November 18 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit so much from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s fun for adults to share family history and their own funny or moving stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family is important too. It helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started.

Thanks to Amazon Crossing Kids and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of My GrandMom for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

My GrandMom

By Gee-eun Lee | Translated by Sophie Bowman

Gee-eun’s Grandma sits on the floor, holding her sobbing granddaughter in her lap. Breakfast is on the table and toys are strewn about. A gray cat comes to see what’s going on. “‘Dear me, your mom will have to take a boat to work to get across all these tears,'” she says. Grandma, who Gee-eun calls Halmoni in Korean, distracts her by letting her help make kalguksu. She gives Gee-eun a bit of the noodle dough, and while Halmoni rolls out the dough and slices the noodles, Gee-eun fashions little figures of her, her mom, dad, grandma, and their cat, Mari. When it comes time to make the kalguksu, Gee-eun’s dough family goes into the boiling pot along with the other ingredients. “‘…You tell them to hang on tight to the noodles so they stay afloat,'” Halmoni says.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun has been waiting and waiting for Family Sports Day to arrive, but when it does, her mom has to work and can’t go along as she had promised. Gee-eun was looking forward to doing the cheer dance, the tug-of-war, and the running race with her. Now who can she go with? Halmoni tells her granddaughter that she will go. She then relates tales from her own childhood, when she was so strong at tug-of-war that she “could pull all the other kids over with only one arm,” she was such a fast racer that they called her “Speedy Horse,” and was such a good dancer that it “goes without saying.” Then she shows Gee-eun some of her moves.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

At Family Sports Day, Gee-eun feels confident in her and her grandma’s chances. But things don’t pan out exactly as she’d hoped, and Halmoni even trips and falls during the race.  Gee-eun is so disappointed that her tears flow freely. Walking home, Halmoni and Gee-eun get a curry bun—and then a second one that is their secret. “No matter how you may be feeling, curry buns are always delicious, especially when shared with Grandma,” Gee-eun says.

They then buy mackerel, bean sprouts, and eggs for dinner, while Gee-eun’s grandma assures her that her father would easily beat a mackerel in a swimming race, that she once bought a bean sprout as big as Gee-eun to season just for her mom, and that a hen always misses her eggs. “‘Halmoni,'” Gee-eun then asks, “‘when will Mom get home?'” The food is on the table when her parents get home, and she runs to the door to greet them so they can eat dinner together…because “nothing beats a mean made by Grandma.”

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun Lee’s story is infused with those types of events in life, both inconsequential and significant, that are filled with emotional power that make them memorable. From Gee-eun’s meltdown at her mother’s leaving to her grandma’s quick thinking that leads to bonding over food and creativity to the bravado and disappointment of the Family Sports Day, Lee invites readers into the touching and humorous relationship between Gee-eun and her grandmother. Wily, proud, comforting, and understanding, Gee-eun’s grandmother is the heart of the family, bridging the generations with her wisdom and constant love. Lee’s storytelling draws readers in with her warm and familiar dialogue that ingeniously pivots back and forth in time, tying together moments in Gee-eun’s mother’s life, her grandmother’s life, and Gee-eun’s experiences. 

Gee-eun Lee’s soft colored pencil and paint illustrations are delightfully childlike, as if the character Gee-eun had drawn them. In that vein the expressive depictions of Gee-eun’s adult grandma fiercely besting a dozen children at tug of war, her smooth dance and nimble dance moves, and her and Gee-eun’s “set and ready” stance at the track while other mother/child pairs stretch, play, and tie laces are comical joy. The theme of bridging generations also appears cleverly in the image of Gee-eun’s dough family floating together in the soup and the portrait of Gee-eun brushing her doll’s hair while her grandmother brushes and braids Gee-eun’s, among others.

 Written with a unique voice that echoes universal truths about family relationships, My GrandMom is a humorous, poignant, and heartening read aloud that will quickly become a favorite for parents, grandparents, other caregivers, and children to share. The book is highly recommended for home and classroom libraries and a must for school and public library collections.  

