December 1 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Dancing with Daddy

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Dancing with Daddy

Written by Anitra Rowe Schulte | Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

 

Elsie was shopping for the perfect dress to wear to her first father-daughter dance. Should she choose the pink one that will make her look like a princess or the red one that’s the same color as her daddy’s soccer jersey? As her mom held them up, Elsie reached from her wheelchair and “grabbed the red dress and pulled it close. This one,” she thinks. “It’s perfect for dancing with Daddy.” She gets a matching bow headband and heads home as snowflakes flurried around them. Elsie was worried the dance would be cancelled.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At home, Elsie’s sisters, Daphne and Rosalie, raced to meet Elsie at the door while Daddy asked her if she picked out a good one. Elsie replied by touching the “special” picture square in her PODD communication book. After dinner – noodle bowls for Daphne and Rosalie and a push of food through a feeding tube for Elsie – the sisters went to Elsie’s room to see her dress and talk about the dance. Soon it was time for bed, and “Daddy read Elsie’s favorite bedtime book,” the Nutcracker. “As the dancer in the story twirled, Elsie’s heart did pirouettes. I can’t wait to see my dress spin,” Elsie thought.

That night Elsie dreamed about the dance, but the snow kept falling. In the morning, Elsie stared out the window with disappointment. She saw snow edging her window panes and heard the sound of snow shovels. She just knew the dance would be cancelled. Then her mom came in and told her “‘the dance is a go!'” All day the sisters practiced dancing and twirling and dipping Elsie’s wheelchair “until she found her groove.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At last the time came to get ready and leave for the dance. Daddy complimented all of his daughters on their dresses as they made their way to the dance hall. That’s when Elsie realized she didn’t have her bow. While crossing the parking lot, Elsie’s wheels got stuck in a snowbank, but Daddy pushed it through. Once inside, the other girls all reminded her of the dancer in her favorite book. She wished she had her bow and put her hand up to touch her hair. Reminded, her dad pulled the headband from his pocket and set it in place. Then he spun her around; “her ruffles took flight.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inside the gym, the music boomed, and everyone was dancing. When a “tender tune began to play, Daphne and Rosalie took a break. Elsie’s daddy picked her up. “Elsie pressed her forehead against Daddy’s, and together they danced. He swung her high and held her tight. It was just like her dream, “except better.” Afterward, Elsie tasted the frosting from her piece of cake, then she touched the “dance” picture in her book. Elsie and Daddy returned to the dance floor and “joined Daphne and Rosalie under the lights and dance and danced into the night.”

An Author’s Note at the front of the book introduces readers to Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, its prevalence, affects, and the tools people with WHS use to eat, communicate, and get around.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inspired by her own daughters, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome like Elise, Anitra Rowe Schulte’s story glows with family love, support, and encouragement. As Elise gets ready for a father-daughter dance, readers will get caught up in her excitement and universal concerns, such as choosing the “perfect” dress and whether a much-anticipated event will be cancelled because of adverse weather. Schulte’s evocative storytelling beautifully incorporates both emotion and factual information through the use of realistic, uplifting dialogue and intermittent lyrical lines that echo the movement and music of dance. Children also see that while Elsie may be nonverbal, her thoughts are like their own, just expressed differently.

Ziyue Chen’s lovely illustrations shine with sisterly camaraderie and family devotion. As the story opens and Elise chooses the red dress over the pink one by pulling it close, kids can read in her face and body language how important the dress, the dance, and surprising her dad are to her. Likewise, readers will share Elise’s excitement and her worries and celebrate the fun she has at the dance. Particularly moving are two mirrored illustrations: the first, a gorgeous image, lit by golden orbs and tiny stars, of Elise dreaming of the dance to come, and the second a tender two-page spread later on when her dream comes true. 

In her illustrations of Elise, Chen realistically depicts the facial features of children with WHS as well as the wheelchair, orthotics, feeding mechanism, and PODD books used by many. Children who use tools similar to Elise will be excited to see themselves represented in these pages, and others will be interested to learn about them and to meet Elise.

