Posted in picture books

No one can resist New York – even the Mona Lisa!

Mona Lisa in New York, by Yevgenia Nayberg, (March 2021, Prestel Junior), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791374451

Ages 5-8

The iconic Mona Lisa painting makes her way to New York for a museum exhibit, but there’s no way she’s staying inside the whole time! One night, she slips out to explore and meets Tag, a graffiti work from Brooklyn, who takes her on a whirlwind tour of New York: they listen to jazz in Harlem, eat pizza in the Bronx, dance salsa on the High Line, and go swimming at Brighton Beach. But all good things must come to an end, and as the two ride back to the museum on the subway, Mona Lisa knows that she’s got to go home… or does she? This love letter to New York City is a lesson in art appreciation – Tag and Mona Lisa are both art forms – and an introduction to New York, a city with so much to see that even the Mona Lisa wants to be a tourist! The mixed media artwork has the flavor of New York, with something always going on in the details, whether it’s the crush of people staring at their phones and taking no notice of the famous painting come to life on the street, pigeons sitting on Mona Lisa as she tries to figure her way around the city, or the train acrobat plying his trade on the subway. A great choice for an art-related or New York-related storytime. And while you’re at it, tell the kids about 5Pointz, the now-shuttered graffitii warehouse in Queens where artists used to be able to come and create public art. Give kids some art supplies like markers and paper, or buy spray bottles and tempera paints and let them create sprayable paint.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Little Kid, Big City: a kids’ guide to New York!

Little Kid, Big City: New York, by Beth Beckman/Illustrated by Holly Maher, (Feb. 2021, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683692447

Ages 7-12

A travel book for kids that includes tips and tricks for navigating New York City, Little Kid, Big City: New York is set up like a choose-your-own-adventure book – just like New York! Most of the action is concentrated in Manhattan, but there are highlights in the outer boroughs, like Rockaway Beach and the Unisphere in my ‘hood, Queens; Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and so much more! There are great little inside secrets to New York, too: what makes our bagels taste so good? The water! The pizza? Foldable! Underground art galleries? Check the subways! Read the book straight through, or follow the prompts that give you a choice to wander all over the city. Colorful illustrations capture the buzz of New York by day, and the rhyming text lets little readers enjoy a story about New York City! The book is a spin-off of the Little Kid Big City website, which also has a wealth of information perfect for families traveling to New York, London, Amsterdam, and Washington, DC, and the Instagram account, which has gorgeous photos, guides, and reels.

Let the kids plan the next adventure when we can travel again – many of these sites are still closed at the moment – and you can’t go wrong. Until then, download a free Travel from Home Activity Kit. Back matter includes an “Adventure Index” that provides more in-depth detail about each of the sites visited in the book, and there’s a fold-out map of New York and the boroughs to hang up. Bundle this with Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s graphic novel, Lost in NYC, for a full New York experience.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Next Stop: Christmas!

5 More Sleeps ‘Til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon/Illustrated by Rich Deas, (Oct. 2020, Feiwel & Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250266477

Ages 3-7

Jimmy Fallon’s newest picture book outing is an ode to the anticipation that seems to increase exponentially, the closer Christmas morning gets! In this rhyming tale, a boy is counting his “sleeps” until the big day. He knows he’s been good and that Santa will take care of business, but going to sleep every night is SO HARD when Christmas is so close! “5 more sleeps ’til Christmas. / I’m not sure I can wait. / I get good grades, / I fed the dog. / I even cleaned my plate. Gary’s chew toy Peppy / is helping me count sheep. / But it’s not working! We’re still up! / We cannot fall asleep!” Colorful illustrations set against the deep blue night time sky and the dark warmth of the boy’s night time room, combined with the adorable, expressive main character and his faithful pup, Gary, are full of holiday anticipation that kids and adults alike will remember and enjoy revisiting time and again. Absolute holiday fun that will brighten up your shelves.

