Tag Archives: Christmas

Book Reviews: December 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Big Names and Series Continuations

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by A. G. Ford. Chronicle, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The characters from previous Construction Site books return. Each is gifted new equipment from an anonymous donor that I presume to be the company who thanks them for their work throughout the year. My anti-capitalist self found a great deal to be cynical about in this set up. The company provides their workers with something that they need to perform for the company but frames that equipment as a gift to make the company seem kinder? Hmmm….  I am almost certain that I am seeing an unintentional parallel between today’s corporate structures and those of this book; I don’t think that Rinker intentionally set out to write a pro- or anti-capitalist book, one that lauds the company’s gesture or reveals the manipulative behavior of the company in the mask of Christmas—especially, as I have said, since the company is never definitively named as the gift-giver. And certainly her intended audience isn’t going to consciously wonder or even consider the ethics of the company’s behavior.

The pattern to this book is similar to Mighty, Mighty Construction Site with each vehicle’s task for the day described before the truck is put to sleep with a “Goodnight.” The vehicles’ work is finally revealed in its finished form: a new fire station. I wonder if that signals an upcoming book in the same world. Mighty, Mighty Fire Station anyone?

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and author's bio.

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? by Brianna Caplan Sayres and illustrated by Christian Slade. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book was something of a disappointment. I liked the illustrations, and it fit well thematically with the required book for our story time, Construction Site on Christmas Night. The text… well, to start, it never answered the questions it asked. I expected an answer eventually, thought that I was going to get a book written stylistically like Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs series, questions then answers. This was the first book in this series (books that are titled in the pattern of Where Do X Sleep at Night?) that I had ever read. I’m guessing that this book is written in the style of the series, and if I’d known that and been prepared for it, I might not have minded it so. I did appreciate that this book seems to celebrate more than many others do that family and friends’ gatherings that mark the holiday. We had fun finding the little mouse in each of the illustrations.  This is definitely a book whose illustrations outshone its text.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and trailer.

The Cool Bean by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This has been I think my favorite by this duo. The POV bean used to hang out with a group of other beans, but as they got older, he grew apart from the other beans. They became “cool,” and he did not. He thinks that he’s lost his friends, but then when the not-cool bean gets into some embarrassing scrapes at school, dropping his lunch, falling on the playground, each time the cool beans help him out. He realizes that his friends haven’t changed so much, that they are still kind, still friends, even if their interests and wardrobes have diverged and if the cool beans have found new skills at which they excel. Their small gestures of kindness improve the POV bean’s outlook, give him self-confidence and confidence in the kindness of his friends. Kindness not clothes or special skills make beans cool. This was a story to which I related. I grew up in a small town and coolness only came as we hit upper elementary school. The old stereotypes of 80s and 90s movies didn’t hold up. One of the coolest girls in our school was also one of the most generous and softest, and her kindness did a lot to cheer me up on more than one occasion. That said, check out the band Smoke Season because while we haven’t kept up I hear that she’s been doing well for herself.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, audio sample, reviews, and author's bio.

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Penguin Random, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a surprisingly fun book. The reader is asked to make a silly face (there is a mirrored surface in the book) to make the serious goose laugh. And that—not the silly hats or the tasty treat of the previous pages—is what turns the serious goose who won’t smile into a silly goose who is buoyantly happy and barks like a dog to be silly. The rhyming is a lot of fun. There is a good bit of adult humor with the narrator threatening the audience with lawyers for violating a direct commandment from the Order of the Serious Geese and Gooses. The proceeds for the sales of this book benefit children’s hospitals.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

The Kindness Book by Todd Parr. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

Although my opinion may be colored by having to rush through it as I’d lost two members of my audience entirely and the last’s attention was split between coloring and listening and waiting for her family to return, I read this one after reading Kindness Makes the World Go Round, and honestly it paled in comparison. There’s no plot. This is a good overview though of the kind things that a person can do for others, for the community, for strangers and loved ones, for oneself, for animals. There is actually a pretty strong emphasis on being kind to oneself; it’s mentioned thrice. I appreciated the inclusion of characters of limited physical mobility with the gray-haired woman whose wheelchair rests beside her bed and another whose cane rests by her chair. Todd Parr’s bright colors and simple drawings and simple text hide a deeper message as almost always.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: November 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Sing Along

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Snow Blows White

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The Soundtrack Series: Let It Go by the Disney Book Group. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

You probably almost all know this book by heart already. This is the lyrics and illustrations to match the original animation of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Nothing really spectacular here, but if you need the lyrics for, say, a sing-along story time, it is a helpful book to have on hand. The book comes with a CD of the single. According to the description, the CD is a karaoke, instrumental version, and a sing-along version of the song. It’s a good song, but I’m not sure that the picture book is a necessary publication. I was surprised how few of my littles at story time did sing along with the book and I (we were a cappella). I had one who definitely knew the chorus, but that was all the backup that I got.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Reindeers Are Better Than People by the Walt Disney Company. Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I had sort of hoped that this would be the lyrics to the song like the Soundtrack Series: Let It Go—only because I was doing a sing-along story time. It was not. I still sang the song for the kids, and I only missed a line. I pulled it up on my iPod and let Jonathan Groff sing us through it once too. It’s such a delightful, short song. Instead of lyrics, this is a very brief introduction to the characters of Frozen, seemingly narrated by Kristoff (I would guess because of his “thing with the reindeer”), two sentences or for each of the main adventurers. The kids at story time laughed at and seemed to very much enjoy the characters that they knew with reindeer antlers.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary. 

