Category Archives: picture books

You Can Do Anything – an inspirational tale with a Hip-Hop beat

One of the neat things about being an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More is coming across titles that I would never normally pick up, but that hold some pretty amazing messages. The newest in that category is Hip and Hop, You Can Do Anything, by Akala.

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Akala is an award winning UK Hip-Hop artist who also founded the Hip Hop Shakespeare company. As per their website, The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is a music theatre production company aimed at exploring the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between the works of William Shakespeare and that of modern day hip-hop artists. How cool is that? Continue reading →

A Little Dash of Confidence

genius fishBeing a kid is hard. Every day a new challenge comes around that might stop you in your tracks. How you deal with it is key.

There are a lot of books out these days about believing in yourself. I’ve written a bunch about the idea of believing in yourself in the past, but it is a topic that resonates with me and with children. When you are learning to do something new, it is so easy to just give up when it is hard, but where would that get you?

thing lou couldn't do coverNot giving up is the main focus of Ashley Spires’ new book, The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do (Kids Can Press, May 2017). In this story, Lou and her friends are brave adventurers who have big dreams and can do anything. Except that one day when they decide to play pirates, her friends suggest that the pirate ship be a tree and she has never climbed one before. Lou suggests other games, comes up with excuses why she can’t climb the tree, and finally admits to her friends that she just doesn’t know how. With a little help and encouragement, she decides that she will give it a try. What’s even better? Spires doesn’t actually show Lou getting up the tree. She gives it a go, still doesn’t make it, but she will be back another day to attempt it again. We loved Spires’ earlier book The Most Magnificent Thing, and this is a great addition to books about perseverance and determination. Continue reading →

Blog Tour & Giveaway – On Duck Pond

Welcome to Day #9 of the On Duck Pond Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of On Duck Pond by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (4/11/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Jane and Bob, plus 10 chances to win a set of On Bird Hill and On Duck Pond !

Seven Babies in a Row
by Jane Yolen

Seven babies in a row,
Hard to watch them, all, I know.Hard to keep them clean and neat,
Though they’ve landed on their feet.Hard to teach them wood duck ways
When they’re gone in sixty days.
©2017 Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.
*****

Stop by Marianna Frances tomorrow for the last day of the tour!

Blog Tour Schedule:

April 10th – Word Spelunking
April 11th – Mrs. Mommy BookNerd
April 12th Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
April 13th – Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
April 14th – Mundie Kids
April 17th – Life Naturally
April 18th – Chat with Vera
April 19th – The Kids Did It
April 20th –  Books My Kids Read
April 21st – Marianna Frances
From award-winning and NY Times bestselling children’s author of more than 350 books, Jane Yolen, and award-winning illustrator, Bob Marstall, On Duck Pond is the first sequel to the acclaimed On Bird Hill, which launched the children’s picture book series written for the esteemed Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the world authority on birds. 
In On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall took readers on a surreal journey with a boy and his dog, as they stopped, looked, and noticed things along their path—ultimately discovering the miracle of the birth of a baby bird. On Duck Pond continues the journey of the boy and dog story, this time in a new place—a serene pond, filled with birds, frogs, turtles and other creatures going about their quiet business. Their intrusion stirs the pond into a cacophony of activity, reaching climactic chaos, before slowly settling back to it’s quiet equilibrium. 

This beautiful and enchanting sequel is sure to delight On Bird Hill fans and millions of readers and fans of Jane’s popular classics.

About the Author: Jane Yolen has authored more than 350 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, which every budding young ornithologist owns, You Nest Here With Me, which is a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs. Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world.

Janes husband, David Stemple, was both a well known bird recordist and a professor of computer science and he taught the entire family how to identify birds. Many of Jane’s books are about wildlife subjects, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Hatfield, MA. Visit her online at janeyolen.com.

