Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A classic fairy tale with modern-day sensibilities: The White Snake

The White Snake, by Ben Nadler (based on a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers), (May 2019, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145379

Ages 8-12

Ben Nadler revisits The Grimm Brothers’ tale, The White Snake, with modern-day emphasis on themes including kindness to animals and pushing back against classicism, and sexism. Randall is a young servant for King Arnold, an indecisive monarch who seems confounded by the mere act of hanging a picture. He is an autocratic father, too, shouting down his daughter and refusing to consider letting her rule; choosing instead to find a suitor for her. King Arnold sends Randall to the neighboring kingdom of Borisylvania to spy and report back on why King Boris is beloved. In Borisylvania, Randall discovers Boris’ secret: he is able to communicate with animals by eating a meal of white snake. With this knowledge, Randall heads back home, showing kindness to animals along the way. This kindness pays off when Randall needs help to complete quests set by King Arnold in order to win his daughter’s hand – and save his own life.

Ben Nadler weaves themes of sexism and racism throughout the story. King Arnold is a brutish overlord who refuses to listen to his own daughter, and throws Randall in prison when he refuses to divulge King Boris’ secret. Princess Tilda come to his rescue by offering herself as bait; she tells her father to offer her hand in marriage as a contest prize. When Randall completes each quest the king sets before him, he refuses to let a servant marry his daughter and adds additional perilous tasks. When Randall finally helps King Arnold see the light, the story takes an upbeat turn and the message is loud and clear: “the animals talked to me. All I had to do is listen”.

Back matter includes an essay by graphic novelist educator Paul Karasik on retelling folk tales, and a bibliography of print and online resources. TOON has a free, downloadable educator’s guide available. The endpapers feature artwork of key figures in the story: birds, fish, horses, crowns, and apples, all arranged into a lovely design with a vintage feel. The artwork dives into surrealist territory in points, which will make you wonder just what is in that food. Randall is fair-skinned; King Arnold and Princess Tilda are brown-skinned.

A great add to your graphic novel and fairy tale collections. TOON has copies available in both hardcover and softcover. Check out the interview Smash Pages did with Ben Nadler!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Croc & Turtle are the BEST at being best friends!

Croc & Turtle! The Bestest Friends Ever!, by Mike Wohnoutka, (Feb. 2019, Bloomsbury Children’s Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681196343

Ages 3-6

Croc tells his buddy, Turtle, that he’s the strongest, fastest, highest jumper… but he gets proven wrong each time! When Croc starts to feel down on himself, Turtle knows that just won’t do: he’s the best friend to Turtle. And Croc assures Turtle that he’s the best friend to Croc. They’re both the best at something! Yay! A sweet story about not having to be “the best” at things to have value, Croc and Turtle! The Bestest Friends Ever is comical, entertaining, and delivers a valuable message.

Written as a dialogue between the two friends, with other friendly animals chiming in, this works for storytime, one-on-one, and individual reading. The text includes short and mid-length sentences, with sound effects and plenty of sight words for newly independent readers; toddlers and preschoolers will love the cartoony artwork and the big facial expressions; the gouache artwork is done in pastels and is very little kiddo-friendly. Croc & Turtle! The Bestest Friends Ever! is a good addition to your picture book collections, and I look forward to seeing more Croc & Turtle adventures.

Mike Wohnoutka is an ALA Notable book author; his books, Can’t Sleep without Sheep, Jack’s House, and This is NOT a Cat have been designated as Blue Ribbon selections by the Bulletin of the Center for Chidren’s Books.


Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Noah Builds an Ark brings shelter from the storm

Noah Builds an Ark, by Kate Banks/Illustrated by John Rocco, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763674847

Ages 3-8

A boy named Noah knows there’s a storm coming. As his parents get ready to ride out the storm and keep their family safe, so does Noah. He re-purposes his red wagon into an ark to hold his animal friends, building a roof, gathering food, and furnishing the ark to keep his garden friends safe. When the storm arrives, Noah and his family are safe and warm, and so are the frogs, birds, snakes, mice, spiders, and beetles Noah has sheltered within the ark. When the storm passes, Noah is relieved to see the animals made it through, and the garden returns to life.