Anna, Elsa, and the Secret River by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Denise Shimabukuro and Elena Naggi. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a new adventure for children Anna and Elsa. Note: I have not yet seen the new film, but I don’t believe that this particular adventure is portrayed in the film. Anna convinces Elsa to chase after a magical river that might provide answers to why Elsa is born with magic mentioned in a lullaby. The sisters use their senses to search for the river, but the sun begins to rise before they find it. As soon as they decide to return to the castle, they wake in their beds, but was the adventure a dream or did they really venture out of the castle and into the woods? The illustrations in this are beautiful, and Rosenbaum does a good job capturing the personalities of the two sisters as I understand them from the first Frozen film. The introduction to the senses—sight, smell, hearing—was a nice touch too.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and sample.The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  Penguin Workshop-Penguin Random, 2019.

In previous Crayons books the crayons have written to Duncan.  Now the crayons are the recipients, receiving letters and postcards and gifts from friends and family in a sweet celebration of reaching out to loved ones at the holidays.  The book has the same offbeat humor and insightful comments on our use of colors that the previous books did.  Many of the characters are from previous books, their adventures expanded here, and I think the book made less sense as a standalone for that reason.  The concept of the crayons and their letters was not well explained in this book (I’m giving it five stars anyway but suggest reading The Day the Crayons Came Home first; meet Esteban).

I grew up with my mother’s love of the interactive picture book, The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg.  This book reminded me of that with its letters and postcards and gifts in envelopes attached to the page while the envelopes’ contents remained separate, able to be taken from the book and read.  This book includes ornaments to hang on a Christmas tree, games, and a gluten-free cookie recipe to try in addition to letters and postcards.  There was also a Hanukkah greeting and paper dreidel to make!  Reading it could easily be spread out over a day or several days if one stops to interact with all the contents.

I had a small audience for this one, but they did better with this story than they have with the length of any of the other Crayons books.  I struggled to balance the book and the separate pieces.  If you’re reading it aloud, make sure you have somewhere to lay the book down to hold up the envelopes’ contents.

*****

 Click to visit BN's website for links to order, summary, trailer, and reviews.

Jack Frost vs. the Abominable Snowman by Craig Manning and illustrated by Alan Brown. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I am excited to have an introduction to choose your own adventure style stories for such a young audience, although the Choose Your Path series name is more fitting. The endings for this story cannot change; there is only one. A reader can however choose which character to follow through the story. There is a lesson here about not having to be locked into one way of reading. When I let my story time children choose their path, they did miss one adventure with Abe the Abominable Snowman, so if they read it a second time, there might be a surprise for them. The instructions to turn to this or that page were included in the rhyming text, and sometimes that felt awkward, but reading it aloud without any prep time, it was nice to have a catchy way to explain to the audience how we could choose between following either of the two racers.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Cookies for Santa: The Story of How Santa’s Favorite Cookie Saved Christmas. Illustrated by Johanna Tarkela. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebooks Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

This was a pretty long book for story time, and required me to skip a bit of the text—though, again, I didn’t get to prep. With more time before reading, I might have been able to trim it more effectively. I barreled through to the ending, but the kids’ attentions were wandering. This is yet one more picture book trying to begin a new Christmastime tradition (like Elf on the Shelf, like Santa’s Magic Key), though this is my favorite of the traditions that picture books have yet tried to begin—and may already be a tradition for many. This tradition is to make a particular type of cookie: Chocolate Krinkle Cookies.

The Kringle family cookbook, which Santa uses every year to make cookies for his helpers and family, is missing. Santa cannot get the recipe right without. He has no cookies to share as he usually does. His helpers and family feel unappreciated and become uncooperative, not helping him prepare for Christmas any longer.

Meanwhile in a library, Abigail who reads cookbooks for fun, finds the Kringle cookbook. She brings it home, and the odd ingredients in the cookbook confuse her family.

In a televised address, Santa confesses to feeling like he should cancel Christmas because he is so upset that he lost the cookbook. Abigail and her family realize what they have, and rush to the America’s Test Kitchen studio to get help with the recipe, not having time to mail the book back to Santa in time for Christmas. The cooks there figure out substitutes for all of the magical ingredients. They televise the recipe and encourage the world to bake the cookies that Santa could not and leave them for him.

On his rounds, Santa finds the cookies left for him, and cheers up considerably. Abigail and her family leave the book for him in addition to the cookies.

In addition to being long, I didn’t really like any character in this story. Santa is not jolly. He, the elves, reindeer, and Mrs. Claus are too focused on the gifts that come with the season. The insertion of America’s Test Kitchen was clunky and clearly an advertisement for the company. I think reading aloud I actually left out the trademarked brand, and I think that the text ought to have done too.