Ages 3 – 7

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662508257

About the Author

Gee-eun Lee is an award-winning Korean author/illustrator. She recently won the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Award in the comics category for her book, The Story of How the Korean Shaved Ice Dessert Was Born, and is also a top winner of the Korean Young Illustrator Award. She studied design and illustration in Korea and the UK. Her first picture book, Paper Dad, was made into a children’s musical in Korea. My GrandMom is the second book she both wrote and illustrated and is based on her own grandmother.  You can connect with Gee-eun on Instagram: @studio_geeeun

About the Translator

Sophie Bowman is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, studying Korean literature. She was awarded the ICF Literature Translation Fellowship at Ewha Womans University. In 2015, she won the Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award grand prize for poetry with her translations of Jin Eun-young and co-translated Kim Bo-Young’s I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories. She recently translated the picture book Magic Candies by Heena Baek, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Follow her on Twitter @SophieOrbital.

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You can find My GrandMom at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 11 – It’s Children’s Book Week

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About the Holiday

Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy program in the United States. The history of the holiday goes back to 1913, when Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, toured the country to promote a higher standard in children’s books and proposed a Children’s Book Week. He then enlisted the help of Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly, who believed that “a great nation is a reading nation,” and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library to help spread the word. This year’s theme is “How Do You Book?” The thought-provoking theme encourages readers to think about what they read, where they read, and how they read. To learn more about this literary holiday, visit Every Child a Reader to find out more about the week, how to join online, and lots of bookmarks and activities to download.

Building an Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chávez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash

Written by Carmen Oliver | Illustrated by Luisa Uribe

 

As a child, Favio Chávez looked to music as an important touchstone. When he grew up, he was still involved with music, but his profession was as an environmental engineer. He was given a job in “Cateura, Paraguay—a small village built on a landfill—to try to help the families who lived and worked amid the hills of trash.” When trucks came and dumped load after load of trash, recyclers, called gancheros, filled bags of items they could resell. The air was choked with the stench of garbage, and anywhere the gancheros walked “they waded through filth.” It made Favio sad to think of people living this way.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

As Favio supervised the gancheros, he “became friends with them and their children. He worried about what kind of lives they would live when they grew up. Besides his job at the landfill, “Favio conducted a youth orchestra in a nearby village.” One day, the people he worked with came to listen. They wondered if their kids could also learn to play instruments. Favio was excited by the prospect. 

He even brought his own guitars and violins for the children to play, but soon he had more kids in class than he had instruments. But there was another problem too. The instruments were valuable and could attract thieves to the homes of his students. He needed another idea, and while watching Nicolás “Colá” Gómez, a talented carpenter, picking through the trash, he thought of something that might work. 

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Colá began searching through the piles for anything that he could use to make instruments. He collected cans and pipes, crates and buttons, even X-ray film and eating utensils. As he looked at his materials, Colá envisioned how he could create a violin. Finally with violins and other instruments for each child, Favio began teaching them how to play and how to read music. They practiced and practiced until they were ready to perform for their parents.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

At a local church, with the audience packed and excited, the notes of the children’s first song ‘”New York, New York’ floated out the windows and into the warm night air.” The adults were overcome with happiness. While their lives had been only about survival, they now “had hope in their hearts and dreams for a better tomorrow.”

Back matter includes further information about Favio Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura from 1975, when Favio was born in Argentina to 2006, when he arrived to work at the Cateura landfill to today, when the Orchestra supports more children and families with building projects, food, computers for school, scholarships, and many more humanitarian efforts. A selected bibliography is also included.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

From its earliest days the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura has inspired musicians, authors, movie makers, and listeners from around the world. In Building an Orchestra of Hope, Carmen Oliver tells the story through the lens of a hope fulfilled. As Favio Chávez begins his new job at the landfill educating the gancheros on how to work more efficiently, his initial thought is for the future of the children of the village. Oliver shows how Chávez not only supervised the workers but became their friend, honored to be included. While relating Chávez’s eagerness to share his love of music with the children, Oliver hints at what’s to come with lyrical descriptions of the sounds the glass, metal, and plastic makes as the gancheros rake through the piles of trash. She also includes pertinent facts that allow readers to understand the challenges the community faced and what a monumental undertaking the idea was.

While this story revolves around Favio Chávez, his idea could never have been brought to fruition without the talents of Nicolás “Colá” Gómez, who could envision the instruments and even hear their sound as he pored through the trash for materials. Oliver provides a satisfyingly detailed list of the types of items Colá repurposed and later reveals which items were used to create violins, drums, violas, flutes, saxophones, and trumpets, pages that are sure to pique young crafters’ interest. The emotional ending to this true story will swell the hearts of readers—those who already know about the orchestra and those being introduced to it for the first time.