About the Illustrator: Bob Marstall is the illustrator of nine nonfiction children’s books, including the The Lady and the Spider, which sold over a quarter-of-a-million copies and was a Reading Rainbow selection. Bob has also been honored with an ALA Notable; an IRA Teachers’ Choice; a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children; and three John Burroughs selections.
In addition, two of Bob’s books are included in the New York Times Parent’s Guide’s “1001 Best Books of the Twentieth Century.” Bob Lives in Easthamton, MA. Visit him online at marstallstudio.com.
About the Cornell Lab: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet. birds.cornell.edu
REVIEW
(I received a copy for review purposes)
On Duck Pond is a charming book best utilized as a read aloud. In this story, a young boy and his dog are taking a walk and the world is still when suddenly the calm is broken by the cacophonous sounds of ducks. The tranquil scene is replaced by chaos as all of the animals in the pond disappear. The mood is heightened by the marvelous illustrations of Bob Marstall showing the animals making their hasty retreats. Even the boy notices that his reflection in the water is disturbed by the appearance of the ducks. But as quickly as they come, they also leave and “wild things returned, as wild things will.” The boy watches the whole thing and gains a better understanding of the natural world.
In addition to the story, there is a wonderful section at the back of the book that gives information on the ducks themselves. There are 10 types of ducks and other birds mentioned in the book and they are all described. The book encourages children to explore natural habitats near them and to learn more about birds and other animals.

Continue reading →

A Gathering of Goldies

I love taking a look at different versions of well known fairy tales. While the originals are a force to be reckoned with, there is such a wealth of creativity when authors dream up alternate versions of stories that we know by heart. Recently, we decided to take a look at a wide variety of Goldilocks options.

A Gathering of Goldies

james marshall goldiJames Marshall’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a classic retelling that has been slightly modernized with Marshall’s whimsical illustrations. Goldilocks is a naughty little girl who often ignores her mother’s rules. At the bears’ house, baby bear’s porridge is too hot to eat, so the family goes out for a bike ride and Goldi enters and does her usual damage.

three snow bearsJan Brett takes the classic story and moves it to Alaska. In Three Snow Bears, Goldilocks is a little Inuit girl who wanders into the bears’ igloo when they go out to let their breakfast cool. She drinks his soup, finds his fur lined boots super comfortable, and gets cozy under his furry blanket. Like most Goldilocks heroines, she runs away when the bears come home, but these bears don’t seem to mind that she visited and wave good-bye to her as she leaves.

curlilocksFor those looking for a non-traditional, non-blonde version of Goldilocks, Yolanda King has written Curlilocks and the Three Pink Pandas. In this story Curlilocks gets sidetracked by butterflies while picking blueberries and gets lost. She finds the pink pandas’ house and goes in. She eats their oatmeal with ghee, untangles her curls with their brushes, then falls asleep in the youngest panda’s bed. When she runs home, she tells her parents what happened. They take her back to the panda’s house so that she can apologize for breaking Pumpkin’s comb and messing things up. Then both families enjoy a lovely meal together. A nice update to the story, especially with her going back to their house and making things right.

goldie diane stanelyDiane Stanley put a great spin on the traditional Goldilocks story by modernizing it and making it less about a nosy girl and instead about a little girl who was looking for a friend. In Goldie and the Three Bears, Goldie knows what she likes and what she doesn’t, but she can’t seem to find a friend who gets her and likes to do similar things. One day she accidentally gets off the school bus at the wrong stop and looks for help. She goes into the house of the three bears and has her usual misadventures. When baby bear finds Goldie in her bed, she is m-a-d mad. But when the little bear takes a running leap into the bed to pounce on Goldie, the two girls wind up using the bed like a trampoline. Rather than running away, Goldie explains what happened and she and Baby Bear become good friends.

goldi rocksCorey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton change things up by bringing in a musical aspect in Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears. In this story, the three bears are in a rock band but are in need of a soprano to take their group to the next level. While they go out to hold auditions, Goldi finds their house/studio. Rather than the traditional porridge, chair and bed, Goldi tries out their microphones, headphones and instruments. When the bears return unsuccessful, Goldi hits a perfect high C in fright when they wake her up. Once she gets over her shock, they ask her to join the band and they all live happily ever after.