The story I think would have been better without the inclusion of Abigail and her family and without the inclusion of America’s Test Kitchen, perhaps instead a story about Santa losing his cookbook and his family and friends reminding him of the Christmas spirit. The idea that the world gets to give back to Santa is sweet, though.

I could never decide whether I was imagining that the stack of these books smelled a touch like peppermint and chocolate, though they are not advertised as scented.

Kirkus suggests a chance that Abigail and William’s mom might be Asian, but I’m not sure that I see the same.

The book does include the recipe in the backmatter.

**

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and activities.

Cookiesaurus Christmas by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans and illustrated by AG Ford. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I did not realize that Cookiesaurus was a series until I began to research for this review, though this is only the second in the series. Cookiesaurus, whose pleas and excuses make up the text of the story, wants to be the cookie left out for Santa. He knocks other cookies off the plate, making several messes and hurting his friends. Near the end, he realizes that his friends have been hurt by his actions and apologizes and helps the cookies back onto the plate. As a reward, he is chosen to top the Christmas tree. The style of writing reminds me of Mo WillemsPigeon books.

***

Making the World a Kinder Place

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Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebook Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is an interactive book on the line of Don’t Touch the Button! and Press Here. My audience member was shy and nervous about participating. The text reads like instructions for an app game, especially “Use your finger to drag each [ingredient] to the counter.” The end result of these interactive instructions is a batch of cupcakes for a “special day.”  This is a way to “bake” together with a little one without the mess, but the result is only “cupcakes.” I can’t eat “cupcakes.” I can see where a family might use this one though, to make a little feel as though they had been included in the baking process.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Sunny Day: A Celebration of Sesame Street by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Selina Alko, Brigette Barrager, Roger Bradford, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ziyue Chen, Joey Chu, Pat Cummings, Mike Curato, Leo Espinosa, Tom Lichtenhelf, Rafael López, Emily Winfield Martin, Joe Mathieu, Kenard Pak, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, and Dan Santat. Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text of this book is the lyrics of the theme song that opens episodes of Sesame Street. Each illustrator gets a single page spread. The book celebrates diversity. As a bookseller, I enjoyed the challenge of identifying each illustrator and have yet to convince myself that I have solved the puzzle. I believe the illustrators are listed in the order that they appear, but I would have to double-check that. The text works best, I think, as a sing-along, but there was a verse that neither I nor the young parents at my story time remembered.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

People in Your Neighborhood by Jeff Moss and Sesame Street. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I remembered this song only after looking it up, and I did not find this exact version of the song. I was able to sing the chorus for story time but not the verses. The book does come with a CD, but reading a book intended for sale to another, I did not use it for story time. The book introduces children to several professions including postman and fireman. The book suggests that putting on the clothes of such a profession makes one such a professional.

This book has been available at Barnes & Noble for several months now, at least since November when it was a required story time read, but it appears that it will be getting a wider release in February 2020.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, info about Thunberg, info about the 350.org, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Frances Lincoln Children’s-Quarto, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Greta Thunberg, Time’s Person of the Year 2019, is in another picture book. This one makes fantastic her battle against the giant corporations—here literal giants. Greta lives in a forest. The forest animals come to Greta to ask for her help because the Giants are destroying their home. Greta makes a sign and stands in the Giants’ way. They bowl past her, but other human inhabitants of the forest watch, and slowly begin to join her protest until the Giants are forced to pay attention to the crowd. In this story, the Giants mend their ways and begin to live more sustainably, making the forest better for all those who live in it. The giants are portrayed as being greedy and busy but blind to their destruction rather than heartless. I really like the illustrations in this one. I like the hope in this one even if I believe it to be misplaced.  Greta is portrayed though as more magical than she is, given the ability to speak to animals, and that is a dangerous line to walk, but then, this is clearly a fantasy if the antagonists are literal giants so a heroine who can talk to animals is not unusual in such a story.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: The Joy of Christmas Book Tag

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I found this book tag on Adventures of a Bibliophile, who found it on The Terror of Knowing, who found it on Thrice Read, who found it on Macsbooks, who found it on the Booktubers Wikia, which I also didn’t know existed and am excited to find.  This tag originated with Samantha at Sam’s Nonsense.

Anticipation: The Christmas excitement is real, what book release(s) are you most anticipating?

I know what I want! I want that first book in the new sequel series to Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Cycle, a series all about Ronan Lynch! I hear a draft has been edited—and did I hear that it has been turned into the publisher? Did I dream that?

Christmas Songs & Carols: What book or author can you not help but sing its praises?

Rick Riordan is amazing. He is so excellently including blacker, browner, queerer characters in his mainstream middle grade fiction, and he is too popular and too well respected for most people to complain. He was so smart, writing a whiter, more heteronormative series first, and then learning from his fans. He learns from his fans—and that is the best. He is turning out books quickly and keeping himself relevant.

Gingerbread Houses: What book or series has wonderful world building?

