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

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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.

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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

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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

November 5 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit in many ways 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 a terrific time for adults to share family history and their own stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family 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. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

Written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence | Illustrated by Yuko Jones

 

This true story opens with an invitation to listen as Niki Nakayama talks about her journey to becoming a chef in thirteen bites. “Come. Sit. Taste…” Bite 1: Niki was born in California but her parents were born in Japan. “Outside of Niki’s house was Los Angeles. Inside of her house was Japan.” While the two cultures often felt disparate, in Niki’s family’s kitchen “they became one.” Niki’s mother always put a Japanese twist on American dishes, with soy sauce or rice or teriyaki.

Bite 2: Close to New Year’s Eve, Niki’s grandmother took her to the grocery store to shop for the holiday dinner. Niki was excited. She loved buying all the ingredients for the feast to come: an opportunity to share “a table of love and laughter” in addition to the food. As Niki grew older, she created her own recipes and determined that she would get away from her family’s seafood-selling business and do her own thing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Niki’s dreams seemed to get little attention from her parents, who doted on their son and encouraged his success. But Niki new she could be successful too. “Kuyashii! Niki thought. ‘I’ll show them!’” After high school, Niki traveled to Tokyo, Japan, tasting all the delicious food on offer. Later she took the train to where her cousins owned an inn. There she was served a meal comprised of many dishes, each “a work of art” and each with a delicious memory attached or story to tell. “Niki learned this storytelling feast had a name: kaiseki.”

When Niki returned home, she told her mother she wanted to go to school to become a chef. Her mother discouraged her, but Niki went anyway. “She began to see food as art—a carrot as a mountain.” And while her family thought her cooking was just a hobby, Niki thought “Kuyashii! ‘I’ll show them!’” Niki got a job at a sushi restaurant. “Female sushi chefs were rare,” and the head chef didn’t think she could handle the work. “‘You’re just playing chef,’ he joked.” But Niki told him she wasn’t playing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

After working there and learning all she could, Niki decided to travel back to her cousins’ inn to study kaiseki. But there was a big obstacle. “As far as she knew, female kaiseki chefs didn’t exist. In Japan recipes and training was only handed down to males. People told Niki her dream was impossible, but she thought she could do it. Niki studied for three years and then returned to Los Angeles to open a sushi restaurant of her own.

Instead of being happy for her, her family was dismissive. At last she convinced them to give her a loan—but it came with the stipulation that “if the restaurant failed, she would have to close it and say goodbye to her dream forever.” Instead of the kaiseki dishes she wanted to serve, her mother thought sushi would be a better choice. Against her own wishes, she agreed. In a year, customers were lining up for her food. But making sushi was not what she really wanted to do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-bite-6

Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

She closed her restaurant and wondered what to do next. Then, after much thought and exploration, she had her answer. She wanted to serve kaiseki that told her story—both Japanese and Californian. “Niki called her new restaurant n/naka. Naka means ‘inside’ in Japanese. Finally, Niki was inside her dream.” Through thirteen courses she told her stories—never serving customers the same meal twice. Now, every night tables are full of love and laughter, and Niki showed everyone that she could be a master chef.

Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life from her birth in Los Angeles in 1974 to the awarding of two Michelin stars for her restaurant n/naka in 2019; a discussion of the words kuyashii and kaiseki; and a recipe for wonton pizza.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-kaiseki

Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence’s biography of Niki Nakayama is an enthralling story of self-confidence, obstacles overcome, and success that will inspire readers to stay true to the voice inside themselves. Telling Nakayama’s story through thirteen bite-sized vignettes that reveal formative moments in her life that informed her journey is a captivating and effective way to show Niki’s growth as a chef as well as to explain the meaning and experience of kaiseki.

Readers will respond to Michalak’s and Florence’s straightforward text and the details of the hurdles placed in her way. One take-away for adult readers is the importance of recognizing, encouraging, and supporting their children’s dreams and talents—an awareness that can lead to ongoing discussions with kids as they grow, learn, and get involved in activities.

Yuko Jones’ lovely illustrations take readers into Niki Nakayama’s home to see her interacting with her family and the foods that so inspired her life’s work. Jones’ images of Japanese delicacies are particularly beautiful, giving kids a strong understanding of the courses served during a kaiseki meal. Niki’s self-assurance in the face of her family’s protests and her male-dominated culinary school class as well as the rarity of female sushi chefs is stirring for all readers. Jones’ final page spreads reveal the gorgeous dishes Niki serves and the inviting atmosphere at her restaurant n/naka.

