” pronouns and no one has an issue with it. Sujin is a funny, creative character whose gender identity fits seamlessly into the Dragon Pearl universe. They wield a magical spork, for heaven’s sake. That’s the exciting news! Haneul is a dragon spirit who can communicate with the weather; the Pale Lightning’s captain is a tiger spirit who exudes charisma and a more than a wee bit of menace. Min, a fox spirit, exudes Charm to head off potential problems at the pass and is clever, constantly thinking of her next moves to get her to her goal. An exciting adventure, moral conflict, and rich character diversity make this one a nice addition to your fantasy middle grade collections, and yet another hit from Rick Riordan’s Disney imprint.

Dragon Pearl has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Tween Reads

The YouTube Kids App makes the holidays merry and bright with playlists and a Gift of the Month!

‘Tis the seasons to be jolly—especially for families with the YouTube Kids app!

A month-long extravaganza celebrating the holidays kicked off this week, with festive content including playlists from Gordon Ramsay and KIDZ BOP! Little fans and their parents will be able to cuddle up with a mug of hot chocolate and watch some cool playlists they won’t be able to see anywhere else – I mean, come on; where else but the YouTube Kids app are you going to see Gordon Ramsay rocking an elf outfit, while dispensing culinary advice?

The holidays are right around the corner and Gordon is sharing his favorite holiday cooking videos with the YouTube Kids App! You can check out the playlist here, if you have the YouTube Kids app, but if you aren’t viewing from a phone or tablet, fear not! Check it out here.

In the mood for more of a dance party? KIDZ BOPS Holidays has your back with a Winter Wonderland playlist, packed with KIDZ BOP’s favorite music and dance videos.  You can watch their rocking playlist by clicking here on the YouTube Kids app, or here, if you’re not viewing from a phone or tablet.

There’s new, original programming hitting the app this month, too! Do you remember growing up with Woody Woodpecker? Well, he’s back, and the YouTube Kids app has him. Watch the first new season of the beloved show in two decades, reuniting the gang for the first time (Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, Wally Walrus, Buzz Buzzard, Winnie, Splinter, and Knothead).  You can see it here on the app, and here if you aren’t viewing from a tablet or phone.

There are more Oddbods to be had this month, too! Oddbods, the popular preschool show, is returning to YouTube Kids with the exclusive Oddbods: The Festive Menace Holidays Special. One of the hot new preschool shows is returning to YouTube Kids with another exclusive special! T’was the night before Christmas and trouble is brewing, Santa’s gone bad and it’s the Oddbods doing! You can check out the fun and mischief here using the app, or here if you aren’t watching on a phone or tablet.

In Santa’s Apprentice, Santa doesn’t want to retire, but rules are rules and he must train someone to replace him.  The lucky winner, to be chosen from among millions of children, must be named Nicholas, be an orphan and have a pure heart.  On the other side of the planet, there is a little boy who is a perfect match, but his lack of self-confidence and fear of heights make him a poor contestant.  Will Santa agree to step down, and help his apprentice take his place?  Check out Santa’s Apprentice here using the YouTube Kids app, or here if you aren’t watching from a phone or tablet.

As a very special bonus, during their holiday celebration, YouTube Kids will be giving something special to their viewers everyday with their “Gift of the Month.” Until January 1st, the YouTube Kids app will feature a Gift Box icon that kids can click on to see a very special video presented to viewers each day by the YouTube Kids characters.  Each of them chose their videos based on a favorite theme or topic.  Kids can simply click on the Gift Box in the app and enjoy a fun surprise!

The YouTube Kids app is the first Google product built from the ground up with kids in mind. The app makes it easier for children to find videos on topics they want to explore and is available for free on Google Play and the App store. YouTube Kids continues to put parents in the driver’s seat with additional parental controls that allow parents to choose what is right for their family.

Posted in picture books

A pumpkin’s odyssey From Dark to Light

From Dark to Light, by Isabella Murphy, (Oct. 2017, Pink Umbrella Books), $9.99, ISBN: 9780998516226

Ages 4-8

Pumpker is a small, white pumpkin seed, dropped into the earth by a farmer’s wife, along with his two sister seeds, Plumpalicious and Plumpilina. Pumpker has a little more anxiety over being underground, and feels like a third wheel among his sisters. He just wants to grow into a big, beautiful pumpkin already, and be adopted by a family that will love him. Luckily, he gets his wish: right before Halloween, he and his sisters are chosen by a family and brought home, where Dad turns them into jack-o-lanterns! As the young daughter sits outside with her jack-o-lanterns at the end of the day, Pumpker glows with joy.

