August 23 – National Sponge Cake Day

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing like a light and airy cake embellished with fruit, whipped cream, or chocolate to put a fine finishing touch on a summer day, and that’s why the world celebrates the sponge cake today. What makes the sponge cake distinctive is that it is made without yeast or leavening agent, instead relying on whipped egg whites to give it its delectable texture. The recipe dates back to 18th century Italy and a special commission by a wealthy member of the Pallavicini family of Genoa. It is perhaps better known as a treat enjoyed by Victorian Britons with their tea. Today, sponge cake is a favorite everywhere, and it might just taste better when its baked and eaten together with friends—as you’ll see in today’s book!

Sonny Says Sorry!

Written by Caryl Hart | Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

While playing hide and seek in the park, Sonny finds a box wrapped with a bow. Intrigued, he inspects it and finds a tag that reads “For Honey.” Sonny is suddenly overcome by curiosity about what is inside. He smells a delicious aroma just as Boo and Meemo find him. Sonny shows them the box.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then, despite Meemo’s protesting “Woof! Woof!”, Sonny opens the box. Meemo tries to remind Sonny and Boo that the box is for Honey, but they “peek inside” anyway. “Inside the box is a huge chocolate cake, covered in juicy, red strawberries!” There are chocolate drops on top too. “Woof!” says Meemo more emphatically as Sonny and Boo eat two strawberries. Then, after looking around, Sonny sneaks a chocolate drop. And Boo takes one too.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Sonny and Boo’s nibbling expands to gobbling. Just then Honey shows up. “Found you!” she says. But then she finds something else: “. . . Sonny’s chocolaty hands. . . . Boo’s chocolaty face. Then Honey sees the open box . . .” and she “starts to cry.”  Now Sonny and Boo feel terrible too. Even though they both try to make it up to Honey in their own way, and “Sonny says Sorry!”, Honey keeps crying. Then Sonny has another idea. Back home, “Sonny, Honey, and Boo bake a new cake . . .” to enjoy “TOGETHER!”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The sequel to Sonny Says Mine!, Caryl Hart’s Sonny Says Sorry! addresses that itchy curiosity that can often lead kids to break barriers and disappoint and upset their friends and others. In her quickly paced story, Hart lets readers be part of the group as Sonny, Boo, and Meemo gather around Honey’s enticing box and think for themselves whether they would join Sonny and Boo or side with Meemo. As Sonny and Boo’s eating escalates, so does the suspense. When Honey discovers her decimated cake, Hart needs only four words and a stream of tears to show little ones how devastated she feels. Sonny and Boo are similarly affected, and readers will see how decisions like the one Sonny made hurts everyone involved. Sonny’s sincere apology is a good start at making things right. His idea to include everyone in replacing the cake shows true, enduring friendship.

Zachariah OHora’s distinctive and familiar illustrations will endear these four friends to little readers. Blocks of vibrant colors help kids focus on the action and the characters’ expressive faces. When, on the second page, Sonny discovers a box on the picnic blanket next to his hiding place, the tag “For: Honey” is prominently displayed, giving kids and adults a hint of what might be coming up and what’s at stake. When Boo and Meemo arrive, Meemo’s barking and wagging tale provide readers with another opportunity to predict what he will do. As the story progresses, Meemo’s facial expressions become more and more disapproving, a balancing counterpoint to Sonny and Boo’s delight. OHora also does an excellent job of clearly showing Sonny and Boo’s remorse as well as their heartfelt apologies.

Sonny Says Sorry! is a smart and effective way to introduce young readers to the important concept of respecting others’ belongings and feelings as well as of making amends when a mistake is made. Straightforward and accessible language teamed with evocative illustrations create a poignant story that will make an emotional impact with children in the target audience. Sonny Says, Sorry! would be a go-to book on home and classroom bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. 

Pair Sonny Says Sorry! with Sonny Says Mine!, a story about sharing to talk with your kids or students about these seminal topics of childhood. You can read my review of Sonny Says Mine! here.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1547609031

Discover more about Caryl Hart and her books on her website.