dusty locksGoldie goes Western in Sunny Lowell’s Dusty Locks and the Three Bears. In this version, Dusty was a dirty little girl who hadn’t bathed in a month. When she runs away from her mother one day, she finds herself at the home of the three bears and barges in. Comically, we are told that if she had just waited, the bears probably would have offered her some of their beans with Western hospitality, but she couldn’t wait. When the bears do come home, they are shocked and amazed by her smell thinking perhaps that she is a skunk. Unlike most Goldilocks stories, this one shows what happens when she gets home – she is scolded for running away and immediately bathed. If she ever ran into the bears again, they wouldn’t recognize her.

goldilocks-dinosaursOne of my all time favorites is Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. In this laugh out loud version, there are three dinosaurs who set up chocolate pudding and then, for no particular reason, they went “Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by.” The dinosaurs are trying to make a tasty meal of the nosy child, but she fortunately figures it out and high tales it out of their house before doom befalls her. I actually did a complete review with pictures a few years ago which you can read here.

somebodyMarilyn Tolhurst wrote Somebody and the Three Blaires for her son “who used to be outraged at the way Goldilocks treated the baby bear.” As you may recall, Goldilocks destroys everything that belongs to Baby Bear and then runs away screaming. In this book, the Blaires decide to go for a walk and a bear called Somebody comes into their house. She messes up all sorts of stuff because, as a bear, she doesn’t know any better. Baby Blair thinks each thing is rather comical, especially when he finds Somebody in his crib and says, “Issa big teddy bear.” Somebody escapes down the drainpipe and Baby Blaire invites her to come back to play.

believe meA fun twist on the story comes when we hear the story from a very modern Baby Bear’s perspective. In Believe Me, Goldilocks Rocks!, Nancy Loewen has taken the story that we all know so well and completely turned it on its head. In this story, Sam (aka Baby Bear) can’t stand porridge so his parents make him go for a walk, because if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything. He sneaks back home and finds Goldilocks in his house taking selfies of herself eating porridge and sitting in various chairs – she’s been dared by Red Riding Hood. When Goldi starts jumping on the beds, Sam asks to be let in so they can play together. Sam pretends to chase Goldi out of the house, but while they are running they trade phone numbers. A great addition to the truly fractured fairy tale grouping.

beware of the bearsIn a similar vein, Beware of the Bear, by Alan McDonald, shows the bears attempting to get back at Goldilocks for the havoc she wrecked on their house. The bears enter what they believe is Goldi’s house and mess it up – they have a cereal food fight, dance on her furniture, use her bathroom supplies, and have a pillow fight. When Goldi enters the house, the bears jump out to tell her that they decided to pay her a visit. The extra twist happens when we learn that this was just another of the many houses she randomly sneaks into and that it belongs to the big bad wolf!

It is really amazing how many different versions of the same story are out there. Plus, we also enjoy what Chris Colfer does mashing all of the fairy tales together in The Land of Stories series. Do you have a favorite version of a fairy tale?

Happy Dreamer

There are some books that just scream out for certain children. When I walked my younger daughter into kindergarten today, her teacher had the latest Peter H. Reynolds book up on the counter. I love Peter H. Reynolds. He is the genius behind ish, The Dot, and Sky Color (among others). His latest book is called Happy Dreamer and it just calls out for E. Turns out that this book is due to come out at the end of March and I will have to purchase a copy of it at that point.

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This beautiful book encourages the dreamer in all of us, but especially in children. E is one of those children who loves to create her own worlds, who is constantly doing some sort of art project, and who of course leaves a mess in her wake. She marches to the beat of her own drummer and happily dances around to the music in her soul. Her older sister and I are more literal, but her path is anything but straight. It is what makes her so special.