One of the most expansive, deepest worlds that I’ve entered is Patrick Rothfuss’ Temerant—specifically the Four Corners of Civilization where the story he is now telling in The Kingkiller Chronicles take place. There are multiple, distinct cultures with their own traditions, beliefs, histories and folklore, governments, dress, and language. There are several sentient races. No one else that I know has a board game that can be bought in stores with its own history and multiple variations based on who is playing and when and where in the world they are playing. No one else I know knows the history and exchange rates of several currencies within his world.

A Christmas Carol: Favorite classic or one that you want to read?

I am currently reading Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve read parts of it for a class before, but I have never read it in full—but more than Aeneid, I want to read Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. I’ve read several other translations, but hers is the first published by a woman, and I’ve heard that she’s erased some patriarchal mistranslations.

Odyssey is my favorite of the classics that I’ve read—specifically I’ve liked Robert Fitzgerald’s translation the best yet.

That is what you meant by “classic,” right?

Christmas Sweets: What book would you love to receive for Christmas?

This is not a short list—and I am sure there are more on there that I don’t yet know about. But I have had my eye on the illustrated Harry Potter books, which I can’t justify buying for myself—or just anything that I’ve been wanting. I’m missing a book of Riordan’s. I’m missing all of the Rick Riordan Presents. There are other books I am waiting to buy. I need a copy of Chainbreaker by Tara Sim. I want to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. I like picture books, but I can’t justify spending money on them myself. There are graphic novels I would love to own: the whole Avatar: The Last Airbender set, Craig Thompson’s—but don’t own for the same reason that I so rarely buy myself picture books; it’s a lot of money for a few hours’ enjoyment.

What I got was a signed copy of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, and I am not at all displeased.

Candles in the Window: What book gives you that warm fuzzy feeling?

I have a hard time finding books that give me warm fuzzies—because generally that’s not what I’m looking for in a novel. Most recently though? I was given very warm fuzzies from the budding romance between Colton and Danny in Tara Sim’s Timekeeper. Those were warmer, fuzzier feelings even than I am getting from the sword and sorcery romance series that I am rereading.

Christmas Trees & Decorations: What are some of your favorite book covers?

I work in a bookstore. I see good covers all the time. ALL THE TIME. And very few of the books behind those covers have I ever—will I ever—read. As I look around my room I see more books that I’ve brought home because the cover and the jacket blurb convinced me. Books like Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Hatem Aly), like Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers (Diana Sudyka), like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (Rich Deas), which I am actually very slowly reading now because I am not ready for that level of emotion.

 

Of the books that I’ve read, I think that John Rocco did a wonderful job with Riordan’s books, particularly for The Heroes of Olympus, particularly The Son of Neptune and The House of Hades, but also on The Kane Chronicles, particularly The Serpent’s Shadow. I think Mary GrandPré did a great job with the Harry Potter covers, particularly for The Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows but recognize that I like those perhaps more for their nostalgia than for their merit alone (a poster of The Deathly Hallows hung in my bedroom for several years), but I like Jonny Duddle’s covers for The Philosopher’s Stone and for The Deathly Hallows best of all of the English-language versions yet.

 

 

Some special mention needs to be made for Morgan Rhodes’ Rebel Spring (Shane Rebenschied) and Shannon Messenger’s Flashback (Jason Chan) for having amazing covers which almost alone are the reasons I want to read these series—though I’ve not started either. I guess the way to draw me in is to threaten or attack me with a shiny, pointed weapon.

 

Looking at these all side by side, I think that I like jewel tones too, emotional faces of realistically painted heroes and heroines, lots of detail.

Christmas Joy: What are some of your favorite things about Christmas And/Or some of your favorite Christmas memories?

I want to change this one, because this question does not seem appropriately bookish. So let me pose this question instead: What is your favorite Christmastime scene from a book? You don’t come here to learn about my memories—or you shouldn’t do, because that isn’t what I’m here to share—you are here to learn about books!

I think the Christmas scene that gives me the warmest fuzzies is Will Stanton and Merriman singing parts of “Good King Wenceslas” in The Dark Is Rising on Christmas Eve to open the magical portal to the room that holds the book that teaches Will EVERYTHING. But young Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the film version of The Sorcerer’s Stone exchanging “Happy Christmas, Harry” and “Happy Christmas, Ron” and Daniel’s astonished “I have presents?” warm my heart more than most anything could do.

Merry Christmas, my readers, whatever you may be doing today, whether you are celebrating or not.  And hey! if you complete this book tag, let me know; I’d love to read about some of your favorites.  Cheers!

Book Reviews: November 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Valuing Women and Two Holidays

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Women in History and Today

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.My First Little People, Big Dreams: Audrey Hepburn by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.

****

Seasonal Stories

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.

I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.

*****

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Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.

****

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Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018.  Originally published 1953.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.

***

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Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.

****

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Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.

***** 

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Shelfie: December 9, 13, & 17, 2016: Christmas Prep 2016

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2016 was a fun Christmas.  We threw a holiday party at the store, for which I got put in charge of the decorations.  I ought to have done more, but I had fun with what I did do.  I underestimated the amount of decorations needed to make the whole store look grand.  I made one of our wreaths though, as I’d seen my mother do at home.  This year’s book tree was Hollins green and gold.