To learn more about Zachariah OHora, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Sponge Cake Day Activity

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Yummy Cake Coloring Pages

Cakes are fun to decorate and delicious to eat! These two coloring pages let you enjoy a bit of both!

Tall Cake to Decorate Coloring Page | Cat Eating Cake Coloring Page

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You can find Sonny Says Sorry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 14 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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Review by Jakki Licare

Stand up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim | Cover Illustration by Jennifer Hom

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Yumi Chung is enjoying her summer and the fact that she doesn’t have to go to her private school and deal with a bully everyday. So when her mom tells her they can no longer afford her private school because the family’s restaurant isn’t doing well, Yumi is thrilled. Unfortunately, Yumi’s mom still wants her to go to the private school because she believes it will help her get into a good university. To this end, Yumi’s mom signs her up for Hagwon – test-prep school – to help her study for the SSAT. If Yumi can pass the SSAT with a 98% or better then she can get an academic scholarship to her private school. 

On her way to the library to study, Yumi discovers a comedy club opening up. When she hears her favorite YouTube comedian, Jasmine Jasper, inside, she can’t resist peeking in. Jasmine sees Yumi and welcomes her to the summer comedy camp. Jasmine thinks Yumi is the no-show camper, Kay. Yumi’s so flustered, she doesn’t correct the mistake and finds herself joining in on an improv exercise. Yumi has a great time at the camp and can’t bring herself to tell Jasmine that she isn’t Kay.

Later, the Hagwon leader meets with Yumi and points out how Yumi often bubbles in the correct answer, but then second guesses herself. She encourages Yumi to be more confident in herself. Another day on her way to the library, Yumi bumps into a comedy camp friend and decides to pretend to be Kay again. After all, the Hagwon leader told her to be more confident, and Yumi has never felt more confident than when she’s pretending to be Kay. Yumi’s camp friends tell her about a new performing arts magnet school. Yumi wants to apply, but doesn’t think her parents will let her.

As Yumi continues going to the camp, she realizes that she should show her parents how important comedy is to her. She decides to trick them into going to the comedy showcase. If they can see how happy she is on stage then maybe they’ll let her apply for the Performing Arts school. But first, she has to prove to them that performing won’t interfere with her academics; so Yumi starts studying.

Yumi joins the campers at a nursing home where they’ll practice performing comedy to a real audience. Yumi’s excited, but her set is a big flop. Jasmine pulls her aside afterwards and tells her not to give up. Just because the jokes didn’t work doesn’t mean they’re failures.

Yumi’s dad builds a karaoke stage to drum up business for their restaurant. She becomes alarmed when she finds out her parents are behind on the rent and that if they don’t raise $6,000 in eight days the restaurant will have to close. Yumi talks to her big sister about the restaurant and after a little slip, her sister finds out that she’s been pretending to be Kay.  She scolds Yumi for lying and makes her promise to tell Jasmine the truth.

Yumi goes to tell Jasmine the truth in person, but she chickens out and decides to drop out of the comedy showcase instead. Yumi returns to camp to sneak an apology note into Jasmine’s bag, but before she can, the real Kay shows up. Yumi is caught in her lie and her parents discover that she’s been secretly going to the comedy camp instead of studying. They ground Yumi and take away her phone.

Her parents hold a grand reopening after renovating the restaurant, but they don’t raise enough money. Yumi’s father apologizes to her for not doing better and explains that this is why they want her to study so hard. He doesn’t want her to struggle like he has. She tells him about how important comedy is to her and surprisingly, her dad understands.  He loves the stage too. He wanted to be a gasu, a singer, when he was younger, but he couldn’t support his family with singing. He tells her he really wants what’s best for her and that going to a good school is the best thing for her. 

When Yumi gets her phone back, she FaceTimes with her camp friends and apologizes for deceiving them. Her new friends accept her apology. As they start  joking around, Yumi gets the idea to do an open mic night at the restaurant. Her friends are excited about the idea and encourage her to reach out to Jasmine so she can spread the word through the comedy club. 