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Peter H. Reynolds gets what it is like for children, especially for dreamers. He understands how hard it can be to sit still sometimes when there is so much going on in your brain. He understands how it can be hard to be quiet when there is so much to shout about. Poignantly, he gets how challenging it can be for some to sit still and pay attention in school when your dreams have a mind of their own (and can be more interesting then what’s in front of you).

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Happy Dreamer celebrates all kinds of dreamers. He acknowledges that sometimes it can be really hard, like when your parents tell you to clean up – because if I put my things away, “there is less me to show” (seriously, it feels like he talked to E before writing this page). That life doesn’t always work out, but that true dreamers must believe in themselves at all times and they will be able to find a way back to their happy spots, because “Dreamers have a way of bouncing back…and moving forward!”

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I adored this book. I think this book is important for all of the dreamers our there. “There are so many ways to be a happy dreamer. What kind of dreamer are you?”dreamer-inside-cover

Over-Scheduled Andrew

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It is amazing how busy our children’s schedules are these days. I know that I personally feel like a taxi service sometimes, just going from one activity to the next. In Over-Scheduled Andrew, author Ashley Spires shows how having too many extra-curricular activities can get in the way of just being a kid.

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It started innocently enough. Andrew loved putting on plays, so he joined the drama club “so he could wear costumes and perform on a real stage.” He was a natural, “but even naturals have to practice,” so he was encouraged to join the debate club, which led to the chess club. He also found it hard to keep up with the dance routines, so he took ballet and karate. It was a lot, but he still made sure to see his best friend and just be a kid. Then people asked him to do more and more and finally, the straw broke the camel’s back.

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All of his activities left him so exhausted that he missed his cue in the big play, the reason he had started all of this in the first place.

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Andrew got smart and cut back his schedule to only 2 things. Now he had time to just hang out with his friends and be a kid.

These days, we really do tend to over-schedule our children rather than let them just have fun. I know that I’m guilty of it at times. Kids seem to have a really hard time with being “bored” these days. Unstructured play time is so important to their development. The hardest part is that most of us no longer live in neighborhoods where the kids can just go outside and play with the other kids who live close-by. Playdates have to be organized around everyone’s busy schedules. There is no easy solution, but this book was definitely spot on for our current culture. The interesting thing here was that Andrew had overdone it himself and he was smart enough to finally take a step back and give up most of his activities so that he could be fully involved in the ones that he really loved. A great book with a timely message.

Can I Join Your Club?

can-i-join-your-club_diversity-inclusivity-and-friendshipOne of the more important lessons that we can teach our children is to be inclusive rather than exclusive. To embrace others regardless of their differences and to try to be friends with everyone. This is something that we teach at home, through our actions and behaviors, and through books. It is never to young to learn to include others, but it can be a hard message to learn, which is why I’m so happy to have found the book Can I Join Your Club, by John Kelly.

In this simple book, Duck wanted to make some new friends so he decided to join a club. He first approaches Lion, although he does so with a large wig on his head to look like a mane. When he asks Lion if he can join, Lion needs Duck to prove that he is worthy of the club and asks him to roar like a lion. Of course, ducks don’t roar, they quack. “‘Application denied!'” said Lion. ‘You’re not really what we’re looking for in a Lion Club.'”club1

Duck then goes from club to club never quite fitting in and constantly being told that he is denied entrance to their club. As I read the book, I got the odd memory of all of the club tables out on college campus, but especially right before rush week. You wanted so much to fit in, and yet deep down, you knew you were a little different.

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Duck was depressed. Who wouldn’t be? Club after club has just said that he wasn’t worth having around. Luckily, Duck is one smart duck and he knows what he has to do – start his own club! But Duck is also a caring duck and he doesn’t want anyone to feel shut down the way he did, so when Tortoise comes up and asks if he can join Duck Club, Duck has one simple question – “Do you want to be in a club with me?” When Tortoise says yes, Duck of course tells him that he is approved.

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Animal after animal approaches Duck’s table which has now been renamed from “Duck Club” to “Our Club.” Duck realized quickly that you can never have too many friends and you don’t have to all be the same.