Book Reviews: January 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Love and Immigration and Fancy Nancy

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What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2018.

I am a fan of this series. I am particularly a fan of Mae Besom’s artwork. The text continues to be inspiring but vague in its description, anthropomorphizing an idea—in this case a chance. The protagonist at first misses that chance, afraid to capture it, but then he catches another one later.

***

Stories of Immigration

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Paddington by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. HarperCollins, 2014. First published 1998.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This one was a little long for my audience, but they made it. It was very British—understandably British as its written by Brits—but there were words that my audience didn’t know. Overall, it’s a sweet story—but I hesitate on this one. On the one hand the language used to describe Paddington is worrying. He is from “Darkest Peru” and though polite, he does not understand some basic concepts of “civilized” British society (he climbs on tables to reach food and does not understand modern plumbing, leading to not only a giant mess in the bathroom but also to his near-drowning). The cabbie wants to charge extra for driving a bear and even more for a sticky bear. Paddington is depicted as needing to be taken care of by the British family because he’s incapable of taking care of himself—even though he’s traversed half the globe on his own with nothing but his wits and a jar of marmalade. I want to rate this story highly, because if I don’t think about it, it’s quite a wonderfully British, wonderfully fun adventure story of a bear who finds himself suddenly a part of a kind, suburban British family, but….

***

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Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. Dial-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

This is an important story, particularly now, of a Haitian American family torn apart by an immigration detainment center. The jailors are cruel, and un-empathetic to young Saya’s tears, threatening not to allow her to visit if she can’t keep from crying when asked to leave. Her mother sends cassettes home with Saya’s father of stories of Haitian folklore or her own imagination for Saya to listen to at bedtime, but of course its not enough. Saya and her father write letters to plead her mother’s case, and Saya’s letter to the newspaper gains the media’s attention and the public’s support, ultimately reuniting her family. Saya’s story ends happily, where so many others do not, but Saya fights a battle that no child should have to fight. This one nearly made me cry in the store. Be warned though that it’s a long story. It’d have a hard time keeping the attention of my young story time audience.

****

Stories of Love

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Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

So many beautiful people and families are depicted in this bright, colorful picture book! The text is lyrical, poetic, and deeply moving. There’s an image that was controversial around the time of its publication of a child hiding beneath a piano in a room with overturned furniture, a nearly finished glass of scotch, and two fighting adults, the woman crying because sometimes love is hard and sometimes love doesn’t last. This is an important book. This is an important book for children who are struggling because a family’s love has burnt out or for whom fear has come from a newscast. This is an important book of hope, of finding love in everyone and in everything. There is a message of sending you out into the world, which will make this an alternate graduation recommendation from me when all everyone wants is Oh! The Places You’ll Go!. This one also made me nearly cry in the store, and I know it touched the hearts of several coworkers too.

*****

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Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. HarperDesign-HarperCollins, 2017.

This one is shelved at Barnes & Noble in the adult section under humor, but there’s nothing that makes it inappropriate for children—and frankly I didn’t it find it very humorous–deeply touching, yes, but not laugh out loud. Santa and his husband have a wonderfully loving marriage and cozy home in the North Pole—though each year the North Pole seems to grow just a little warmer. They help one another, Santa’s husband being especially supportive of Santa with his difficult job, and though they sometimes have disagreements, they always kiss and make-up. Santa is portrayed as an older black man who is living happily with his husband David (not named till the last page), an older white man, who helps Santa with his heavy workload, negotiating benefits packages with the elves, cooking, even going to shopping malls sometimes to impersonate Santa for the children. I’m sorry I found it only so late after Christmas. Next year will be another year.

*****

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You! by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015.

There’s no story to this one, and the text all seems pretty trite. The text rhymes. The illustrations are all very simple, solid-colored figures and shapes on solid-colored backgrounds with graphics of question marks, hearts, and stars. There’s loopy text on one page and an illustration on the facing, no clever layout. The text tells me I can be everything I want to be—including someone who lives in a tree. That’s my favorite bit, because it’s the most imaginative, though it’s very possible that that line is included to have made the rhyme (“I think this line’s mostly filler”).  I just don’t see the appeal of this book really.

*

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Not So Small at All by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

My favorite part of this book was the facts and photographs at the end of the book about bees and butterflies and ants and hummingbirds—though I was more interested in those facts than was my story time audience; I did try to read them, and I read them excitedly. From my review of You!, you might have realized that Magsamen is just not my jam. This one doesn’t have a story either, but it seems less trite for having a more unified theme to its platitudes and reminders: that being little does not prevent you from doing great things. If you’re looking for a book with the same moral, though, let me point you to Little Elliot, Big City.