Louisa Uribe’s soft-hued illustrations realistically depict the village of Cateura and the landfill it is built upon. They meet Favio Chávez and Nicolás Gómez and witness the idea of creating instruments from trash come to life. Uribe’s close up of a violin lets kids see how disparate items are used creatively to replicate each part of the instrument. As instruments are made, the number of children filling the courtyard grows until their hard work and practice is rewarded on a real stage, a microcosm of the growth and impact of one man’s caring and creativity.

Special Note: The inspirational back matter, worthy of its own picture book, will astound readers with just how far-reaching one idea when explored in collaboration with others can be. Themes of the vital importance and life-changing impact of the arts, persistence, determination, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and odds, and the power of hope are what this true story is built on, and this factual back matter is sure to affect readers and get them thinking about how they can make a difference to a cause they believe in.

Powerful, accessible, and impactful, Building an Orchestra of Hope is a must for all home, school, and library collections, not only to tell this compelling, ongoing story but to remind them that their actions, too—from a single kind word or smile to large community effort—can change lives. 

Ages 4 – 9 

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802854674

You can learn more about Luisa Uribe, her books, and her art on her website.

You can connect with Carmen Oliver on Twitter.

Children’s Book Week Activity

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Bookworm Bookmark

 

Are you a bookworm? If so, then this bookmark is for you! Just print, color, and cut along the dotted line. This little worm will happily save your page for you!

Bookworm Bookmark Template

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You can find Building an Orchestra of Hope at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 11 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Madani’s Best Game

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Thanks to Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for sharing a copy of Madani’s Best Game with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Madani’s Best Game

Written by Fran Pintadera | Illustrated by Raquel Catalina | Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel

 

“Our whole neighborhood knows it: no one plays soccer like Madani does.” Thus, a teammate of Madani’s begins the story about this friend who captivates the neighborhood (and sometimes it seems the whole world) with his barefoot ball-handling prowess. Madani has elevated the team’s game to “the best soccer we’ve ever seen.” After Madani has scored a “Gooooal!” the sound of the cheers soars above the playing field and “…crosses through doorways, rushes past the magazine stand, slips down alleyways, swirls around the fountain, and, growing fainter and fainter, climbs the steps up to Madani’s house.” 

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

There, his mother hears it and knows the cheers are for Madani. She wishes she could attend his games, but she’s a seamstress and has so many garments to sew by hand. After the game, Madani’s teammates can only imagine how much better he would play if he only had a good pair of cleats. Their team might even be able to beat the Southside team—their biggest rival.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The members of the team know that Madani’s saving up money in a special tin that gets heavier every time he declines to buy a snack, walks to away games instead of riding the bus, and makes other sacrifices. They know that when the box is full, Madani’s going shopping. “…then our games will be better than ever!’” he says, and they all dream of the day Madani buys his new cleats.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The big game against Southside is only a day away, but Madani doesn’t come to practice. Instead, his friends watch him head downtown with the tin under his arm. Without Madani at practice, the team falls apart, but they don’t worry. Finally, they thought, their dreams of new cleats and beating Southside would come true!

When Madani shows up at the game the next day, “he looks radiant,” but he’s still barefoot. His teammates question him about his new cleats, but Madani doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The money wasn’t for shoes but for a present for his mother so that “‘she’ll be able to finish her work faster and come watch me play every Saturday.’”

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Madani’s friends still don’t quite get it, but the game begins, and in moments Madani has already stolen the ball away from the Southside players, run downfield and scored. He looks into the stands, sees his mother, and shouts “‘This goal is for you, Mom!’” Madani makes another goal, but Southside scores too, and the game ends in a tie. It’s okay, though, Madani’s teammate says, “‘because now more than ever, everyone in the neighborhood knows … There’s no player like Madani!’”

Back matter consists of notes from Fran Pintadera and Raquel Catalina that reveal their creative journeys and connections to this story.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Fran Pintadera, who based Madani’s Best Game on his experiences as a social educator in new immigrant housing, tells his story with open-hearted affection for his subject as well as the relationships between teammates and mother and child. Through his perceptive and humorously observed details and lyrical language, Pintadera captures the wide-eyed wonder of children in awe of a great player (or artist, singer, scientist, or other talent). When Madani gets the ball, readers will hold their breath along with the neighbors, traffic, and even pigeons while he entertains the crowd and scores a goal. Then the action begins again, but this time the suspense revolves not around the game but on what Madani will buy. The answer is joyous, affirming family devotion and revealing the pure giving nature of a child’s heart.

