Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Concept Fun: Big Box, Little Box… perfect for a cat box!

Big Box Little Box, by Caryl Hart/Illustrated by Edward Underwood, (July 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681197869

Ages 2-6

What’s the best way to illustrate the many words to describe a box? Put a cat in the story! Big Box Little Box stars a curious cat who investigates all sorts of boxes: big and little boxes; brown and blue. The descriptive words take a fun turn when the cat stands on a box (cat box?), which immediately squashes under its weight (flat box), or when human hands designate “my box” versus “YOUR box”. As our inquisitive friend wanders through the boxes, it spies a hole in a box – and a mouse! The two run and play together, providing readers with some more fun words like “tickle”, “purr”, and “warm fur”. The endpapers show a cat and mouse romp through all sorts of boxes.

This book is a fun way to introduce adjectives to beginning readers, and ways to explore objects with younger readers. The pencil, ink, and computer-assisted collage work makes for fun, angular art, vividly colored and textured, almost inviting readers to feel the rough cardboard of the boxes under their fingertips. Lois Ehlert fans will find some similarities to the artwork, and the text is repetitive with occasional rhyme, inviting interaction.

Originally released in the UK, Big Box Little Box is a companion to Hart and Underwood’s upcoming One Shoe Two Shoes, and a fun addition to toddler and preschooler collections and concept bookshelves.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Bad Mermaids Make Waves!

Bad Mermaids Make Waves, by Sibéal Pounder/Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $13.99, ISBN: 9781681197920

Recommended for readers 8-12

What happens when you’re a mermaid, spending a summer on land with your temporary legs and feet, and you have to go back under the sea early because someone fishnapped the Mermaid Queen? That’s what besties Beattie, and twin sisters Zelda and Mimi have to do in this first middle grade mermaid adventure by Witch Wars author Sibéal Pounder. The mermaids arrive back under the sea to discover everyone acting… strange. A new queen who hides her face and calls herself The Swan is making everyone go back to wearing shell tops, and piranhas patrols are keeping things in check. The threesome steal a clamshell car and investigate who could be behind this fishy plot!

Mermaid stories are HUGE here. Heck, they’ve been huge at every library I’ve been at, from picture books, through YA. You’ve got three best friends who work really well together, a mystery to solve, and humorous villains and mean mermaids (all genders are referred to as mermaids), a café set inside an actual whale, plus black and white illustrations throughout. There are loads of in-jokes poking fun at mermaid tropes, like the clamshell tops and hair-combing, and the characters’ speech is full of fishy references like the exclamation, “Oh cod!”

This is an automatic add to my shelves. Give this to your Mermaid Tales and Mermaid S.O.S. fans who are ready for higher leveled books, and your Emily Windsnap fans.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

When the World is Full of Friends, it’s a pretty great place

When the World is Full of Friends, by Gillian Shields/Illustrated by Anna Currey, (Feb. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781681196268

Recommended for readers 3-6

The rabbit family from When the World Was Waiting for You and When the World is Ready for Bed returns in this sweet book about play and discovering new friends. Siblings Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin love to play, and wish they had more friends to play with. They see a squirrel family across the stream, and put their heads together to figure out how to cross the stream to play together, turning the experience into a fun game in itself. The takeaway? “Playing with friends was wonderful!”

This is a great bedtime, quiet time, or circle time story. It’s got a calm pace, with soft watercolor and ink art. The messages of friendship and working together to play together reinforce positive lessons, and the opening and closing rhyming verses beautifully bookend the story narrative. Add this one to your storytime collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Lola Dutch is just TOO MUCH!

Lola Dutch, by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681195513

Recommended for readers 3-7

Lola Dutch is a little girl whose life motto may well be, “Go big or go home”. She starts her day by sliding down the bannister of a grand stairway, landing on her cushy friend, Bear’s, belly. She is bursting with ideas, and this is going to be an AMAZING day. She has grand ideas for breakfast, which turns into a several course meal for Lola and her animal friends, Gator, Pig, and Crane; a trip to the library for some “light reading” yields a Herculean amount of books. Lola’s inspired to create art, and begins producing work that the masters would be cowed by, including a Sistine Chapel-esque work on her ceiling, starring Lola and friends. At bedtime, seems overwhelmed. Everything’s quiet for the night, but Gator’s got cold feet, Pig is snoring, and Crane kicks in her sleep. Frazzled, Lola cries out, “This is ALL TOO MUCH!” and wants something simple and comforting: a hug from Bear.