Yumi goes to the comedy club and apologizes to Jasmine. They work things out and Jasmine agrees to spread the word. Yumi runs home and tells her parents about the open mic night idea. They’re skeptical, but agree to give it a chance. On the night of the show, a lot of people show up, but no one wants to be first up on stage. Yumi raises her hand.

Yumi struggles in the beginning of her set, but with the encouragement of her friends she regains her footing and continues on. She jokes about her ordinary summer of stealing another person’s identity, but at the end of her act she states that she’s learned to be happy with who she is. Everyone applauds and Yumi gets to experience her first comedian high. After they close, the family races to the computer to calculate the night’s revenue. They discover that they made over $7,000, and the restaurant is saved.

A week later, as Yumi is talking to her sister about how excited she is to start improv classes, an email pops up on her phone congratulating her on her academic scholarship. Yumi is okay with going back to her private school because she knows things won’t be the same. She’s confident about who she is now, and this time she won’t hold herself back.

Review

If you’re looking for a book that will make your middle-grade reader chuckle, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is the perfect pick. Yumi’s funny asides about her daily struggles and her stand-up jokes make this book a laugh-out-loud read. When her mother makes snide comments about her hair and then makes her get a perm that she doesn’t want, Yumi writes out a whole comedy routine about it. Her punchline summarizes the experience perfectly: “Sometimes you just have to brush it off. The comments and the dandruff.”

Not only will Yumi’s funny jokes keep readers giggling throughout the book, but watching her attend improv classes, perform a set, and suffer as her jokes fall flat will show how hard Yumi has to work at being funny. When the punchline to Yumi’s joke about how her parents won’t pay her for every A she gets on her report card, the audience members murmur that her parents are abusive and tiger parents. Yumi is devastated that no one gets the joke, and she’s determined to throw the whole act out until Jasmine explains to her that most jokes start out as failures. When a joke fails it tells you something isn’t working and it’s a comedian’s job to try to fix it, Jasmine explains.

For readers curious to learn how improv comedy works, they can pull up a seat right next to Yumi and learn along with her. I thought it’s especially interesting to see how important teamwork is in improv. One skit that her friends do together flops because they each do their own thing and don’t build off of each other. When they try again, one camper makes a comment about how if he doesn’t get food soon he’ll turn “to the dark side.” One of Yumi’s other friends picks up on this comment and pretends to be Darth Vader. Then Yumi jumps in and lets out a Chewbacca roar. By working together their skit soon fills the auditorium with laughter.

But the main reason I’ll recommend this book to any middle grader is Yumi’s character transformation. In the beginning she can’t even tell her mom she doesn’t want a perm. Then, when the Hagwon leader tells her she needs to be more confident, Yumi finds her confidence not in herself but in pretending to be Kay. By the end of the book, however, she finds the strength to apologize to her friends and Jasmine for pretending to be Kay. She opens up to her father about her dreams, and she’s even able to do a comedy set in front of her parents, making jokes about her summer’s mistakes. Best of all, though, Yumi has the confidence to go back to her old school and is willing to put herself out there. 

If you’re looking for a book that will make your kids giggle while teaching them the importance of being comfortable with who they are, then Stand up, Yumi Chung! is a must read to add to your home, classroom, and school library.

Discover more about Jessica Kim and her writing on her website.

Ages 9 – 12

Kokila, Penguin Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525554974 (Hardcover); ISBN 978-0525554998 (Paperback)

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Activity Kit

 

You can find loads of puzzles, prompts, curriculum extensions, and even a recipe for Korean Bugogi on Jessica Kim’s website here.

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You can find Stand Up, Yumi Chung! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 10 – It’s Children’s Good Manners Month

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About the Holiday

As kids go back to school and will be interacting with other students, teachers, coaches, group leaders, and others, this month is dedicated to the kinds of manners that promote good relationships and cohesive gatherings. Thinking about how one’s actions will affect others is part of being a great friend, teammate, or participant in any activity. Family life with parents and siblings is also better when everyone treats each other with good manners and respect.