From their first introduction to Madani, smiling out from the page, his bare foot on a soccer ball, readers will be captivated by him, his teammates, his neighborhood, and the game. Raquel Catalina’s endearing pencil, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations charm with realistic images of kids on the soccer field surrounded by city onlookers. Catalina creates not only gorgeous visuals of Madani’s supportive neighborhood, but an almost auditory experience as well.

Readers can almost hear the players’ running feet, the sudden cheers, the flap of the rising pigeons’ wings, and – as the celebration reaches Madani’s mother’s ears – even the whisper of her sewing needle through the fabric on her knees. Catalina deftly weaves the theme of friendship, between people both young and old, throughout the pages, enhancing the bond between Madoni and his mom as well as Madani’s teammates’ understanding of the true importance of that long-awaited game.

A beautiful poignant, joyful, and affirming story of family and friendship, Madani’s Best Game is a read aloud that adults and kids will love to share over and over. The book is a must for all home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 9

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802855978

You can discover more about Fran Pintadera and his work on his website and connect with him on Instagram.

To learn more about Raquel Catalina, her books, and her art, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Instagram.

You can connect with Lawrence Schimel and learn more about his writing and his translating work on Instagram and Twitter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madani's-best-game-cover

You can find Madani’s Best Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Revi

January 10 – It’s National Hot Tea Month

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About the Holiday

I must confess that this is one of my favorite holidays. To me there’s nothing better than waking up with a well-steeped cup of tea, writing while a favorite mug brimming with hot tea sweetened with honey sits nearby, enjoying scones with clotted cream and jam and a hot cuppa…well…you get the picture. People have drunk tea since earliest times for its soothing and medicinal properties. Mellower than coffee and available in endless varieties and tastes, hot tea is just the thing for relaxing moments. Today, enjoy your favorite tea or try a new kind! There’s a world of tea to be discovered – as today’s book reveals!

Thank you to Greystone Books for sharing a copy of Teatime Around the World with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Teatime Around the World

Written by Denyse Waissbluth | Illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne

 

Two women sit at a table with steaming cups of tea in front of them, talking. “Tea for one. Tea for two.” To the side sits a teapot, its contents still warm. At their feet a child is having a tea party with a bear, jauntily clad in a feathered hat. Cookies, strawberries, and croissants fill out this feast served from a special tea set. “Tea for me. Tea for you.” Tea time continues in Morocco, where a father and child kneel on pillows. The father pours out three cups of mint tea. Made with green tea, mint, and sugar, each cup of tea will have “a slightly different taste.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

In India a street vendor sells a cup of masala chai to a woman, who’s looking for a peaceful break during her day. The “strong tea and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and pepper…boiled with milk and sweetened” will hit the spot. Hot tea is relaxing, but on a hot day there’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of iced tea. In Thailand, locals and tourists enjoy cha yen, sold from street vendors’ carts. This “strongly brewed sweet tea is poured over ice and drunk from a bag through a straw. Indigenous people in North America soothe fevers, colds, sore muscles, and even sleepless nights with tea made from “berries, plants, and roots.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Special tea times—like chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony during which matcha, a powdered green tea is served, and afternoon tea, enjoyed with trays of treats world wide—bring people together for comforting respites. You’ll be interested to discover the origins of afternoon tea too! Tea can be served quietly or dramatically, like “teh tarik, or pulled tea…the national drink of Malaysia,” is “poured from up high, or ‘pulled’ between two mugs, to make it frothy.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Tea is as old as its discovery thousands of years ago in China and as new as bubble tea, created in Taiwan in the 1980s. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, yerba maté tea is served in hollowed-out gourds with a “special straw called a bombilla,” while in Jamaica sorrel, made from roselle hibiscus buds, “spiced with ginger, cloves, and sugar,” is perfect for any festive occasion. No matter where you live, what flavors of tea you enjoy, or how you serve it, you can always count on “tea for one. / Tea for two. / Loved by all / the whole world through.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

With a lilting poem that flows from page to page, Denyse Waissbluth introduces unique flavors, special brew methods, and the comforting feeling a cup of hot or iced tea infuses into a day. The shared experience of tea drinking provides a fascinating touchstone for Waissbluth’s travelogue that takes kids around the world to experience the rituals, recipes, and traditions from each country that make their tea unique. Waissbluth’s conversational style will appeal to kids looking to learn how global cultures are similar to and different from their own.