**

Fancy Nancy

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Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy’s family is getting a dog—and Nancy hopes it’ll be a Papillion, a fancy little puppy like her neighbor’s dog. To convince her family that a fancy puppy like Mrs. DeVine’s is what they need, everyone agrees to let Nancy and her family puppy-sit for Jewel. Her friends bring their dogs for a doggie play date, but Jewel hides behind Nancy and is quickly exhausted. Jewel is scared by Jojo’s fun. Nancy realizes that maybe a Papillion like Jewel isn’t the right dog for her family, and she’s feeling quite down. The family stops by the shelter, where the woman introduces the family to Frenchy, a big dog of indeterminate breed that jumps right into Nancy’s arms and likes it when Jojo hugs her. Their dad says that Frenchy is a very unique breed—and Nancy realizes that unique is maybe even better than fancy.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, activity, teacher's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperColllins, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy and Jojo are having a night out beneath the stars. “Can you wish on the sun?” “Hmmm… well, it is a star, so why not?”  Framed by having Nancy explain to Jojo, the book is peppered with lots of simply explained scientific “stellar facts,” like that the sun is a star but that the moon is not and how long it takes a spaceship to reach the moon using current technology. The two pretend to visit the moon. Nancy sports Leia’s buns and invents a new legend for a new constellation, a story about a princess who runs away to marry a man below her station. This is the most fun non-fiction book I think that I’ve stumbled upon since The Magic School Bus books of my youth. It actually reminded me a great deal of The Magic School Bus books but for a younger audience.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, activity, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is a good story for families with new siblings or new pets. Nancy and Bree find a mother cat—a queen—with new kittens. Mrs. DeVine takes the family in, and Nancy and Bree keep a close eye on the young kittens. Bree and Nancy keep Sequin and Rhinestone after the other kittens have found homes. Frenchy is jealous and feeling ignored as Nancy pampers Sequin with lots of attention. Frenchy is an excellent stand-in for an older sibling where Sequin is the new child and Nancy is the new mother. After her parents point out to Nancy that Frenchy might be jealous, Nancy is sure to pay attention to Frenchy too, and she slowly introduces her dog to her cat, explaining too that Sequin is only a baby and not mature like Frenchy. The two become friends, and Frenchy even helps to find Sequin when Sequin goes missing. This one got a little bit long, comprising of several plots strung together: Nancy finding the kittens, Frenchy being jealous of the kitten, and the kitten being lost and found.  But overall, I enjoy the story.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: A Christmastime Rebellion in the Enderverse

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This is my third book in the Enderverse. I found the rereleased hardcover at Barnes & Noble and got so excited. It was nearing Christmas when I did, and I am a sucker for Christmas fanfictions, so a canon Christmas novella in a world that I’m just falling in love with was near irresistible. So I ran to the library.

This happens mid-Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow, when Ender is newly transferred to Rat Army, but the majority of the novel does not revolve around Ender.

Zeck Morgan is rescued from his ultra-religious father, a Puritan minister who whips Zeck to make him more pure. Zeck has a perfect memory, which his mother believes is from God, though she warns Zeck to hide that memory from his father, whom she thinks will believe it from the devil. The IF sees that memory as a useful asset in a soldier—and it seems implied that the soldier who comes for him believes that he is rescuing Zeck from his abusive household, though Zeck resents being drafted.

In Battle School, Zeck maintains his father’s preached pacifism and won’t fire his weapon, though he enters the Battle Room and does the school work for Battle School. He is disliked by the students.

A homesick Battle School student, Flip Rietvald, sets his shoes out on Sinterklaas Eve, and Dink Meeker, noticing the childlike gesture, gives him Sinterklaas gifts, a silly poem and a pancake shaped into a F.

Religious observation is banned in Battle School and Zeck’s father has preached that Santa Claus is a manifestation of Satan, so Zeck complains to Commander Graff about the Dutch boys’ observation of the holiday. The punishment that Flip and Dink receive spurs Dink to begin an underground celebration—not in the name of Christmas, but in the name of Santa Claus (in all his forms), whom he argues is not a religious figure but a cultural icon, his day celebrated even by the atheists of countries where he exists, and nationality impossible to ban. Children begin to give one another gifts with a sock attached so that the gift is known to be in Santa’s name.

The battle brews. Zeck stirs up trouble by convincing one Pakistani soldier that prayer is a national observation as much as is the celebration of Santa because Pakistan was formed as a Muslim nation, and so Muslim identity is national identity. When this results in several Muslims being led away in handcuffs for religious observation, the Santa Claus celebration stops; the fight becomes too serious, the consequences too dire; it ceases to be fun, and the celebration ceases to be in the spirit of Santa Claus, “compassion and generosity […] the irresistible urge to make people happy […] the humility to realize that you aren’t any better than the rest of us in the eyes of God” (78).

Because this series is Ender’s story more than any of the others’, it is Ender who gets to give the last Santa Claus gift of the book and demonstrate the team-building prowess that makes him such an astounding leader. He corners Zeck and convinces him of the error of his father’s protestations, battling Zeck Bible verse for verse and sharing secrets about his home-life and his abusive brother.

This story mostly provides an interesting platform to discuss national observations versus religious observations, particularly around the Christmas holiday but around all religions—though only Christianity and Islam are discussed—the intersection and dissonance of nationality and religion, religious tolerance, and the fake religious proclamations of those whose words are not reflected in their actions.