A joyous and heartfelt story of a loving and supportive family and which celebrates the common hopes and dreams of all children, Dancing with Daddy is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542007191

About Anitra Rowe Schulte

Anitra Rowe Schulte has worked as a journalist for The Kansas City Star and the Sun-Times News Group, as a staff writer for Chicago Public Schools, and as a publicist. She is the mother of three beautiful girls, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is the inspiration for Elsie in this book. She lives in the Chicago area, and this is her first picture book. Learn more about her at www.anitraroweschulte.com and follow her at @anitraschulte on Twitter.

About Ziyue Chen

Ziyue Chen is the Deaf illustrator of a number of children’s books, including Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith. She lives with her loved ones in Singapore. Find out more at www.ziyuechen.com or follow her @ziyuechen on Instagram.

To see Ziyue Chen bring her illustrations to life on the page, watch these videos.

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You can find Dancing with Daddy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 30 – Tedd Tuesday

About the Holiday

There is no better time to feature Tedd Arnold than during Picture Book Month! Tedd Arnold has published over 50 books as both writer and illustrator! His themes range from houses crashing down, to little girls turning into frogs, to his beloved character Fly Guy. No matter which book you choose you can rest assured that you will be pulled into a world full of action, adventure, and things flying through the air! And No Jumping on the Bed! has become such a classic that the book got an illustrative update for it’s 25th anniversary. Whether you love new look or are a fan of the original, No Jumping on the Bed! makes for a perfect bedtime story time.

Review by Amanda Leemis

No Jumping on the Bed!

Written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold

 

Meet Walter. He loves jumping on his bed. Walter’s father has told him a million times not to jump on the bed. As Walter closes his eyes in his darkened bedroom, he can hear a “thump, thump, thump” from the apartment upstairs. Suddenly, he just can’t resist! “If Delbert can jump on his bed, so can I!” declares Walter. This is when something very unexpected happens. Walter’s feet firmly hit the bed and the entire floor cracks beneath him. Walter, his stuffed puppy dog, and all of his things crash right through the floor.

Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group. | Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

You may think the story ends here as Walter crashes into the apartment beneath and lands in Miss Hattie’s spaghetti, but the apartment building is large and Walter lives in a floor way up high. So, instead of apologizing to Miss Hattie for landing her her spaghetti dinner, they both crash through the next floor and pick up Mr. Matty and his TV. Mr. Matty is shocked as ever to see two people crash through his ceiling and soon he becomes a crasher too, crashing into Aunt Batty’s apartment. Walter tumbles through a box of stamps and into the next apartment along with everyone else where he destroys a beautiful block castle.

Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group. | Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

Walter picks up a fluffy cat named Fatty Cat along the way and his tumbling continues down through a painter’s apartment where everyone is splattered by buckets of paint! Down, down, down, they fall covered in green, yellow, and blue paint! “Walter, Miss Hattie, Mr. Matty, Aunt Batty, Patty, and Natty, Mr. Hanratty, Fatty Cat, seventeen cans of paint, the stamps, the TV, the spaghetti, the bed, and all.”

The final apartment is that of Maestro Ferlingatti and his musicians. Spaghetti and paint flies onto the musicians’ heads! His practice room floor is also the basement ceiling and Walter squeezes his eyes shut as he tumbles through the darkness back onto a soft mound of blankets.

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Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group.

Walter opens his eyes and finds himself safe and sound in his bed. Now, reader, you must be thinking that this was all just a dream, but that’s when Walter hears a creak. He looks up, and Delbert comes crashing though Walter’s ceiling, bed and all.

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Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

Tedd Arnold’s illustrations, full of vibrant colors, energy, and movement, will make you want to hold on tightly to the edges of your own bed for fear you may be the next crasher! The repetition may temp your little ones to read along and name all of the people and things that are tumbling through the building. This story is great for bedtime and provides an interesting thought to ponder as you drift off to sleep – was Walter dreaming, or is there really a structural problem with the building? Which apartment would you like to crash through next?