 

Claris: Holiday Heist (The Chicest Mouse in Paris), by Megan Hess, (Oct. 2020, Hardie Grant), $17.99, ISBN: 9781760504953

Ages 4-8

Fashion illustrator Megan Hess’s series about the Claris, “chicest mouse in Paris” sees her fabumouse main character visiting New York along with her friend, Monsieur the Cat, and the family they live with. The Brat – the family’s spoiled daughter – is throwing tantrums per usual, but the real story is in the title. Claris and Monsieur spy a thieving cat on a shopping trip, and follow the felonious feline to his home and demand his return his booty! Will the cat burglar give up his life of crime and embrace the giving spirit of the holidays?Eloise and Olivia fans will love this chic, smart, determined little heroine as she takes on the streets of New York’s chic shopping district. Author Megan Hess’s fashion illustration expertise makes for gorgeous fashion sketches throughout, with bright, colorful moments that pop against the black and white backgrounds. Rhyming text makes the story a fun readaloud.

 

Dinosaur Christmas!, by Penny Dale, (Sept 2020, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214499

Ages 2-6

This is the seventh book in Penny Dale’s Dinosaur series! This time out, Santa’s stuck and it’s dinos to the rescue! Trucks, plows, even helicopters arrive on the scene to dig Santa out and get him back on his way. Short sentences, repetition and sight words, and sounds like “crunch, crunch”, “swish, swish”, and “scoop, scoop” make this a fantastic readaloud choice (have a sensory storytime with this book and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt). Flannels and/or toy dinos are always fun to add. Watercolor and ink dinosaurs look realistic and friendly, and colorful endpapers show dinosaurs that appear in the book, with their names clearly spelled out, along with the vehicles they use in the story. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

 

Posted in picture books

Books that love beautiful weather

I’ve been going through my TBR as we sit in time out for a little while. Today’s picture book slam is all about books to read while enjoying the beautiful weather. Grab some books (they’re available via ebook – check your libraries or order from your indies; many have ebooks!), sit outside with your littles, and enjoy every moment.

The Bear’s Garden, by Marcie Colleeen/Illustrated by Alison Oliver, (March 2020, Imprint/Macmillan), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250314819

A young girl envisions a community garden from a spilled plant in this story, based on the actual Pacific Street Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden in Brooklyn, New York. Living in the inner city, the girl sees potential in everything: a cardboard box, a tomato can, a seed. When her tomato can plant falls over, she sees “a baby garden”, and tends to the seedling where it landed. As her plant grows, people being slowing down, admiring her progress. But the girl has to leave, and she worries that without her love, her plants will suffer, so she makes the decision to leave her teddy bear behind. Under the bear’s loving eye, the neighborhood comes together to create a community garden filled with life, color, and love. Colorful and upbeat, The Bear’s Garden illustrates the beauty of imagination, creation, and community coming together. Endpapers are laid out like a map of the boroughs; the back endpapers focuses on Brooklyn, with a colorful burst of flowers noting where the Bear’s Garden can be found.

Consider a planting activity with your own kiddos – I love this Buzzfeed link that has different types of kitchen scraps that you can grow; Kids Gardening has a downloadable planting activity using kitchen scraps.

The Bear’s Garden has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Kaia and the Bees, by Maribeth Boelts/Illustrated by Angela Dominguez, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201055

Ages 4-8

Kaia is a little girl who is pretty brave, but one thing scares her: Bees. She tries to keep it a secret from her friends, but when she’s spooked by a bee flying by her, she turns to her beekeper dad: she wants to go up on the roof with him, to his apiary. She’s doing great with the bees, until she slips her glove off and one stings her finger! Just when Kaia thinks she’s done with bees, she has a moment where she faces her fears and discovers that maybe bees aren’t so scary after all.