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The story is simple and yet profound. If you only surround yourself with people that look and act exactly like you, you will be missing out on all of the things that everyone else has to offer. But if you care less about what’s on the outside and more about what’s on the inside, you’ve opened yourself up to a world of possibilities and a whole lot of fun.

This is a great message for little kids as they are starting preschool and going to playgroups. The book is also rather large so it is perfect for story time and sharing.

** I am an Independent Usborne Books & More Consultant, but I never recommend books that I don’t believe in. If you want any additional information on this book or any other Usborne title, please get in touch with me.

The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting books to challenge my kids and everyone else’s. From storyline to embellishments, kids get excited when things are a little different. So I was thrilled when I opened the pages of The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth.

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The story tells of a magic hour where the animals and other things within a museum come to life. The only problem is that Teddy, a baby mammoth, has gotten loose and his older brother Timothy needs to find him and get him back to the museum before the clock strikes one. A young boy, Oscar, see Timothy outside of his bedroom window and goes to help. Continue reading →

The Orphan Singer

orphan-coverThere are times when books move us, but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that sets it apart. The Orphan Singer, by Emily Arnold McCully, is one such book. Even more interesting is that the story is based on real Venetian institutions that cared for orphaned girls while giving them amazing musical educations.

The Orphan Singer tells of a family in 18th century Venice with a musically gifted son, Antonio Dolci. He loves to sing and has the voice of an angel but his family cannot afford vocal training due to their extreme poverty. When their newborn daughter, Nina, shows signs of musical prodigy as well, they lament keeping her from her destiny. A brilliant, but tragic idea comes in the form of “abandoning” her to the “ospedalo,” an orphanage that also boasted a superb music conservatory. orphan-singer-3

The young girl, renamed Caterina by the ospedalo, grows and is an outstanding singer. While her voice is angelic, her behavior is problematic, causing friction with the instructors. The pain of the Dolcis’ sacrifice eases somewhat as they eventually attend concerts performed by the ospedalo’s chorus and befriend their growing daughter, never informing her of their bond. When the family doesn’t appear one day because Antonio is deathly ill, she realizes how important they are to her and sneaks out to him. When Caterina’s voice proves the elixir that heals Antonio, she knows that their bond can only be one of family.

orphan-singer-2Caterina knows that she should be kicked out of the chorus for sneaking out, but fortunately, the teacher who opens the door upon her return is kind and understands why she went. That kindness is paid back tenfold as it teaches Caterina to lead with kindness and teach all of the younger girls.

Both J and I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations pull you back to Venice in the 1800s. The rich colors in the clothes of those with money versus the drab clothing of those without is an example of the simple, but important details. This is a true to life story of a society that treasured music and artistic talent. Filled with beautiful artwork and fascinating details, this book is a masterpiece.

Serving Up Soup from a Stone

Over the years, many have told the story of Stone Soup in which hungry strangers trick a town into feeding them by making soup from a stone. As with many folk tales, the story changes with each retelling, but the backbone stays the same. A hungry stranger, or two, enters a town. When the locals refuse to help him he proceeds to make some form of stone soup. The natives are curious about how you could possibly do this and set about watching him. They are then wisely tricked into providing the actual sustenance and the town shares a meal together. It is a tale in which people are initially unwilling to help a stranger, but in the end, realize that kindness and sharing make everything better.