Ages 4-6

Dial Books for Young Readers, 1987, ISBN | 0-8037-0038-5

About Amanda Leemis

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Amanda Leemis is a model, artist, and creator of The Hollydog Blog! She is passionate about encouraging our littlest humans to read! With two books published in the “My Hollydog” series, she loves illustration and uses her skills to create printable worksheets for ages 2-5. Creating resources that build fine motor skills and boost creativity is her passion.

Amanda Leemis is the illustrator of My Hollydog and My Hollydog Rides in the Car. Her mother Charise Leemis is the author! The “My Hollydog” series is written specifically for ages 2-3. With one sentence per page, little ones will stay engaged and keep focused on the vibrant illustrations. Come along with Hollydog on an adventure! Whether it’s hanging her head out the window or jumping into a pile of leaves, Hollydog loves her humans more than anything in the world!

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Tedd Tuesday Activity

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No Jumping on the Bed Word Search

 

Print your No Jumping on the Bed! Word Search to find all 10 hidden words! All the words are names of things that went crashing right through the floor!

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You can find No Jumping on the Bed! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million (Hardcover, 2012 | Paperback, 1987)

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop (Hardcover, 2012 | Paperback, 1987) | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 28 – Celebrate Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish wintertime celebration that commemorates the victory of the small Maccabean army over the much more powerful Greek/Syrian forces and the rededication of the Holy Temple during the second century BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil lamp, which at the time only held enough oil for one day yet burned for eight days. This year Hanukkah takes place from December 10 through 18.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

Written by Erica S. Perl | Illustrated by Shahar Kober

 

A family has just moved into their new apartment. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, but they can’t find their Hanukkah things amidst all the boxes. So, without the menorah or delicious latkes, Mom, Dad, Rachel, and Max sit on the floor eating pizza. “It was nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” On the second night, they still hadn’t found the menorah, but Rachel and Max made one from a piece of wood, their jar of nuts and bolts, and some craft paint. It was all ready to light, when Mom discovered that they didn’t have the candles either.

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the stores closed, Rachel and Max went next door to apartment 2C. They introduced themselves to Mrs. Mendez and explained their situation. She offered the only candles she had—a box of birthday candles. “Dad lit the shamash. Max and Rachel each used it to light a candle.” Then they opened presents. While it was nice, it still “didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.
On the third night, the “lucky latke pan” was nowhere to be found, but Max appeared with a steaming plate of French fries from Joe, the super, who lived downstairs.

By the fourth night of Hanukkah, Mom and Dad were beginning to think the box with their Hanukkah things had gotten lost. Max wanted to play dreidel, so while Mom called the moving company, Max and Rachel met the Watson twins, who didn’t have a dreidel, but they did have a toy that spun and spun. On the fifth night, Rachel and Max had made their own dreidel, “which meant they needed gelt.” On the fourth floor, Max and Rachel met Mr. Patel, who handed Max the only chocolate he had—a bag of chocolate chips. All of these substitutions were “nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Each night of Hanukkah Max and Rachel missed a different part of their Hanukkah celebration, and each night a new neighbor did the best they could to supply it. On the morning after the eighth night of Hanukkah, a delivery person showed up at the door with Mom’s guitar. She suggested a sing-along, but Rachel reminded her that Hanukkah was over. Max, however, had another idea and pointed to the ninth candle on the menorah. This gave Rachel an idea too, and she and Max whispered and planned. Then they waited. Soon “there was a knock on the door. And another. And another.”

When all the neighbors had gathered, Max and Rachel explained their Shamash Night celebration. Like the Shamash candle “helps light all the other candles,” they said, their new neighbors had helped them celebrate Hanukkah. “‘So we wanted to say thanks—to the Shamash and to you,’” Rachel said. Just then the delivery person appeared with the long-lost box. On the ninth night in their new home, Mom and Dad, Rachel and Max ate, played, sang, and danced with all of their new friends, “and best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”

An Author’s Note following the story tells about the history and tradition of the shamash candle and the idea that sparked the writing of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. Erica S. Perl also provides a guide on how families can hold their own “Shamash Night.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Community, resilience, and children’s creativity infuse every page of Erica S. Perl’s story that’s a wonderful Hanukkah read as well as a story families will want to share all year around. The apartment-house setting and the family’s just-moved-in situation combine to create a charming microcosm of making friends, getting to know new neighbors, and discovering the generosity of strangers. Rachel and Max, creative, close-knit, and accommodating, will captivate kids as they go along on their scavenger hunts for the makings of a homey Hanukkah celebration.