A story about bravery and empathy, with a smart message about our environment and urban apiaries, Kaia and the Bees warmly addresses relatable fears – in this case, bees – and how the smallest steps can lead to big progress. Kaia is relatable; she’s brave and smart, but hides her fear of bees until she’s called out on it. Her beekeeper father explains how bees are important to our world, and how his work – the family’s work – as beekeepers helps keep bees safe and healthy. Maribeth Boelts, herself a beekeeper, brings her love of bees and social mindfulness to Kaia’s voice, while Angela Dominguez’s cartoon-realist illustrations give readers an expressive, accessible heroine and a multicultural family living and thriving in an urban setting. Endpapers give readers a peek into a beehive, complete with nonthreatening, cute bees.

There are some interesting facts about honeybees available from NatGeo Kids. Hobby Farms has information on beekeping safety for kids who want to be like Kaia. The New York City Beekeepers Assocation has education on urban beekeeping. Introduce kids to urban beekeeping with Kaia and with Lela Nargi’s book, The Honeybee Man; The Honeybee Conservancy also offers a good list of bee books for children.

 

Hike, by Pete Oswald, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201574

Ages 4-8

A dad and child wake up and hit the trail for a day’s hike. As they walk a trail together, they notice the beauty of their surroundings: spy a family of deer; track a black bear’s footprints; indulge in a snowball fight, and contribute their own offering to the forest: they plant a sprig from a tree. A celebration of the parent-child bond and our world, Hike is largely wordless, relying on the illustrations to tell the story. The colors are warm, drawn from nature, and the father and child share a visibly warm, loving relationship that invites caregivers and their kids to put on their hiking boots – or sneakers! – and explore their world. Be it a backyard, an urban neighborhood, or a suburban landscape, there’s always something to discover together. A sepia set of endpapers present a map, with start and finish points noted.

I loved the idea of a DIY Nature Journal like this one from KC Edventures. Last year, when I was home with my little guy during Spring Break, we made a nature journal with brown paper lunch bags and went wandering around our neighborhood, collecting cool leaves, acorns, and pebbles we found and liked. Kiddo loved it, and I printed out photos I snapped during our walk to add to the pages. The Pragmatic Parent has a great, free Nature Scavenger Hunt PDF that kids will love, too.

Hike has five starred reviews.

 

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant, by Allan Drummond, (March 2020, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374308995

Ages 5-10

This is nonfiction that appeals to multiple grades. The story of the Noor Solar Power Plant in Morocco’s Sahara Desert – the largest solar power plant in the world – wraps around a story about everyday life in a small village next to the plant. Jasmine and Nadia are two friends who go on a class trip to the plant; during that trip, the girls’ class and readers will learn about Morocco and how the power plant creates jobs and improves the quality of life by bringing turnkey skills, technology, and the magic word, sustainability.

By giving readers relatable guides in the forms of Jasmine and Nadia, readers get a glimpse of life in a small Moroccan village, where the villagers have farm animals and cook on open fires, and the huge sprawl of the power plant and the modernity it brings while honoring the culture of the people who inhabit the area. The teacher engages her students, and readers, by asking thoughtful questions; most notably, “what does sustainability mean?”, to get her students and our readers ready for the school trip that illustrates how the power plant creates sustainability.

Watercolor illustrations and word balloon dialogue make this an enjoyable read. Warm yellows wander through the story, and earth tones and blues bring the reader to the land and its people. The teacher and many female children wear hijab. Sidebars throughout provide more detailed information about Morocco, the power plant, and sustainability. An author’s note showcases photos of workers at the Noor plant and a bibliography provides an opportunity for more reading. Endpapers bookend the story by having Nadia and Jasmine meet before the trip, and head back to school after.

A good addition to STEM collections. Toms of Maine has some easy to do activities to teach kids about solar power. Time for Kids has a 2016 article about the Noor plant.

 

That’s it for this time, I want to get this posted! More books coming!

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

My First Book of New York: See All the Sights!