A captivating and impactful biography of a contemporary chef and role model, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections to inspire all kids who are contemplating their place in the world now and in the future.

Ages 4 – 10

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021 | ISBN 978-0374313876

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Debbi Michiko Florence and her books on her website.

To learn more about Yuko Jones and see a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

You can learn more about n/naka and view a gallery of Niki Nakayama’s spectacular dishes on the n/naka website.

Family Stories Month Activity

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Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites Activity Kit

 

Educators and families can find an extensive Activity Kit and coloring pages to accompany classroom or homeschool lessons or just for fun on Jamie Michalak’s website and Debbi Michiko Florence’s website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-cover

You can find Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 2 – It’s Historic Bridge Month

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About the Holiday

Bridges can do so much more than just take vehicles and people over waterways or highways. Many are beautiful structures that enhance the skyline or environment in which they’re found. Covered bridges, stone bridges, and soaring steel and cable bridges all have their own stories to tell and inspire awe in their own way. Unfortunately, many older bridges are slated for destruction or replacement. To honor this month’s holiday, visit a historic bridge in your area or research famous bridges of the past and present. On November 6, we also celebrate National Saxophone Day! To get in the swing of this holiday, why not listen to music by Sonny Rollins? You can find his jazz classics on YouTube. To get started, you can listen to The Bridge here.

Thanks go to Nancy Paulsen Books for sharing a copy of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by James Ransome

 

“The Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / joyfully / joining shore to shore”

“Steel towers / standing tall / reaching high / touching / sky” as people – walking and riding bikes – and cars and trucks move above “the River / stretched out below / a shiny / endless / song”

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

In another part of New York City, Sonny Rollins, already a jazz great, is trying to find a place to play his saxophone – to become a better musician and a better person. The neighbors in his apartment building complain from their windows as he practices on the fire escape, so he takes to the sidewalks to find a more accommodating spot. He wanders the busy streets until he sees, towering above the tall buildings, the Williamsburg Bridge and wonders…. He listens to “that / small voice / inside / which says / you need to do this

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

He climbs the stairs to the walkway high above the noisy, busy city and takes his saxophone from its case. Here, alone, Sonny finds the place where he can play as loud as he wants. But he’s not really alone. Around him the “clanking clanging” subway trains lend rhythm to his music, and the “tugboats / blowing bass notes / back / and forth” are answered “note-for-note / with / low moans” from Sonny’s sax while seagulls are “echoing / Sonny’s funny / squeaks / & / squawks.”

Here, this jazz great “can play / anything / EVERYTHING / that comes into his mind.” With his “mind opened wide,” Sonny finds the sound he’s been looking for and “the Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / just like / Sonny.”

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

Back matter includes more about the life and career of Sonny Rollins; a history of the Williamsburg Bridge and The Bridge – a series of songs inspired by his experience, recorded in 1962; and Sonny’s words about how he lives his life and what he thinks is important. Sonny’s website and recommended songs found on YouTube round out these informative pages.

Gary Golio’s story floats on the jazz rhythms of his poetic verses, enveloping readers in the musicality of Sonny Rollins’s life and the sounds of the city. In addition to relaying the facts of this seminal period in Rollin’s career, Golio emphasizes Rollin’s belief in the importance of listening to your own internal voice on the road to self-discovery. Lyrical descriptions of the impromptu “band” that accompanied Rollins on the bridge are both beautifully evocative and inspirational reminders for readers that they too can shine while working with or playing off of others. 

James Ransome’s glorious watercolor and collage paintings give readers a sense of the time period as well as the scale of the bridge as it soars above the high-rise buildings, providing a practice room and stage for Sonny Rollins’ talent. Textured and patterned details along with a variety of perspectives echo Golio’s lyrical verses. Gold accents on each page mirror Rollins’ shiny saxophone and visually represent the notes that rise and float away over the city.

A gorgeous and jazz-infused snapshot of a stirring and influential time in Sonny Rollins’ life,  Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge will delight any music lover and inspire all readers to search for the best in themselves. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2021 | ISBN 978-1984813664

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about James Ransome, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Historic Bridge Awareness Month Activity

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Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports.

Want to build a whole town? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, oatmeal container, or aluminum can. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add some paint and details! So look around, use your imagination, and get creative!

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You can find Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 14 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

From September 15th through October 15th National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. You can learn more about the holiday and find cross-curricular resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, exhibitions, and much more from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the National Gallery of Art, the Nationla Archives and more to use not only this month but throughout the year on the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Written by Larry Dane Brimmer | Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez

On January 5, 1931 twelve-year-old Roberto Alvarez was happy to be going back to Lemon Grove Grammar School after the Christmas vacation. But when he got there “the principal told Roberto and the other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” He told them to go to the new Mexican school on Olive Street, and when they arrived, their teachers and desks were already waiting for them.