Perl’s substitutions—from birthday candles to French fries to a ukulele will appeal to readers. The repeated phrase “It was nice, but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” applies to many make-do conditions and will resonate with children. It also provides suspense and a nice counterpoint for when the night does finally fulfill the Hanukkah feeling. Max and Rachel’s “Shamash Night” offers a message of gratitude not only for things but for friendship.

Shahar Kober’s warm-toned illustrations mirror the heartfelt story and the kindness of the diverse group of neighbors as they provide workable solutions to Max and Rachel’s requests. Images of Rachel and Max creating a homemade menorah, dreidel, and wrapping paper may inspire kids to design their own Hanukkah or other holiday decorations and traditional items. Kober’s cartoon-style characters are expressive, demonstrating their disappointment in missing their well-loved Hanukkah things but more so their cheerful acceptance of what the neighbors can provide. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the family’s cat, who likes to be in the middle of the action, but also is happy to make do with a moving box as a new napping spot.

A heartwarming and joyful Hanukkah story with messages of kindness, generosity, acceptance and a loving sibling relationship, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is highly recommended for all home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454940883

Discover more about Erica S. Perl and her books on her website.

To learn more about Shahar Kober, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Celebrate Hanukkah Activity

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Star of David Decoration

 

Kids can add a bit of sparkle to their Hanukkah celebrations with this Star of David craft.

Supplies

  • 6 mini craft sticks
  • 2 round lids from clear plastic deli containers
  • Silver glitter
  • Blue craft paint
  • Clear-drying glue
  • Thin ribbon or string, 8 – 10 inches long

Directions

To Make the Star of David

  1. Paint the craft sticks with the blue paint, let dry
  2. Glue three of the craft sticks together to form a triangle; repeat with the other three sticks
  3. Glue the two triangles together to create a Star of David
  4. Glue a short length of ribbon to the top back of the Star of David

To Make the Case

  1. Apply a thin layer of clear-drying glue to the top, indented side of one of the lids
  2. Sprinkle the lid with the glitter, let dry
  3. When the glue is dry, center the Star of David in the lid with the ribbon trailing over the rim of the lid. The Star of David will be free hanging inside the case from the ribbon.
  4. Glue the rim of the indented side of the second lid to the rim of the first lid
  5. When dry, tie the ribbon into a loop for hanging

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You can find The Ninth Night of Hanukkah at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 23 – It’s Sweet Potato Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

Sweet potatoes are yummy and satisfying—and they’re healthy! Full of vitamins A and C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, sweet potatoes make delicious side dishes for almost any meal. Sweet potato fries, muffins, pies, and—of course—casserole are just a few of the ways you can enjoy this natural treat. To celebrate today’s holiday, cook up your favorite recipe and discover some new ones!

Little Chef

Written by Matt Stine & Elisabeth Weinberg | Illustrated by Paige Keiser

 

Lizzie is a little girl who has always loved to cook. In fact, her mom and dad call her “their Little Chef.” She has her own chef’s uniform, complete with hat, and doesn’t mind the long hours a chef has to keep. Today, Lizzie is extra excited because “Grandmas is coming over for dinner!” Lizzie has learned all of her cooking skills from her Grandma, and tonight she is going to prepare a special dinner just for her.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Lizzie knows she’ll need extra energy today, so she’s starting off by making her “famous scrambled eggs.” She whips eggs in a bowl with a fork and adds salt and pepper. After breakfast, Lizzie and her mom get ready to go to the farmers’ market to buy the ingredients for “Grandma’s Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.” Lizzie wants Grandma to see that she “can cook just like her.” At the farmers’ market, Lizzie picks out the freshest sweet potatoes she can find. Back home, Mom and Dad peel and chop the potatoes and help Lizzie put them into the big pot of boiling water. When the potatoes are soft, it’s time for “the best part about making Smashed Sweet Potatoes. Smashing them!”