This is a lovely, non-theological retelling of the famed tale. Noah is an boy of color living in an urban setting who clearly enjoys nature, as evidenced by his compassion and empathy in creating a safe space for the wildlife in his backyard and by his animal companions present throughout the process: a bird sits on the fence with him as he sees the storm clouds rolling in; a butterfly sits on his foot as he lays in his yard; a grasshoper keeps him company as he assembles the ark. The narrative moves between Noah’s parents preparations, and Noah’s, with him echoing his parents’ sentiments such as, “We need to get ready”, “Better be prepared”, and, as the storm moves in, “Come”. It’s a wonderful example of modeling that parents and caregivers will recognize and that kids will relate to.

John Rocco’s pencil, watercolor, and digital artwork is realistic and subdued. The human faces are gentle and kind, the gestures warm and pleasant. Noah Builds an Ark is a story of compassion, nature, and life, and it’s a great storytime pick. Noah Builds an Ark has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Tiger Days: Let the animals be your guide to feelings!

Tiger Days: A Book of Feelings, by M.H. Clark/Illustrated by Anna Hurley, (March 2019, Compendium), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-946873-41-5

Ages 3-6

Tiger Days helps kids understand their emotions, and how to describe their feelings, by using animals to illustrate them. Ever feel like a rhino? So stubborn, no one can move you or change your mind? How about a silly monkey, all wiggly arms and legs, full of mischief and fun? Each spread is vividly colored, featuring a different animal, and characteristics of that animal that map to different moods. The background color of each page adds to the feel of each feeling; bright greens and yellows for happy rabbits and monkeys, who play across the pages; soft purple for a shy turtle; red for an angry bull. Each drawing is boldly lined and bright, popping off the page; fonts are capitalized to emphasize key words.

Tiger Days also lets kids know that their feelings are normal. No feelings are presented as “good” or “bad”; they just are, and this is how they can make people feel. I’d easily add this to one of my storytimes, including a yoga storytime, where I use animal poses. The kids’ favorite one tends to be the Lion Pose, where they get to open their mouths wide and roar. Linking feelings to mindfulness is a great way to help kids understand their feelings and be present for them, allowing them to describe and name what’s going on and furthering communication. Encourage your storytime kids roar, stamp the ground, or curl into their shells to describe different feelings! This would made a good time to break out some emoji flash cards, too; let the kids color the different faces and match them to animals mentioned in the book.

Tiger Days is a good book to have in your bookshelf, especially when you’re working with kids who are learning not only how to communicate with you, but to put words to things happening within themselves.


Posted in Uncategorized

Board Books, Board Books, Board Books!

There’s a whole bunch of great board books out, and I love it!

Cat & Mouse, by Britta Teckentrup, (March 2019, Prestel Publishing), $14.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7374-4

Ages 0-4

This die-cut, rhyming book is adorable! A cat and mouse play a game of hide and seek, with die-cut squares on each page letting little ones find the mouse, and explore with their fingers as well as their eyes and ears, as they go along. Cat and mouse wreak havoc across each spread, upending furniture and running up and down stairs: will the cat catch the mouse? I read this to my storytime group and wiggled fingers through the squares, let the little ones peek through the holes, and stuck my nose through one or two to mimic a cat sniffing for a mouse, all to tremendous giggles. This is an adorable storytime read, and a great pick for sensory and explorative reading. The artwork is loaded with shapes and colors to identify, making this a book you can really engage your little ones with.


Who is Afraid of Little Wolf?, by Yayo Kawamura, (Apr. 2019, Prestel Publishing), $12.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7381-2

Ages 0-3

Little Wolf is bored and wants to play, but it seems like no one wants to play with him: the squirrel, rabbit, and fox all tell him their moms won’t let them play with wolves! Just when Little Wolf starts to cry, a little bee invites him to play. Seeing Wolf and Bee play together, the other animals realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and join the game. At sunset, Little Wolf and his new group of friends sit in a cuddled group, enjoying one another’s company after a big day of playing hide and seek. A sweet, simple story about overcoming prejudice, Who is Afraid of Little Wolf is a story that has a big message for little eyes and ears. Bold, colorful artwork and friendly animal faces make this instantly appealing to young readers and listeners, and gives a face to the fallout of predetermined ideas.


I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0757-6

Ages 2-5

This is one of my favorite picture books of ALL TIME, and now it’s available in board book form! The darkly hysterical tale of a bear, a hare, and a hat is complete here; just in smaller format for littler fingers. The illustrations are beautifully, perfectly recreated here. My 6-year-old asked me if this was a “backpack copy” for him to bring to school, and darned if I didn’t say, “Wow… you may be onto something here”. Start your younger readers off right: give them Jon Klassen board books! (PLEASE say we’ll be getting Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Triangle, Square, and Circle trilogy in board book at some point!)