Sonny Says Mine!

Written by Caryl Hart | Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

 

Sonny and his friends are playing on the playground when he spies a stuffed pink bunny in the sandbox. “Ooh! SO soft. SO cute. SO cuddly. I’ll call you Bun-Bun!’ he says.” But Meemo runs up to Sonny, interested in the bunny too, but Sonny pulls Bun-Bun away with a determined, “Mine!” Sonny plays with Bun-Bun, feeding her, dancing with her, reading her a story, and finally putting her to bed under a sand blanket.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But then Honey and Boo come over and Boo is crying because she’s lost her bunny doll Suki. While Boo sits sadly on the bench, Honey looks all over for Suki. Sonny says nothing and tells Meemo to stop barking. Then Honey directly asks Sonny if he’s seen Suki. “No!” he says, hiding the doll behind his back. Honey and Boo go back to their search. Sonny is so happy with Bun-Bun. “He LOVES Bun-Bun SO much.”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But Meemo scolds Sonny and tries to take Suki. Sonny hides Bun-Bun and goes to play with Boo and Honey. But Boo is too sad to play pirates or to eat chocolate cake. “Now Sonny feels sad too.” What will he do? He goes to his hiding place and retrieves Bun-Bun. He hides Bun-Bun behind his back as he walks near Honey and Boo. Then he gives Bun-Bun to Boo and apologizes. Now everyone is happy! “Woof!” says Meemo. “Hooray!” says Boo. And what does Sonny say? He wants you to “Come back soon!”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Sharing something can be hard. Giving back something you’ve found and LOVE to its rightful owner can be even harder. Caryl Hart understands these strong tugs on the heart and in her tender and realistic tale shows little ones the other side of the story—the sadness a friend experiences over losing a beloved toy or other object. Each of the characters demonstrate different actions and emotions providing adults and kids opportunities to discuss feelings and various roles of friendship. With their natural empathy, kids will identify with both Sonny and Boo and learn how in this type of situation real happiness and peace of mind are found.

Zachariah OHora’s instantly recognizable illustrations bring a cute, comforting, and completely relatable vibe to the story. Sonny’s instant love for Bun-Bun is palpable and little ones will know exactly what’s at stake when he’s asked to give the bunny up. On the other side, Boo’s grief is also evident as tears stream from her eyes and the usual fun of playtime and snacks offer no cheer. Meemo and Honey have their own reactions too, which give kids more perspectives to consider. As Sonny contemplates what to do, children will empathize with both Sonny and Boo as they know one of them will be left unhappy. But Through OHora’s touching illustrations, they’ll see that Sonny makes the right choice—and how it really makes him feel.

The first in the new Sonny Says series, which introduces preschoolers and kindergarteners to universal experiences, Sonny Says Mine! is a multilayered story that is as adorable as it is encouraging and educational. The book will captivate young readers just beginning to venture out into the world and make friends and is highly recommended for home, classroom, and library shelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547605804

Discover more about Caryl Hart and her books on her website.

To learn more about Zachariah OHora, his books, and his art, visit his website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-says-mine-cover

You can find Sonny Says Mine! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 8 – National Zoo Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

Zoos are wonderful places to see and learn about exotic animals from around the world. In addition to creating educational exhibits, zoological experts are involved in the preservation of endangered species. Although we can’t visit a zoo in person right now, there are still lots of ways to stay in touch with a zoo near you or even far away. Many zoos and aquariums provide webcams so you can check in with your favorite animals whenever you want. Connect online with your favorite zoo. Many are bringing the zoo to you with behind-the-scenes videos, activities for kids and families, and lots of learning opportunities. Here are a few to get you started: Dallas Zoo | Oregon Zoo | San Diego Zoo | Smithsonian’s National Zoo Monterey Bay Aquarium | Shedd Aquarium.