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Then “it’s time to add the secret ingredient! Grandma says every great recipe has one. It makes a chef’s food taste extra special and delicious.” But when Lizzie consults the recipe, no secret ingredient is listed. Lizzie decides she will just have to add one of her own. She looks in the spice cabinet and after going through bottle after bottle, she finds the perfect one. Lizzie gives her finished Smashed Sweet Potatoes a taste and waits for Grandma. Finally, Grandma arrives and everyone sits down to dinner. When Daddy tastes the sweet potatoes, he says, “‘Mmm!’” Mommy says, “‘ Mmmm!’” too.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

But what will Grandma say? Grandma takes a bite and exclaims, “‘These are even BETTER than my own Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.’” Then Grandma wants to know what Lizzie’s secret ingredient is. But of course Lizzie can’t tell her that! Grandma picks up Lizzie and gives her a big hug. “‘…being with you is the best ingredient of all,’” she says. And as Lizzie lies in bed later that night, reading her cookbook by flashlight, she wonders what she’ll cook tomorrow.

A recipe for Chef Lizzie’s (Grandma’s) Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes that encourages young chefs to experiment with their own secret ingredient follows the story.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Kids who love to cook or help out in the kitchen will be delighted by Matt Stine and Elisabeth Weinberg’s story of a little girl who wants to impress the grandmother who inspires her. Lizzie’s enthusiasm for cooking and her confidence in her skills make this an uplifting tale for children of all talents. Lizzie’s special bond with her grandmother adds a tender family element to the story and her big-hearted nature makes her a sweet companion for little readers. The recipe included in the back of the book invites children to make Lizzie’s Smashed Sweet Potato recipe and find their own secret ingredient—an invitation few will be able to resist.

Adorable little Lizzie, with her wild frizz of hair is energetic, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and a free spirit. With dashes of humor, Paige Keiser follows her through a day of creating the perfect dinner for Grandma. Dressed in her chef’s uniform, Lizzie splashes her dog with egg, sends him sneezing in a cloud of pepper, and turns him orange as she whacks away at the soft chunks of sweet potatoes. Images of Mom and Dad happily encouraging and supporting Lizzie in her cooking are heartwarming, and Grandma’s big hug is as sweet as it gets.

A charming and inspiring story, Little Chef is a fun read for culinary kids and any child experimenting with their talent and striving to do their best. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public libraries and a great gift for grandmothers and grandkids to share.

Ages 2 – 6

Feiwel & Friends, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250091697

Discover more about Elisabeth Weinberg, executive chef and owner of Miss Elisabeth’s Catering in New York and a Food Network “Chopped” Champion, on her website.

Find out more about Matt Stine and his work as a music producer and composer for Broadway and Off-Broadway on his website.

To view a portfolio of artwork by Paige Keiser, visit her website.

Sweet Potato Awareness Month Activity

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We Love to Cook! Coloring Pages

 

Add your secret ingredient and get cooking on these printable coloring pages!

Baking with Grandma | Cooking with Dad

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You can find Little Chef 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.

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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.

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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 15 – It’s Young Readers Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-cover

About the Holiday

Established in 1989 by the Center for the Book and Pizza Hut as a way to celebrate reading and invite kids and adults to discover the fun and benefits of reading, Young Readers Week is a favorite on any book-lovers’ calendar. Bringing together businesses, schools, families, and libraries, the Book It! program offers encouragement and resources to get kids excited about reading. To learn more and find activities, printables, reading trackers, and other resources for schools and families, visit the Book It! program website.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Big Honcho Media for sending me a copy of Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.)