Do you have crafts after storytime? Use this free, downloadable activity kit to let the kids make their own red hat, recreate their own forest story scene, and more.


Wild Bios: Frida Catlo, by Courtney Acampora & Maggie Fischer/Illustrated by Lindsay Dale-Scott, (Jan. 2019, Silver Dolphin Books), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1-68412-558-6

Ages 2-5

This is the cutest new board book series! Wild Bios puts an “animalistic twist” onto famous figure biographies by adding cute animals and wink, nudge puns to the biographical text. Here, we’ve got artist Frida Kahlo’s life with a feline spin: Frida Catlo was born in Meowixco City, painted self-pawtraits, and married fellow artist Doggo Rivera. A sweet way to introduce art to your little ones (I think it’s time for me to revisit my Art Storytime) and the puns will keep older siblings and adult caregivers chuckling at storytime. The bright, festive artwork is fun to look at, and Frida’s even got a little unibrow. Make sure to mention that Friday Kahlo loved animals – display and booktalk Monica Brown’s Friday Kahlo and Her Animalitos handy. Let the little ones draw afterward!


The Story of Rock, by the Editors of Caterpillar Books/Illustrated by Lindsey Sagar, (May 2019, Silver Dolphin Books), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-68412-509-8

Ages 0-5

Perfect for music storytime, this rhyming look at the history of rock music starts – as it should! – with rock’s roots in blues and features some of the most iconic names in rock history, including Chuck Berry, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, the Ramones, and more. The blues, through the rockabilly ’50s, the psychadelic ’60s, punk, hair metal, grunge, and ska are all here, with sweetly illustrated, friendly faces and instruments. Add this to your music shelf with board books like What is Punk?, Brandon Stousy’s What is Music? and We Are Music, Amazing Me! Music, by Carol Thompson, and Baby Loves to Rock! by Wednesday Kirwan.


The Story of Rap, by the Editors of Caterpillar Books/Illustrated by Lindsey Sagar, (May 2019, Silver Dolphin Books), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-68412-508-1

Ages 0-5

A companion to The Story of Rock, The Story of Rap starts off with rap’s beginning at a New York house party in 1973 and explains the genre’s sound: big bass, spoken word rhyme. Learn about rap icons, from Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, and NWA; the protests, the East vs. West battle, and modern figures, including Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar. The emphasis on soul and social justice is here, and like the books says: “Rap is for the people, just like from the start, it’s more than music: it’s a work of heart”. The artwork is identical to The Story of Rock, with soft, cute, friendly faces and urban street wear; there’s some breakdancing, mixing and scratching at the turntables, and female representation (Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott are here, but where’s Queen Latifah?). Add this to your music board books, and keep up your readers’ music education.


Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Storytimes, Toddler

New Books at Storytime: The Song of Spring and New York Day & Night

I had storytime today, and decided to test drive two brand-new (coming in March) books that I received for review. They went RESOUNDINGLY well!

The Song of Spring, by Hendrik Jonas, (March 2019, Prestel Publishing), $12.95, ISBN: 9783791373799

Ages 3-6

We started off with The Song of Spring, since the weather here in New York has been… interesting. (It was 3 degrees last week; yesterday, 65. Today, 45.) In this adorable story, a little bird watches other birds call to one another with their songs of spring. One little bird can’t remember his song of spring, but he really, really wants to find a friend, so he takes a shot at it, opening his beak and shrieking… WOOF. A friendly dog answers, but the little bird is looking for a bird friend, so he tries again. And again. Various oinks, moos, meows, mehs, and hee-haws later, the little bird has quite a diverse group of friends, but still, no bird, until a hilariously unexpected fart sounds, and a pretty little female bird sitting nearby says she’s looking for a friend, too. The new friends happily celebrate their good fortune in finding one another.

The Song of Spring is adorable and unexpectedly funny, with a well-timed joke that got the kids in my storytime cracking up. I made a big deal of the sound, waving my hand by my backside, and the kids loved that such a giant sound would come from such a teeny, tiny bird. The book is wonderfully interactive, giving kids the chance to call out the different animals and make their different sounds, each of which gets a big, bold, fancy scripted black font for emphasis. The artwork looks like mixed media or collage – you can see book pages and notebook paper in the artwork – and adds some fun interest to the watercolor artwork. The animals pop off the stark white background, and the plain black story font lets the reader do the reading while the artwork and animal sounds take center stage.