Written when the author was in fifth grade, From Dark to Light is a sweet story of home. Pumpker narrates the story, and brings up moments that kids may find familiar: not fitting in and wanting to just grow up already being two of the big ones. From Dark to Light can be read as an adoption story; it can be read as a story about facing fears and growing up, and it can be read as a fun Halloween story about a pumpkin who finds his perfect family. Isabella Murphy’s gift with words gives readers a likable, sympathetic character that finds a forever home. Natalia Pérez’s artwork has a funky spin; Mrs. Smith doesn’t look like your run-of-the mill farmer’s wife, decked out in a colorful, angular minidress, orange boots, and rocking a grey beehive; Pumpker and his sisters have friendly facial expressions even before they get their Halloween makeover.

From Dark to Light is a sweet story from an on-the-rise young author. It’s a nice additional purchase for collections, and a good gift idea to inspire the young writers in your life.

Author Isabella Murphy’s webpage includes interviews, links to social media, and her blog.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Ahmed’s Journey is a study in mindfulness

Ahmed’s Journey: A Journey of Self-Discovery, by Jill Apperson Manly, (Jan. 2019, Jabu Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-9980220-0-0

Ages 4-7

Yogi, author, teacher, and award-winning author Jill Apperson Manly creates a quietly eloquent tale of mindfulness against a backdrop of the Arabian peninsula. A boy named Amend and his family have traveled across the desert to race their camel in the famous camel races. As Ahmed feeds the camels, he start to feel anxious about the race. As he meditatively rubs his favorite camel’s ear, he stands still, in the moment, and senses his surroundings, and his place within his surroundings. He senses a sandstorm building, and notices that his anxiety is causing a storm within him, too. He breathes, he takes an inventory of himself and his emotions, and rides out both the inner and outer storms. At the story’s conclusion, Ahmed feels strong, peaceful, patient, and wise; he’s confident that everything he needs within him.

Ahmed’s Journey uses techniques to walk readers through the process of mindfulness and being present. Ms. Manly uses visual and verbal cues to help readers get in touch with all of their senses, even bringing the tactile to life as she describes the grittiness of the sand, the discomfort of anxiety, and the warmth of love. The title refers to both the outer journey Ahmed and his family make to the races, and his internal journey to inner awareness. Gentle, earth-toned watercolor illustrations create a desert landscape and present a calming influence on readers. The text is brief and impactful, making this a wonderful story to read during a yoga or mindfulness storytime. A nice add to multicultural and yoga/mindfulness collections.

 

Award-winning author of Nothando’s Journey, Jill Apperson Manly’s second book, Ahmed’s Journey, deepens the themes of exploring thoughts, emotions and sensations. Manly uses international cultural festivals to educate the reader and teach the importance of  self-love. Jill is a certified iRest® teacher and Somatic Yoga Therapist and loves sharing yoga and meditation with children and adults, coaching girls’ high school basketball, and being a mom to her four children. She lives with her husband and children in Newport Beach, CA.

 

Some questions for Jill, courtesy of JKS Communications:

How important is it for kids to explore and know their own emotions?

Jill: There is nothing more important.  It is essential to learn and value who you are.

Do you think that emotional lessons can be integrated into school studies?

Jill: Yes, Absolutely! Globally and in the U.S. we are seeing this done right now. My first book, Nothando’s Journey, is part of part of an SEL curricula created by Think Equal (www.thinkequal.com) currently in 147 schools across 15 countries. The pilot program is being evaluated by Yale Center for Emotional Learning. Kids live in present. There is no better time to discuss how a child is feeling then when  it is occuring. Of course, you cannot disrupt the class to deal with each emotion so therefore, it is better to have a set time within a lesson, for example in social science, to include a SEL lesson.

How did your experience teaching and studying in Saudi Arabia affect the writing of Ahmed’s Journey?

Jill: My overseas teaching experiences with children gave me great joy. Picking stories from “far-away places” gives a different perspective and we all benefit by learning about others. It’s fun to think about riding a camel. Kids in America don’t get to do that. It is even more fun to think about racing one!

 

 

What aspects of yoga do you bring to writing children’s books?

Jill: Yoga is seen in mainstream America as primarily a form of exercise, in my books, some of the deeper benefits of yoga or any mindful (peaceful) practice are explored.

How were the emotions and sensations that Ahmed experienced in the book reflections of your experiences traveling abroad or those of your own children?

Jill: I hope my experiences do not create experiences for others. I hope they are only a springboard for a discussion of everyone’s self potential. There is SO MUCH in our kids and in ourselves that gets stuffed down or swallowed up or is undervalued. I hope my books encourage and support kids and adults to value who they are on the inside.

Why is it important for kids to experience cultures different from their own?

Jill: We are more alike than different. As we see others, we see ourselves.

What is some advice you can give to parents who have children experiencing fear and anxiety like Ahmed?

Jill: The best advice is to have the conversation around these topics. Our children have lots of anxiety and being able to help them address their anxiety around their fears is very empowering. My website has additional resources both for the child and adult on this topic.

 

How is Ahmed’s Journey a continuation of your first book, Nothando’s Journey?

Jill: It takes kids and parents to another place in the world to learn about others and, at the same time, to learn about themselves.