Chelsea O’Byrne’s lovely matte illustrations take children to cities, the countryside, and the seaside around the globe, revealing not only diverse scenes of how tea is made, served, and enjoyed, but homes, food, and clothing as well. Children will be excited to see such homey and intimate portraits of their peers around the world.

Sure to spur readers to learn more about the countries featured and entice them to try their signature teas, Teatime Around the World would enhance geography, history, and multicultural lessons for school and homeschooling and is highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Greystone Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1771646017

You can connect with Denyse Waissbluth on Instagram.

To learn more about Chelsea O’Byrne, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Hot Tea Month Activity

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Tea for You! Word Search

 

Can you find the names of eighteen delicious teas from around the world in this printable puzzle?

Tea for You! Word Search Puzzle | Tea for You! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-teatime-around-the-world-cover

You can find Teatime Around the World at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 20 – Get Ready to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

As we get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the beginning of a new year, adults and kids often look for opportunities to reflect and grow while sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong. Today’s book embraces all three of these parts of New Year’s Eve and is a reassuring and uplifting read aloud for the holiday and throughout the year.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-cover

You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 16 – A Book Tour Stop for A Christmas Too Big

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About the Holiday

While it may seem a wee bit early for Christmas decorations at the mall, Christmas candy in the grocery stores, and Christmas songs on the radio 24-hours a day, it’s never too early to begin reading Christmas stories with kids! Today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for A Christmas Too Big – a funny family story enriched with an endearing intergenerational friendship that will become a quick favorite for holiday story times.

Thank you to Two Lions and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Christmas Too Big for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Christmas Too Big

By Colleen Madden

 

For Kerry and her family, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when her mom, dad, and siblings go “TOTALLY BERSERK with Christmas.” Her dad gets out the strings of Christmas lights; her mom sings Christmas carols (filling in her own words where she can’t quite remember the real ones) while doing chores; her big sister bakes, bakes, bakes; and her little brother hides and rehides elves all over the house. At night, of course, they “watch every. Single. Christmas. Special. On every. Single. Christmas. Channel.”

A week before Christmas, they go to the cut-your-own Christmas tree farm and choose the biggest tree they see. The bring this behemoth inside and begin to decorate it. But there aren’t enough lights to cover it, there are squabbles over putting a star or an angel at the top, and someone finds a squirrel resting in the top. “O.M. Gingerbread,” Kerry says. She can’t take any more and heads outside.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-christmas-too-big-berserk

Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

There, her neighbors houses sport enormous decorations, flashing lights, and one has even provided a target on their lawn to show Santa where to drop the presents. Kerry thinks “that everybody is having a Christmas Too Big. Then, across the street, Kerry sees Mrs. Flores struggling with her grocery cart in the snow and goes over to help. After dislodging the cart from the snowbank and picking up the dropped groceries, Kerry walks with Mrs. Flores to her house.

¿Te gustaria un poco de cacao, querida? Mrs. Flores asks Kerry. Kerry would love some cocoa and answers “Yes, please! ¡Sí, por favor!” Kerry looks around Mrs. Flores house. It’s neat and tidy, and her tabletop Christmas tree is decorated in handmade tiny paper flowers. “And that’s it. NO singing penguins or peppermint candy canes…or a zillion lights.” Next to the tree is a picture of her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson who live in Mexico. Mrs. Flores says, “Los extraño mucho,” and Kerry is sure “they must miss her too.”

After they drink their cocoa, Mrs. Flores teaches Kerry how to make paper flowers and sings a song she remembers from when she was young: “En invierno, / Las flores no crecen, / esperan a que LLeguen La primavera y el sol! In winter the flowers / aren’t blooming. / They wait for the spring / and the sun! //Ellas desean besos / cálidos de mariposa, They wish for warm / butterfly kisses, Luego ellas bailan! then they dance! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! / Yes! Yes! Yes! / La! La! La!” They dance and then decorate Mrs. Flores’s house with the flowers they’ve made. Finally, Mrs. Flores lights a single candle in her window for her family.

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Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Kerry helps Mrs. Flores open the gift her family sent her. It’s a tablet, but Mrs. Flores doesn’t know how to use it. Kerry shows her how and makes a call with it. Suddenly, Mrs. Flores’s son appears, then her daughter-in-law. Then she gets to see her grandson Andrew, who calls her “Na-na.”