This had all come about stealthily after the school district’s board of trustees received a letter from the parent-teacher association complaining that “the Mexican children didn’t understand English,” which “held back the white students.” The letter also said that the “Mexican children were unclean and endangered the health of every other student in the school.” The board decided to construct a separate school—but without telling the Mexican parents, fearing “trouble.”

But as the Olive Street school was being built, Mexican parents understood it true purpose of segregation and instructed their children not to attend, but to come home. Most of the kids, including Roberto did as their parents told them. “That January morning the Olive Street School stood almost empty, except for two teachers, three students, and many unoccupied desks.” Roberto believed he didn’t need a different school. While his parents had come from Mexico, he had been born in California and spoke English as well as any of the white students.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The Mexican parents formed the “Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove—the Lemon Grove Neighbors Committee”—to talk about the situation. They knew the new school had not been built to “help their students learn the English language and American customs, as the school board and newspapers claimed.” The only deciding factor of which school a child attended was the color of their skin.

The Comité de Vecinos acquired two lawyers, and on February 13, 1931 “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego” by filing a law suit against the Lemon Grove School board of trustees. His lawsuit asked that the school district stop discriminating against the Mexican students and allow them to return to the Lemon Grove School. The school board falsely stated that the students’ strike was “organized by Mexico or by groups in Mexico,” and the president told a reporter he knew that the district attorney of San Diego was on the school’s side.

In fact the San Diego district attorney represented the school board in its dealings with the court, saying that the Olive Street School was for “‘better instruction,’” a claim that was different from the minutes from the school board’s summer meetings. He then went on to say that having a school in their own neighborhood was safer since they didn’t have to cross the railroad tracks. But Roberto wanted to go to school with all of his friends—”brown and white.”

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The trial began on March 10, 1931 in San Diego. The lawyers for the school board insisted that the new school was to “benefit the Mexican pupils…not to separate” them. Roberto’s lawyers countered this with the minutes from the board’s summer meetings.

The trial ended the next day, and the decision was handed over to the judge. Two days later, the judge handed down his ruling. He stated that “in the eyes of the law the Lemon Grove School District had no power to set up a separate school for Mexican children.” On April 16, 1931, the judge’s ruling became official and the school board was ordered to immediately admit Roberto Alvarez and all of the other Mexican students “‘without separation or segregation.’” Roberto knew he had to stand up for what was right, and as he and the other Mexican students returned to school, “this time all were welcomed.”

An extensive Author’s Note, complete with photographs of Roberto Alvarez, his third- and fourth-grade classmates in 1928, Roberto’s mother, Lemon Grove Grammar School and its principal, and Roberto in 1999, reveals more about this historical event, the people involved, and the political and social atmosphere in the US at the time. Larry Dane Brimmer also discusses other cases of school segregation and follows up with the consequences for Lemon Grove principal Jerome Green and the successful career enjoyed by Roberto Alvarez as an entrepreneur. Resources used in researching the book are also included.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Larry Dane Brimmer’s compelling history of this landmark case and biography of Roberto Alvarez and all of the students and their parents who stood up for equal access to schooling is instructive and empowering. The fact that this issue and similar others continue to roil schools, workplaces, and communities, makes Without Separation a vital resource to educate children and adults on system racism and how it spreads.

Brimmer highlights the courage, intelligence, and acceptance that children display and inspires them to lend their voices to change injustice wherever they find it. Brimmer’s clear and precise storytelling allows children to understand the actions and discussions involved in the school board meetings, neighborhood committee meetings, and the trial without losing any of the story’s emotional impact.

Maya Gonzalez’s lovely folk-art illustrations present stylized-yet-realistic depictions of the citrus groves, the school, and the courtroom. Fashions and décor set the time period while also appearing appropriate today. Another portrayal of universality is accomplished in Gonzalez’s two-page spread of the board of trustees’ meeting, in which she pictures the members sitting at a table with only their feet and upper body showing. Not only is this group representative of the 1930 school board, but of the “faceless” masses and committees that often drive policy today. Many images of the Mexican community supporting each other shows readers what can be accomplished when people work together.

An important book that will resonate with its target audience, Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez is a must-addition to any home, classroom, school, and public library.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371952

Discover more about Larry Dane Brimmer and his books on his website.

To learn more about Maya Gonzalez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-without-separation-cover

You can find Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review