We all have a little Lola in us, don’t we? I know I get those moments where I want to READ ALL THE BOOKS and end up reserving 5 books, which will sit on the pile I have at home; from there, I’ll want to straighten up all my bookshelves, and to do that, empty all the shelves on the floor so I can go through them, which will inevitably end up with me, sidetracked, coming back hours later to just shove everything on the shelves until the next time I get inspiration. Lola’s friend Bear is her guardian, and knows his charge too well: he takes a deep breath at breakfast, and often repeats the phrase this book is built on: “you are a little bit much”. At the end of the day, though, it’s a warm hug that’s all Lola really needs.

Lola Dutch is cute, if a bit manic; she just has a lot of energy to devote to each day. The pencil, gouache, and watercolor artwork is soft, largely pink, and has lots of kid appeal. Endpapers spotlight Lola sitting on the windowsill, reading (under Bear’s watchful eye, below) and using a telescope, and the cover of the book converts into a dollhouse that kids can play with; the back flap comes with paper dolls of Lola and Bear to cut out and play with. There are great extras on the Lola Dutch webpage, including paper dolls of Crane, Gator, and Pig; a coloring sheet, and a book hunt challenge and certificate (psst… good for Summer Reading programs at the library).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Valentine’s Day Reading: Valensteins

Valensteins, by Ethan Long, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781619634336

Recommended for readers 4-7

The latest book starring Ethan Long’s Fright Club friends sees Fran – Frankenstein, to you – intently working on something. The rest of the gang has to find out what’s going on, naturally, and when Fran’s secret gets out – he’s working on a valentine! The mere thought of having a crush gives the rest of the group the heebie jeebies, so Fran heads off to get some alone time… and ends up having a sweet moonlight meeting with his Valentine.

How adorable is this book? It’s a sweet little Valentine’s Day story that talks about crushes, with all the perfect kid-like reactions: the heart looks like a bat, a pair of fangs, or – my favorite – a little butt – to the other kids, and when the Easter Bunny regales the group about all the mushy-smushy details about love, they shriek in terror. If you’ve ever been around kids giggling and squealing over kissing and crushes, you know what I’m talking about. Fran’s crush’s reaction to her valentine is adorable and sweet, and Ethan Long sums up a crush perfectly with the sentence, “It’s about something you feel in your real heart, even if it does feel a little funny sometimes.”

The graphite pencil artwork provides a nice, classic monster-movie base that the digital coloring takes to and gives a classic monster movie sort of feeling to the whole story. The cover font, with its monster movie marquee font and hot pink drop shadow, is eye-catching. I always enjoy Ethan Long’s books; this one is an adorable add to picture book collections and makes for a sweet Valentine’s Day read-aloud.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hanukkah picture books for holiday storytime!

I realized that my winter holiday reading has been somewhat narrow in scope, so I’m looking for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books to read deeper and stronger. Here are some adorable Hanukkah books I’ve just read; I hope you enjoy them, too!

Latke, the Lucky Dog, by Ellen Fischer/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke,
(Aug. 2014, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 978-0761390398
Good for readers 4-8

Narrated by Latke, a shelter dog that’s rescued on the first night of Hanukkah, this is an adorable story about pet adoption and Hanukkah. As he gets used to his new home, Latke manages to get in trouble every single night of Hanukkah! He’s eating the sufganiyot, chewing up dreidels, and slobbering all over the gelt. Yikes! Luckily for Latke, his family is very forgiving, and gives him his very own present on the eighth night. As Latke repeats throughout the book, he is “one lucky dog”. Latke the Lucky Dog has soft illustrations and changes in font color to note when Latke is narrating (blue) versus when someone else speaks (black). Anyone who has lived with a puppy will recognize Latke doing what dogs do; the forgiving family makes this a story of compassion and empathy while also giving kids a look into what life with a pet can be like. The story touches on the foods and activities that are part of the Hanukkah celebration.