It ends on a happy note, which I almost require of my Christmas fanfiction but has even more substance than I’m used to expecting from a good Christmas ficlet—for which I was not ungrateful. I like more of a Christmas meal than Christmas fluff.

Ultimately, this was a good diversion while I prepped and then survived the Christmas holiday.  It was good food for thought.  It was not the cleanest and tightest of Card’s writings, but it was interesting to spend more time with Dink and more time with some of the previously nameless Battle School students.

***

Card, Orson Scott. A War of Gifts. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty-Macmillan, 2007.

This review is not endorsed by Orson Scott Card, Tor, or Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: November & December 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Gift-Giving

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

River Rose and the Magical Lullaby by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Laura Hughes. HarperCollins, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

River Rose is so excited to be going to the zoo the next day. Her mother tucks her in and sings her a lullaby. That night, magic balloons show up outside her bedroom window and transport her to the zoo, where she has a party with the animals, none of whom are confined to their compounds. I like that at some point in the night she asks her friend, Joplin the dog, what he wants to do. At the end of the night, when the polar bears tell her that they need sleep, she snuggles up with the bears and sings the lullaby that her mother sang to her to the bears. She ends up back in her bed, glad for her adventure, but glad too to be home.  Was it a dream?  Was it real?  Does she go again to the zoo the next day and is she disappointed when she sees the reality of the zoo in the daylight?  The book doesn’t say.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Everything Is Mama by Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

Like with Fallon’s first book, there’s not a lot here. In this, presumably mostly maternal animals try to teach their children new words, only to have them reply “mama,” with a reversal at the end with the trite ending “but you are everything to mama” (expect to fit the rhyme, the sentiment is phrased more awkwardly than that). I think very little of it, but I caught a mother reading it to a young child at the store, and the child giggled at every page, so there is an audience for this, and maybe neither my story time toddlers nor I are not it. My audience lately has comprised of children 4 and older.

**

Lessons in Sharing

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Clifford Shares by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2012.

There’s not much to this little board book either, just a few pages and a few sentences in total, but Clifford is a familiar friend. Clifford shares his water. He shares a bench. And then everyone shares with Clifford at a picnic. There’s just not much here to rate. There’s nothing remarkable about this book, really, good or bad. There’s a vague idea of reciprocity: Clifford shares so others share with Clifford, but the book’s real draw is Clifford.

***

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The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2009.

This was a long story time book, but one of my regulars showed up early, and I promised to read one book—whatever book she picked out. The prose in this book is prettier, more descriptive, the story more fleshed out with detail than what I usually read for story time, which was a nice change.

But this is a problematic book, relying too heavily on whitewashed history and doing little if anything to correct or clarify the narrative.  Papa trades some furniture for a turkey from Farmer Ben—a living turkey. Ben’s named the turkey Squanto after “a Native Bear who helped the Pilgrims plant their corn when they settled in their new home.” I mean, I guess, Ben. Sister Bear doesn’t like the idea of meeting her Thanksgiving dinner while he’s alive. She wants to keep Squanto as a pet. She visits him at the farm as the weather grows colder. To distract Sister from the idea of eating Squanto, Mama Bear proposes a costumed show of the legend of Thanksgiving. “We’ll need feathers for the Native Bears’ headdresses.” No you won’t, Mama Bear. Honey Bear represents Squanto the Native Bear with a full headdress of turkey feathers and speaking broken English: “Me, Squanto!” her only line. Admittedly, Honey Bear is not portrayed as speaking good English, and I suppose the cast is limited to the preexisting characters, but…. “He speaks English! What a miracle!” Miracle it is not, Cousin Fred, though maybe there is some miracle in Squanto finding his way back to his own land if not his own village after all his trials. The whole legend of Thanksgiving as told in this story is the whitewashed imagining that we hear “in school over and over again every November” (or we did when I was in public school; I hope today’s tellings are a little more nuanced, a little more accurate) with no discussion of the horrors visited on Native Americans by the European invaders.

That doesn’t even begin in on the problems of reminding children that our Thanksgiving feast features a once-living bird, and that it might be possible to persuade their parents to skip the bird and to keep the bird as a pet instead because Squanto the Turkey survives, is given a new pen in the Bears’ backyard. Parents should be prepared to answer questions that Sister Bear’s feeling for Squanto might stir.

It’s difficult to avoid religion when discussing the First Thanksgiving, and this book does not, the Bears’ prayer even included in the text.

**

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Plush by Louise Myers. Tiny Tales-Whitman, 1949.

A friend bought me this pocket-sized paperback because the pony Plush looks a quite a bit like my own pony. The animals of the farm (all anthropomorphized, though Plush less so than the others) take a pony cart, pulled by Plush, to the Fair to sell their goods and spend the money that they make. There’s an element of an animal sounds primer in the text, with the pony’s hooves clippety-clopping, the hen cackling, the duck quacking, the lamb baaing, and the pig oinking. The friends all buy gifts for Plush with their money. It’s a sweet story of gift-giving, expressing thanks, and retail.