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fandango-stew1A very fun version of the story is Fandango Stew, by David Davis. In this telling, Luis and his grandfather are dead broke, but as they ride into the town of Skinflint, they have a plant to make Fandango stew for the town, with one tiny bean. They slowly get people to offer up ingredients, playing on the fact that the folks of Skinflint don’t want to be out done by any of the other town that Luis and his abuelo have been to. The town comes together, as all do, and make a fine fandango stew. When the sherriff asks where he can find a fandango bean, they explain that they are just simple pinto beans – “Any bean makes a fine fandango stew. Just add generosity and kindness.”fandango-party

cactus-soup-coverIn a very similar style, Eric A. Kimmel brings forth his version in Cactus Soup. Per his author’s note, Kimmel sets his version in the time of the Mexican Revolution, somewhere between 1910 and 1922. When a group of hungry soldiers ride into San Miguel, the townspeople don’t want to share their food. They hide their tortillas, tamales, beans, and flour and put on torn clothes to look poor. But the Capitán is not fooled. He asks for a cactus thorn to make some cactus soup, and before long he has tricked the townspeople into giving him salt and chilies, vegetables, and a chicken as well! He goes a step further and tells the town that cactus soup always tastes better if you have something to go with it, and soon a full fiesta is thrown with tamales, chorizo, camotes, and several fat roasting pigs.cactus-soup-inside

stone-soup-matzoh Linda Glaser takes us to the village of Chelm, known in Jewish folklore as a village of fools, in Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls. When a poor stranger arrives as Passover is about to start, even though it is a part of the Passover tradition to welcome the stranger, the village encourages him to go elsewhere. No food? No worries. He will make the most delicious matzoh ball soup from a stone. He of course tricks them into bringing the specific ingredients, but Yenta is unconvinced because there are still no matzoh balls. Oh yes! “That stone of mine makes the best matzoh balls in the world – so big and heavy they’ll sit in your belly like rocks all 8 days of Passover.” Very few people like heavy matzoh balls and most claim theirs are the lightest and fluffiest. The women of Chelm step up and say they make the best matzoh balls ever and make hundreds to add to the soup. The town must hold their seder in the synagogue for it is the only place in town that will hold everyone, and that Passover, everyone in Chelm had a fully belly and a full heart.matzoh-inside

muth-stoneJon J. Muth retells the story with three monks who are contemplating what makes one truly happy as they come upon a village that had been through many hard times. The villagers had become distrustful of strangers and even of other villagers. When the monks entered the village, all inhabitants pretended not to be there. “These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.”As with all stone soup stories, the monks trick the villagers into adding extras. “Something magical begins to happen among the villagers. As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more and as this happened the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.” The town was able to enjoy a wonderful feast together, and as the monks got ready to leave, the villagers thanked them for making them realize that “sharing makes us all richer.”muth-interior

forrest-coverHeather Forest takes the stinginess to a different level in her rendition of Stone Soup. Two hungry travelers arrive at a village expecting to find a household that will share a bit of food, as has been the custom along their journey. They come to the first door and kindly ask the woman, “Please, we are hungry. Do you care? will you share? do you have any food?” To their surprise, villager after villager refuses to share, each one closing the door with a bang. As they sit to rest beside a well, one of the travelers observes that if the townspeople have no food to share, they must be “in greater need than we are.” With that, the travelers demonstrate their special recipe for a magical soup, using a stone as a starter. They explain that the soup would be better with a carrot or onion, but knew that they had asked before and everyone had nothing to share with them. However, before long, everyone in the town had been able to give just a little and it soon became a lot. The town was amazed that the travelers had made such a delicious soup out of a stone.  But it was not just a stone, it was “out of a stone and a magical ingredient…sharing.”forest-interior

bone-button-coverIn Bone Button Borscht, by Aubrey Davis, a hungry beggar comes to a poor town on a cold and snowy evening. No door is opened to him until he sees a light and enters the synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, does not answer his greeting so the beggar takes the five buttons off his coat and asks for one more in order to make Bone Button Borscht. Bowls, cups, ladles, and a pot wouldn’t hurt either, he explains. As the shamas goes from door to door seeking the ingredients, the incredulous townspeople gather round and provide the food that will make the soup just a little more tasty. Such a miracle. Such a joyous feast. They don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”bone-button-inside

No matter which version you choose, this is a timeless story that encourages children to think of the bigger society instead of just themselves. Soup, and food in general, always tastes better when it is shared with others. Now I’m off to make some more soup here before the snow hits.

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