My First Book of New York, by Ingela P. Arrhenius, (Sept. 2019, Walker Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536209907

Ages 3-7

Artist Ingela P. Arrenhuis is quickly becoming a favorite early childhood author illustrator of mine. Her Christmas and Halloween board books and her large picture book, City, are adorably illustrated, with bright, bold, eye-catching colors that early readers and learners are immediately drawn to. Similar to City, My First Book of New York is an oversized book and gives readers an armchair tour of the boroughs I love so much, with bright white and orange endpapers loaded with New York icons: the Statue of Liberty; the Flatiron Building, subway cars, pizza, hot pretzels, and more. Each spread introduces readers to a different area of New York: 4 of the five boroughs are spotlighted (sorry, Staten Island), with New York City getting most of the space: Rockefeller Center, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Harlem, Central Park, Wall Street, Times Square, and Broadway all get their moments to shine here, as do activities like shopping, structures including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Grand Central Station, and destinations like museums. There is brief text introducing the attraction to place readers; the left hand page is a full-page illustration of each selection; the right hand page is dedicated to placing the reader within that area by showcasing attractions around it: shopping, for instance, features an illustration of shoppers crossing Fifth Avenue; on the right hand side, illustrations of Tiffany & Co., Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Saks Fifth Avenue windows, FAO Schwarz, Union Square Greenmarket, a SoHo boutique, and a limousine all place the reader.

This is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to it. My First Book of London, Austin, Texas, or Chicago, anyone?

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Big moves, big thoughts in A New Home

A New Home, by Tania de Regil, (April 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201932

Ages 4-7

A boy from New York City and a girl from Mexico City are each moving, and nervous about their new home. Readers quickly understand that the kids are swapping places: the boy is moving to Mexico, and the girl, to New York. They voice their worries about everyday things they will miss: an after-school snack on the way home; cheering on a local sports team; having places to play. Optimistically, they also think about the new friends they will meet, and hope they enjoy their new home.

A New Home speaks to kids’ concerns and fears over leaving the familiar and starting over somewhere new, as it reassures those fears by illustrating another child enjoying those same things. The boy from New York stands under a T-Rex skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History as the girl from Mexico City stands in front of the Sun Stone in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, each hoping there will be places for their classes to explore their past. The book touches on some of the challenges of city life, including homelessness and poverty. Back matter provides more information about the places and images that come up in the book; everyday images like hot dog carts and street music all get their moment here. Soft, yet bright illustrations make big city living a little less overwhelming.

A New Home is a good addition to your books about moving. Brightly and Moving.com offer reading lists with further book suggestions. There’s a free, downloadable activity kit available through the publisher.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA in dual narratives: Between Before and After

Between Before and After, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, (Feb. 2019, Blink), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0310767381

Ages 12+

Told in two narratives across two timespans, Between Before & After is the story of Elaine, a girl raising her younger brother, Stephen, after losing her mother and baby sister to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and her grief-stricken father to a drunken brawl, and Elaine’s teenaged daughter, Molly, as she tries to unravel her mother’s secret past. The narratives shift between fourteen-year-old Elaine’s story from 1918-1920, and Molly’s in 1955. Molly sees her journalist mother as an enigma, going so far as to create a “biography box” to hold clues to her mother’s story. Elaine’s story is a heartbreaking one, beginning with her mother and baby sister dying, and her father’s spiral into alcoholism and neglect and ending with his death. When Elaine finds work reading to a blind man in a wealthy family, she is relieved at being able to support her and her brother, but a turn of events separates Elaine and Stephen. In 1955, past and present converge when Stephen finds himself at the center of a religious controversy that shines a spotlight on the family.

Between Before and After is a solid piece of historical fiction that examines social class and mental illness. The subplot involving Elaine’s brother Stephen was interesting, but only served a small plot forwarding device for Elaine’s – and, to a degree, Molly’s – story. The characters drew me right in, and anything about New York in the early 20th Century gets my attention. I enjoyed Maureen Doyle McQuerry’s storytelling, especially Elaine’s story; she was a fully realized character.

If you have historical fiction readers, this is a good pick for you. There’s much to discuss about social class, stigma, and childhood poverty here, making this a good extension/book discussion choice for social studies/history classes.

Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Epic Hanukkah Books Post!

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! I’ve been browsing a lot of lists, and found some books for the season to share with you. There aren’t nearly as many Hanukkah or Kwanzaa books as there are Christmas books, so most of these are not brand spankin’ new, but I’m still excited to spread the joy of the season with everyone. Let’s dig in.

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky, (Sept. 2018, Schwartz & Wade Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399554193

Ages 4-8

Based on the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books (1951-1958) by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah celebrates Hanukkah with the All-of-a-Kind Family in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th Century. Four-year old sister, Gertie, is desperate to be part of the Hanukkah preparation, but Mama says she’s just too young to help make the latkes: she can get hurt by the potato peeler, cut herself with the knife, and get splattered by the hot oil. Frustrated, Gertie yells and stomps her feet, which earns her some thinking time in the girls’ bedroom; but Papa comes home and gives Gertie a very special Hanukkah task, and the family – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, Papa, Mama, and Uncle Hyman – enjoy their first night of Hanukkah meal together.

I haven’t read Sydney Taylor’s series since I was in grade school, but All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah brought me right back to the warm feeling of family I always had, reading these books. Paul O. Zelinsky’s artwork wonderfully sets the tone for the story, with a look at the lower east side’s crushed together tenement buildings and bustling city streets. He captures little Gertie’s spirit on every page, whether she’s dancing through the snow, placing herself in the middle of holiday preparation, or communicating her frustration at being too young to be part of the action. Bold lines and warm colors draw readers right in, and intimate family moments, like Gertie being held by her sisters or Papa holding his daughter after a long day (for both of them), bring all the love from their family to yours. I love the humorous moments, like Papa searching for Gertie as she’s hiding under the bed, asking a pillow or library book where his daughter is; it’s a sweet twist on the whole “wait ’til your father gets home!” business, and it reveals a playful nature in this family. Emily Jenkins has fully realized the family dynamic here, and Paul Zelinsky gives them life.

Back matter includes a glossary, an author note putting the story into historical context and her own relationship with Sydney Taylor’s books. An illustrator note talks about Paul Zelinsky’s deliberate decisions when making choices for the story’s artwork. There’s also a link to extra back matter, including downloadable coloring pages, educator resources, and a latke recipe.

An essential addition to your holiday collections, and a comforting storytime read. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and has been written up by The New York Times and the Jewish Book Council.

Grover’s Eight Nights of Light, by Jodie Shepard/Illustrated by Joe Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Random House), $6.99, ISBN: 9781524720735

Ages 3-5

Hanukkah is coming to Sesame Street, and Grover is so excited! He and his Mommy decorate their home and open it up to their friends for the next eight days and nights. Grover’s Eight Nights of Light explains Hanukkah rituals to younger readers, from the shamash candle (the helper candle that lights the candles in the menorah) to the story of Judah Maccabee and the Hanukkah miracle. Some big Sesame Street names pop up here: Cookie Monster shows up and discovers that latkes are the same shape as cookies: what could be wrong with that?; Oscar the Grouch likes watching the dreidel fall over; Elmo and Abby arrive with gifts, the Bear family drops by to celebrate and trade gifts, Prairie Dawn sings a song with Grover, and Bert and Ernie accompany Grover and his mom to the food pantry on tzedakah night, when they perform an act of charity. Big Bird and Grover talk patterns of color candles in the menorah, and what would an 8-night holiday be without Count von Count? On the last night of Hanukkah, Grover and his Mommy have a party for everyone, and readers are invited to throw their own: the book includes stickers and a poster for a Pin the Candle on the Menorah game.

Sesame Street is synonymous with diversity and representation, and Grover’s Eight Nights of Light is a fun book that informs with love. The kids’ favorite characters are here, and present the history of Hanukkah in a child-friendly, accessible way. If you’ve got PBS/Sesame fans in your life, this is a great little gift to tuck into your gift bag for one of those eight nights. (Librarians, save the stickers and poster for programs; your book will last a little longer that way, too.)