The Song of Spring is going in my storytime collection, for sure. I even had a mom ask me for my copy when I was done with storytime! (So it’s also going in my order cart.) Pair this with Bark, George! by Julies Feiffer, and Sandra Boyton’s classic Moo, Baa, La La La! for an out of this world animal sound storytime!


New York Day & Night, by Aurélie Pollet/Illustrated by Vincent Bergier, (March 2019, Prestel Publishing), $16.95, ISBN: 9783791373782

Ages 3-7

This one got a great reception, too. A cat named Sandy and a squirrel named Frankie let readers see New York City through their eyes: the cat, by night; the squirrel, by day. Each sees very different things, aided by translucent blue plastic sheets that turn the Empire State Building into a rocket, the Guggenheim Museum into a spaceship, or a construction worker into a flying superhero.

New York Day & Night plays with perspective, and the idea that we see things differently in the light of day. Sandy, a nocturnal cat, sees the fantastic; Frankie, a diurnal squirrel, chastises Sandy, and sheds light – literally and figuratively – on what’s really happening. Or is it? Who’s to tell, in New York, right? The artwork is done in blues, oranges, and black and white, making for stark images that pop right off the page, boldly outlined and with easily recognizable New York icons.

My storytime group LOVED this one; I got cheers and gasps from parents and kids alike as I showed them a monster that turned out to be an elevated train (the community here lives near our own Queens elevated train) and King Kong beating his chest over the jungle that turns out to be Central Park. My favorite came in at the end – but I’ll let you get the book yourself to enjoy that one.

New York Day & Night is absolute fun, and a great way to extend a storytime by talking about colors, shapes, and city life. You can pair this with any books about a city: any of Kate McMullan’s truck books would pair well (I’m Big!, I Stink!); Julia Denos’ Windows; or Dave Eggers’ Her Left Foot are always good to go with.

I also read Have I Ever Told You, which I just wrote about a few days ago. It went over better with the parents than the babies; the artwork kept their attention for a little bit, but these were babies and toddlers; this one will be much better for a preschool and kindergarten storytime. I’ve read Hands Can to my babies and toddlers in the past, and it’s been a hit, so I’ll stick with that for the wee ones.

I also updated my songs for my Mother Goose Storytime (newborns to 18 months) and Toddler Storytime (18 mos-3 or 4 years) sessions. I try to change them up every season, so the families have time to get comfortable with the songs; I’ll insert one or two for different seasons or holidays, and I usually slot in a song in Mandarin and/or Spanish. (Mandarin for my community; Spanish, because I have a couple of Spanish-speaking families that I want to feel part of things, and because it’s fun to sing songs in different languages!)

And that was my storytime today!

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books

Wonders of Nature opens a museum on your bookshelf!

Wonders of Nature: Exploration in the World of Birds, Insects, and Fish, by Florence Guiraud, (Oct. 2018, Prestel Publishing), $25, ISBN: 9783791373652

Ages 7-11

This book, originally released in French, is a stunning work of art. Inspired by 17th and 18th century natural history artwork, by scientists and explorers who hand-sketched their discoveries, Wonders of Nature is an illustrated “cabinet of curiosities”, as author/artist Florence Guiraud puts it, of the natural world. There are meditations on birds’ plumage and nests; butterflies and bugs’ wings; starfish families, and jellyfish. Seven chapters come together through 2-page spreads in watercolor and sketch artwork to create detailed, breathtaking illustrations of birds, insects, and sea life.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing some 16th and 17th century natural history sketchbooks – by the way, you can, too: the American Museum of Natural History has an online research library with Digital Special Collections, including selections from their Rare Book Collection – and one can easily see how the artwork is inspired by these early natural history explorers and scientists. This is such a great way to get kids interested in natural history; how to interest them in wandering around their local parks, zoos, and museums, notebook in hand, and encourage them to draw their world, their way.

Each section introduces a topic with informative text that entices the reader into turning the page; that turn of the page launches readers into exciting new worlds, with animals they may never have seen before. Each drawing is labeled, helping kids – and adults – expand their world. Each section concludes with a “random directory” that provides further nibbles of information about different fauna, with page references for easy location.

Learn your world, and share it. Wonders of Nature is a solid add to your natural history collections and a great gift for readers who love nature and art. Display and booktalk with Candlewick’s Welcome to the Museum books (Dinosaurium, Animalium, Botanicum, and others).