 

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss/Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn,
(Oct. 1993, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 978-0929371467
Good for readers 4-7

Sammy Spider and his mom watch from their web as their family, the Shapiros, light their menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Sammy is intrigued, and drops down a bit. He loves the way the menorah keeps his feet warm, and he enjoys hearing the story of Hanukkah, but what he really loves are the dreidels that Josh, the young boy, receives from his parents each night! He asks his mother if he can have a dreidel, but Mom tells him spiders spin webs, not dreidels… but on the last night of Hanukkah, Mom has a wonderful surprise for Sammy. I really enjoyed this book, because it provided a nice background on the holiday itself – the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil – and incorporated family traditions. It’s also a concept book, with illustrations reinforcing numbers and colors. The artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a collage feel. There is a whole library of Sammy the Spider books, where he learns about different aspects of Jewish life, from holidays, to traveling to Israel.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, by Greg Wolfe/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam,
(Sept. 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635210
Good for readers 4-8

This story is adorable, and handles that whole Elf on the Shelf business (Shmelf on the Shelf, maybe?) while we’re at it. Shmelf is a new elf, working on Santa’s List, checking it twice, when he notices something really distressing: there are a whole bunch of kids that aren’t on the naughty list, yet they’re not receiving presents! When he asks the head elf what the deal is, he finds out that the kids on the list are Jewish, and have their own holiday, where they receive gifts from their parents. This still doesn’t sit right with Shmelf, who goes investigating and sees a family celebrating Hanukkah: they’re spinning dreidels, they’re snacking on gelt, and yes, they’re getting presents! One for each night! He hears the story of Hanukkah and is so excited, he races back to the North Pole, where Santa gives him a special task: he’s going to travel the world, spreading Hanukkah magic! He gets a snazzy blue and white outfit, a sleigh and reindeer of his own, and heads out every year – sometimes November, sometimes December – to make sure your latkes are crispy and think, your menorahs burn bright, and your dreidels win. You want to thank Shmelf and his reindeer, Asher? No cookies – they like gelt and kosher dill! How can you not love this story? It’s a great way to explain Hanukkah – I love how Mom’s story takes shape in word bubbles  – and adds a fun spin to the holiday.

That was my first foray into Hanukkah reading, and now I plan to request more!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Catch Ralfy Rabbit, the Book Burglar!

ralfyWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie, (May 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1681192208

Recommended for ages 4-7

Ralfy Rabbit LOVES books: he dreams about them; he makes lists of them; he wants to be surrounded by books ALL THE TIME. He loved books so much that he started sneaking into people’s bedrooms and reading their books while they were sleeping, but even that wasn’t good enough; he upgraded to taking the books home! One little boy named Arthur noticed that his books were starting to go missing, and to add insult to injury, soggy lettuce and half-eaten carrots were left behind. He makes a plan to catch the book burglar, but can Ralfy be rehabilitated?

A fun story with a good subplot about borrowing (and a great shout-out to libraries!), Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar is a great storytime book and a great independent read. Kids can appreciate Ralfy’s single-minded love for books and understand Arthur’s dual frustration at having his books go missing and have no one believe him. Arthur’s confrontation and solution makes for good conflict resolution and problem-solving that works for everyone.

Emily MacKenzie’s artwork is adorable. Ralfy is wide-eyed and innocent, even when he’s up to no good; when he’s caught red-handed, his eyes fill up with tears and readers can’t help but feel bad for the poor book bandit. Arthur is drawn with a kindness that will invite readers to put themselves in his place right away. The pictures are sketched with defined outlines, and the font changes for emphasis: bolds, enlarged fonts, angled text to keep readers’ attention.

I’ve paired this with Helen Docherty’s Snatchabook and Ian Schoenherr’s Read It, Don’t Eat It! for library visit read-alouds; the kids love Ralfy and Arthur, but know that Ralfy’s “not being nice” when he takes books. One Kindergartner even called out, “He should just go to the library!” (Love that kid!) You can have a great discussion about borrowing versus taking things with kids as young as preschool; for younger audiences, use Ralfy’s adventure as a good starting point for talking about sharing and forgiveness.

Originally published in 2015 in the UK, Ralfy’s just arrived on US shores. Give him a welcome space on your shelves! There’s an activity kit available from Bloomsbury UK, and you can see more of Emily MacKenzie’s art and books at her author site.