By Ryan T. Higgins

 

Norman was a porcupine whose best friend, Mildred, was a tree. During the day, Norman loved playing baseball with Mildred (even though she always struck out—and, if truth be told, never even swung at the ball), bird-watching, “playing ‘tree’ together, and even playing chess (even if Norman had to play both black and white). At night, Norman settled himself in Mildred’s branches and read to Mildred (who always asked for “one more chapter.” Sometimes Norman just liked being with Mildred, holding hands with a low-growing branch.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-reading

Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Then one day an interloper popped from the ground complete with some leafy appendages. “And WHO is THAT?!” Norman asked Mildred. Of course, “it was another tree”—a tree that did not belong with Norman and Mildred. At first Norman just stewed, but soon he began to worry about whether Mildred might prefer this other tree to him. And, in fact, as the other tree grew taller, it seemed that Mildred didn’t need Norman to play baseball, birdwatch or play “‘tree’” anymore. “Life wasn’t the same.”

On the day that Mildred and the other tree actually touched leaves, Norman decided that was “the last straw. Even though, in this case, there were no straws. Just branches.” He decided to take action and devised the perfect plan. One night, Norman dug up the other tree, plopped it into a wheelbarrow, “and took it far away. Very far away.” So “very, very far away” that he needed a rowboat to get there.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

And on a tiny island, Norman replanted the other tree and rowed back to shore. After that things were back to normal—sort of. But Mildred was suspicious; she had questions. Norman did his best to offer possibilities after first explaining that he hadn’t done anything with the other tree. “Maybe it went on vacation,” he said. “Maybe it moved. How should I know?” And then he reassured Mildred that she still had him.

But there a niggling disquiet came to Norman. He began to fear that someone had seen him and that maybe “digging up your friend’s friend…was NOT the right thing to do.” His guilt ate at him until, under Mildred’s accusing gaze, he tripped and fell into the other tree’s empty hole. “Norman had hit rock bottom. ‘I have hit rock bottom!’” he announced. He knew what he had to do.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

He took the wheelbarrow and the rowboat and hurried to the tiny island. Back home, he replanted the other tree right where it had been before. “Norman knew life was going to be different.” Maybe it would even be better, he contemplated from the comfort of his hammock. “Just the three of them”—until the other tree’s best friend appeared from its nest, saw Norman, and demanded to know “And WHO is THAT?!”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Ryan T. Higgins’ superbly well-conceived story of personal relationships tested by newcomers paints the wide swath of emotions that friendships, sibling bonds, and other connections spark in the human heart with his well-known and ameliorating humor. Higgins’ honest look at the progression of contentment, jealousy, resentment, fear, and sadness leading up to a desperate act followed by short-lived satisfaction, denials, guilt, dread, introspection, and finally acceptance not only makes for a dramatic and suspenseful read, but offers kids and adults a compelling way to talk about the delicacy and resilience of strong relationships.

Higgins’ plump and rakish Norman garners immediate affection with his adorable expressions and enthusiastic friendship with the steadfast Mildred so that when “the other tree” comes into the picture, readers will feel a deep empathy with his predicament. Depictions of how Norman sees interactions between Mildred and the other tree as usurping his role are clever and meaningful conversation starters. The aftermath of Norman’s replanting of the other tree also provides insight into whose life Norman really uprooted. In his pitch-perfect ending, Higgins reminds kids that no one lives in isolation and that their own experience may be mirrored in someone else’s.

An outstanding story that charms as a favorite read-aloud for humorous story times as well as one that makes a poignant impact on social-emotional growth, Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 8

Disney-Hyperion, 2021 | ISBN 978-1368026239

You can connect with Ryan T. Higgins on Twitter. 

To find more books by Ryan T. Higgins and an Activity Kit/Educator’s Guide for teachers and families, visit Ryan’s page on the Disney Books website.

Young Reader’s Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-we-love-to-read-maze

We Love to Read! Maze

 

Help the kids pick up books and find their way through the library in this printable maze.

We Love to Read! Maze Puzzle | We Love to Read! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-cover

You can find Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) 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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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