By Jakki Licare

This Zoo is Not for You

Written and Illustrated by Ross Collins

 

The zoo is holding interviews and when a platypus walks with an envelope in hand, Tiger assumes he’s there to apply for entry. Tiger rushes him through to the first interviewer, Panda. Panda thinks she is incredibly special and rare and isn’t impressed with platypus who doesn’t even eat bamboo! She concludes, “I think this zoo is not for you.”

Next, Platypus meets the flamingos. They talk about how beautiful and graceful they are, but they are disappointed platypus. He’s rather brown after all. The wild monkeys provide a very active interview for Platypus. They talk about all the tricks they can do like throw poo and play the kazoo. Does Platypus have any cool tricks? “If not, this zoo is not for you.”

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Copyright Ross Collins, 2018, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

Platypus passes a tree filled with multicolored chameleons. They greet him with: “We’re green, then red, then pink or blue. Is brownish-gray your only hue?” Unimpressed the chameleons send him on to Elephant. Elephant rudely tells him that he isn’t powerful or huge like him. Instead he’s small and weird and has “failed this interview.”

The other animals watch surprised as the Platypus drops his envelope on the ground and walks away. They look at each other, saying, “I’m not proud of that interview. I think I was unkind. Were you?” All the animals gather around and wonder what they can do to make it up to Platypus. Monkey picks up the envelope Platypus dropped. The other animals look shocked as monkey holds up the letter that platypus had left.

All the animals leave the zoo and head towards Platypus’s bus. The zoo animals apologize to Platypus. They realize they had gotten it wrong and that Platypus hadn’t wanted to join their zoo. He wanted to give them an invitation. They ask if Platypus would still be willing to be friends. Platypus tells them it’s all right, “this platybus is for all of us!” The animals climb aboard and party away together with a DJ, a hot tub, fancy drinks with little umbrellas, and, of course, a shiny disco ball.

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Copyright Ross Collins, 2018, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

Fun rhyming couplets paired with bold colorful illustrations make for a delightful read. Collins’s  rhymes have a wonderful rhythm that make the reader flow right through the book. The repetitive phrasing “this zoo is not for you,” makes it easy for young readers to join in.  All the zoo animals have  strong personalities which are further enhanced by Collins’s striking illustrations. The flamingos are drawn with their heads held high and stand out against a yellow background. The panda is slouched against her pile of panda souvenirs. The monkeys are all over the page: swinging, playing the kazoo, and, to many kids’ delight, flinging poo. 

Collins has provided many opportunities to discuss the problems of presumptions and the necessity for open mindedness. The zoo animals are snobs who quickly dismiss the platypus for being odd looking, brown, common, and unexciting. Their quick dismissals make it obvious to young readers that they are being judgmental. This Zoo is Not for You reminds all of us that  we should be open minded when meeting someone new. Another strong theme through the book is the necessity of making amends. When the zoo animals realize their mistake, they hang their heads looking sad. They realize they could have been kinder to the platypus and decide to apologize. Platypus graciously accepts their apologies and invites them in. The readers can see how apologies can solve conflicts and strengthen friendships.

A fun book in rhyme that offers a great opportunity to open discussions about presumptuousness, quick judgement, and forgiveness. This Zoo is Not for You would make a wonderful addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 3-7

Nosy Crow 2018| ISBN  978-1536200157

Discover more about Ross Collins, his books, and his art on his website.

You can find a game of This Zoo is Not for You! Animal Snap on the Nosy Crow website.

National Zoo Lovers Day Activity

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Platybus Play Set

 

The Platybus has arrived at your house!  Print and accessorize your characters for their big party.

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print out Platybus, characters and accessories.
  2. Cut out Platybus, characters and accessories. Make 6 slits marked on the platybus. These slits will hold the puppets in place.
  3. Glue characters to popsicle sticks.
  4. Glue accessories to characters.
  5. Slip puppets into bus.

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You can find This Zoo Is Not for You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review