Nighttime had fallen and it was time for Kerry to go home. Out in the snow, Kerry thinks about the day: “What a different kind of Christmas. Small and quiet, yet BIG all the same.” Back home, Kerry looks for a way to have “my own kind of Christmas in in my own crazy Christmas house.” She makes flowers—lots of flowers—and decorates the shelves, stairway, mirrors, and even their dogs.

When Kerry lights a single candle for Mrs. Flores, her mom suggests inviting her for Christmas dinner. While her family puts the finishing touches on the tree, Kerry sends Mrs. Flores an invitation to her tablet. On Christmas day, Kerry and her family and Mrs. Flores all enjoy a festive dinner with all the trimmings and a lot of cheer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-christmas-too-big-tree

Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Whether you like to celebrate Christmas in big or small ways, Colleen Madden’s heartwarming story reflects the true spirit of the holiday as a day for family, friends, togetherness, and kindness. While Kerry’s parents and siblings believe in a bigger-is-better philosophy, when Kerry finds another way of celebrating with Mrs. Flores, she realizes that “big” doesn’t need to come with a huge tree, lots of lights, hundreds of cookies, or even a month of preparations, but can simply mean warm feelings inside their heart. Madden’s organic integration of Mrs. Flores’ conversation in Spanish is very welcome.

Madden’s straightforward, non-judgmental, inviting, and humorous storytelling welcomes kids all along the spectrum, from HUGE to tiny, to enjoy Christmas and its lead-in in the way that is most meaningful to them. The story can also spur talks within a family about the ways each member likes to celebrate and to incorporate those ideas into their yearly traditions.

Madden’s winning illustrations will keep kids riveted to the pages as Kerry’s family joyously retrieves the Christmas decorations and gets to work. Madden depicts their over-the-top love of the holiday in illustrations that are jam-packed, frenetic, and definite showstoppers that kids will love poring over—especially the title screens for seventeen comical Christmas specials, Mom’s “so close” renditions of holiday classic songs, and the cutaway of Kerry’s house, where they can search for the elves hidden in each room. The image of the Christmas tree bent in half because it’s too tall to fit in the room is particularly funny as is the two-page spread of the neighborhood where inflatable Santas, snowmen, and candy canes as well as billboard-sized lighted signs dominate each yard.

In contrast, Mrs. Flores one-story house has no outdoor decorations and the inside is sparsely furnished, allowing the focus to be on her small tree. As you turn from pages where you don’t know where to look next to these simple spreads, you can almost hear yourself sigh as the frenzy fades and a calm, quiet simplicity takes over. Back home, there’s no denying the beauty of the family’s fully decorated tree, and readers (maybe the adults even more than the kids) will appreciate the matching candy cane-striped onesie pajamas they’re wearing. The final image of Kerry’s family sharing dinner with Mrs. Flores is cheerful and festive. Spanish labels name all of the food, decorations, and other items on and around the dinner table.

Instructions on how to create the flores de Navidad that Mrs. Flores taught Kerry to make follow the story. The back endpapers name more objects, food, and clothing associated with Christmas and winter in Spanish. The English translations are found on the front endpapers.

An excellent story for sharing the fun and meaning of the Christmas season that will resonate with all kids and be asked for again and again, A Christmas Too Big would make a much-appreciated gift and a new family favorite on home bookshelves. The book is also highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542028004

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons. 

A Christmas Too Big Book Tour Activity

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Nail Polish-Dipped Ornaments

 

These plastic ornaments swirled with colorful nail polish make the perfect decorations for your tree. Make some to give to friends too!

Supplies

  • Plastic ornaments, available at craft stores
  • Nail polish in various colors
  • Plastic bowl or container, deep enough to dip the ornament into the water
  • Drying stand – I used a clear, plastic egg carton, or string for hanging ornaments to dry

Directions

Fill the plastic container with warm to hot water

  1. Using two or three colors, gently “paint” the water with the nail polish, using the brush or a toothpick in dots and swirls
  2. Slowly dip the plastic ornament into the water and turn it to pick up the nail polish floating on the top of the water
  3. To dry, place the ornament on a stand or hang with a paper plate, wax paper, or other paper to catch drips

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-christmas-too-big-cover

You can find A Christmas Too Big at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 9 – Happy Book Birthday to A Sari for Ammi

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About the Holiday

November is Picture Book Month and Family Stories Month! Taken together, I couldn’t wish for a better time to introduce today’s sweet and uplifting book about a loving family to readers! So gather ’round – today may be A Sari for Ammi‘s book birthday, but this lovely story is a gift for you!