****

Christmas and Wintertime

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River Rose and the Magical Christmas by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Lucy Fleming. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Of the two River Rose books, this one my audience unanimously liked better. Now admittedly, we read this story December 16, just 9 days from Christmas morning, so I’m sure that timing and the already swelling excitement for the holiday tinged their reactions to the story. I’m going to be recommending the other more frequently because it is far less seasonal and far more universal. Not every child is excited for Christmas (not all of them celebrating the holiday), but I think that most children are excited to visit a zoo—particularly a zoo without enclosures and with no supervision but a polar bear mama as is the one in the first River Rose book. In this River Rose sneaks down the stairs to hand-deliver her letter to Santa, but she’s missed him. Instead the magical balloons from the previous book are waiting in her living room. She and Joplin take the balloons to the North Pole where they are greeted by the elves and Mrs. Claus, who plies River Rose with a wealth of sweets, the book becoming a numbers primer. She is near sleep when Santa returns. Santa makes one last trip to bring River Rose home, and she hand-delivers her letter to him—which is not a list of requested gifts, but a simple thank you, which touches Santa. This new illustrator does a good job continuing in the tradition of the previous. I didn’t notice the difference, and don’t think I’d have noted it expect that I write these reviews and am always sure to credit the illustrator too. Fleming’s palette is maybe a little more muted and her lines a little crisper than Hughes’.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's bio.

Outside by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Deirde Gill illustrated Trains Don’t Sleep, which I read and loved in October. I went exploring to see what else she had done, and found this story, written and illustrated by Gill. A bored boy leaves the house and explores the snowy outside. His brother won’t join him outside, so he makes himself a friend—an enormous snowman, who comes to life to help him build a castle. And what do castles attract? Dragons of course! This one is thankfully friendly. His brother finally does come out to play, after the boy’s adventure in the snow is done, and together they make one last snowman. Because the brother stays inside staring at screens, he misses his younger brother’s adventures. There’s as much a lesson about leaving screens to play outside as there is a lesson about the wonders of the imagination and the outdoors and free play. These illustrations are everything I hoped for. The colors, the landscapes, the characters are amazing! There’s not a great deal of text, most pages comprising of only a sentence or two. Some have only a sentence fragment, and some have no words at all.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, preview, trailer, reviews, and author's bio.

A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1.

The friends from Too Many Carrots are back, this time with Turtle as the protagonist. I feel this turtle on a personal level. He doesn’t like winter. He just wants to hibernate through it. But his friends are having fun in the snow and being noisy nearby no matter where he makes his nest and despite his sign. Eventually he accidentally stumbles into some winter fun of his own, not realizing his newest napping spot is a sled primed at the top of the hill. He enjoys racing downhill, and in the end joins his friends on the iced-over pond where his sled stops, skating and drinking hot cocoa and generally enjoying the winter with his friends.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Santa’s Magic Key by Eric James. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

I don’t think that I ever truly believed in Santa Claus, but I did grow up in a house without a chimney, and I wasn’t unaware of the myths surrounding the man. I think I questioned less how Santa would get into our house when we had no fireplace and more how we would communicate in J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world without a fireplace to connect to the Floo Network. How Santa did all that he was supposed to do were more for me questions of filling in gaps in the story than worries about whether or not I would receive any gifts.

The tagline for this book suggests starting a new family tradition—which makes it sound as though Eric James is hoping to appeal to the same audience as participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. As far as new holiday traditions go, I’d be far more willing to go along with James’. A) It requires action only one night out the year. B) It does not require me to suggest that an inanimate doll is 1) animate, 2) always watching and judging my child’s behavior and 3) reporting that behavior to a boss who will reward or punish a child based on that behavior. James’ story is less preparation for a police state and more assurance that your house can be visited by Santa despite your house lacking an element seemingly present in every Santa myth.

James’ book is long, but better written, and his illustrations are beautiful, hazily but realistically rendered full-page spreads rather than the cartoonish characters lacking much setting that accompany the Elf on the Shelf.

Despite all this, James is not likely to create the empire that Aebersold, Bell, and Steinwart have because he doesn’t self-publish and he didn’t create a character who can be dressed in different outfits, have pets, and have accessories, and whose pets can have accessories.

***

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Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius and illustrated by Olga T. Mosqueda. Disney, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

Frozen’s Olaf becomes the protagonist of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, and Julius rewrites Moore’s text for Olaf. Familiar lines of Moore’s are echoed in the new text. Anna and Elsa make guest appearances, Olaf mistakes the “eight tiny reindeer” for “eight little Svens,” and at first he thinks that Santa might be Kristoff. There’s a lot more humor in this new version, the language is more modern and simpler than Moore’s (“His boots were all black and his pants were all red. But where was the rest of him? Where was his head?”). Olaf, a simple snowman not familiar with Christmas traditions, makes a delightful new narrator for this twist on the classic tale. The illustrations are bright with nods to the film in the style and in the details, but plenty of familiar, traditional Christmas details in them to almost erase the fact that this is a Disney product. There’s tradition, there’s extra sweetness, there’s the familiarity of Disney characters.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.