Thanks go to Amazon Crossing Books and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Sari for Ammi with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

A Sari for Ammi

Written by Mamta Nainy | Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

 

It’s afternoon and a little girl tiptoes past her sister, Sadaf, who’s dozing on the front porch, and the buffalo, who are napping after their “good wash in the village pond.” She’s on her way to help her dad, her Abba, dye threads for the saris that her Ammi, her mom, weaves. After the threads are dyed, the girl visits Ammi at her loom. “Ammi weaves the most wonderful saris in the world, in pinks and yellows and greens, with prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers,” she says.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Making saris has been a family business going back to her great-great grandparents. Now, she and Sadaf, Abba and Ammi work on the saris – some even take months to create. Abba takes Ammi’s finished saris to the haat, the market, to sell. The little girl feels sad that Ammi never gets to wear one of the beautiful sari’s herself. Instead Ammi always wears “old, worn-out salwar-kameezes” – traditional pants and tunics.

One day, the girl asks Ammi to keep a particularly beautiful sari for herself, but Ammi says it is to sell. “‘If we keep the saris, how will we eat?'” she says. The girl doesn’t quite understand, but she wants Ammi to be able to wear a sari that she makes, but to do that, she and Sadaf would have to buy her one. Then she thinks about her and Sadaf’s bank. “‘Let’s break our gullak!'” she tells Sadaf. “‘We can use the money to buy Ammi a sari.'”

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Sadaf about the list of things she and her sister have been saving for, but her little sister asks “‘What matters more to you: Ammi or ‘the things’?…Sadaf makes a face and mumbles, ‘Ammi.'” But when they break the gullak and count their change, it’s only enough to buy a towel. What can they do? Sadaf has the idea to sell all of their old junk to Jhammu Kaka, who owns the scrap shop. When they do that they have more money, but only enough for a dupatta, a head scarf.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

On the way home, the little girl thinks of another way to earn money. They go to their neighbor’s house and help her dye threads for the saris she makes. When she gives them money for their help, Sadaf counts it. Her sister is ready for disappointment, but instead she hears, “‘This money is… just enough to buy Ammi a sari!'” They run to the haat and look at all the saris before picking one. What, they wonder, will Ammi say when they give it to her. But they don’t have “to wait long to find out.” They rush home and with big hugs and the sari in hand, they “bring the biggest smile to Ammi’s face!”

Back matter includes a discussion about the saris of Kaithoon, where the story is set, the history of this town in India as a center for the weaving of saris made from a special fabric called “‘kota doria'” and the women of the Muslim Ansari community who create these works of art. A Glossary also defines words found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Mamta Nainy’s heartening story charms with a close-knit family and two sisters who want their mother to enjoy the saris she works so hard to create. As they pool their resources and think up other ways to make money to buy a sari, the girls show a kind of love for family and excitement for giving that will resonate with readers. Nainy’s flowing and detailed storytelling seamlessly educates and enchants with humor, emotion, and the tender enthusiasm of the young narrator’s voice. The final spread in which the two girls give Ammi the sari they’ve chosen is sure to bring a smile – and maybe a tear – to adults and kids alike.

Sandhya Prabhat fills her pages with glorious color and warm tones that bring the beauty of the kota doria saris alive for readers. Kids and adults will see traditional methods of dyeing threads, the setup of a loom on which these treasures are created, and the intricate patterns and vibrant hues that grace these sought-after saris. Just as compelling are images of the family happily working together to make the cloth and stock their market stall as well as illustrations of the narrator and her sister selflessly giving up their money and devising ways to make more. A two-page spread showing the haat is a showstopper that will entice readers to choose their own favorite sari. 

A moving, feel-good family story with deep roots, both culturally and in the heart, A Sari for Ammi is a story that adults and kids will love sharing again and again. The book is highly recommended as a gift or an addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542035071

You can connect with Mamta Nainy on Instagram.

To learn more about Sandhya Prabhat, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Sari for Ammi Book Birthday Activity

 

You can watch one of these beautiful saris being woven and hear more about them with this video!

You can view a longer video, in which the women weavers talk about and demonstrate their art, here

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-sari-for-ammi-cover

You can find A Sari for Ammi at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review