From Joe Mathieu’s webpage

 

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Sept. 2014, Disney/Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781423143550

Ages 4-8

A tale of miracles follows Simon, a Russian boy, who leaves home and heads to America in search of a better life. Once he secures a job, he’ll send for his mother, brothers, and sisters. But the ship hits and iceberg, and Simon saves a man’s life by switching places in a lifeboat with him. He’s marooned on an iceberg on the first night of Hanukkah, with only his menorah, candles, matches, and some food, which he shares with a polar bear who happens by. Over the next few days, Simon and the bear shares freshly caught fish with him and keeps him warm at night, while he lights Hanukkah candles and tells her stories. He reflects on the seven miracles he’s experienced so far, and prays for just one more: to be rescued and make it to America. Simon’s optimism pays off, and he’s rescued; reunited with the man whose life he saved, he discovers that there’s one extra Hanukkah miracle in store for him – just like the menorah has one extra candle.

Simon and the Bear pairs historical storytelling with a touch of holiday magic: and isn’t that the best kind? Matthew Trueman’s artwork, a combination of collage, crushed paper cutouts and acrylics, creates a textured story that comes to life as readers turn the pages. Icy blue shades add a little bit of chill to Simon’s marooning, but his ever-present knit red hat and the warm glow of the Hanukkah candles adds the optimism and warmth we all need. His family wears traditional Russian clothing for the time period, all in warm colors, really bringing the family together. Endpapers show a cold, clear, starry sky.

A cheerful story about optimism and the power of a good deed, and a nice addition to shelves and collections. An author’s note offers a brief explanation of the holiday. Simon and the Bear has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, (Sept. 2012, Alfred A. Knopf), $16.99, ISBN: 9780375860935

Ages 3-7

A little girl has the best of both worlds: she’s a “mix of two traditions. From Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama”, in this lovable story about blending holiday traditions. Little Sadie and her family decorate their home for the holidays, leaving latkes out for Santa and hanging candy canes on the menorah, and sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs as they go caroling. The last night of Hanukkah is a big night, as Daddy stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugle and Mama makes sweet jelly donuts and fruitcakes for dessert. The families celebrate together, retelling the stories of both the miracle of the oil and the birth in the manger: “Wide-eyed, we listen to these traditional tales, which link us together today”. When everyone’s gone home, the family relaxes together and shares final gifts, getting ready to do it all again next year.

Selina Alko evokes big holiday feelings and childhood excitement here. Her gouache, collage, and colored pencil on watercolor paper artwork is bold and colorful, contributing to the excitement and anticipation of the holidays, and she brings Judeo-Christian traditions together with fun and childlike joy. A timeline at the end of the story illustrates all the holidays Sadie and her family celebrate together, from Hanukkah/Christmas (Kwanzaa gets a mention, but the family here is white) through to Easter and Passover, and Thanksgiving. Endpapers are colorful portraits of Sadie and her parents, and include icons for each holiday: a dreidel and a menorah, a tree and an angel. Inspired by the author and her husband’s decision to integrate each of their religious backgrounds into their home for the holidays, Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama is a lovely addition to holiday collections and storytimes.How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Mark Teague, (Sept. 2012, Blue Sky Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0545416771

Ages 3-6

Those misbehaving dinosaurs are here to demonstrate what to do – and what NOT to do – during Chanukah! We see Rugops fuss through prayer and Nodosaurs blow out menorah lights while Ichtyostega writes his own name on everyone’s gift cards and Chirostenotes grabs all the gelt, all while horrified parents bear witness. But we know that’s not really what dinosaurs do when they celebrate Hanukkah. Camarasaurus shows readers that dinosaurs sing every prayer, and Chirostenotes is sharing the gelt and taking turns with the dreidel. Dinosaurs give Bubbie and Zaida holiday kisses, and then head off to bed.

I remember reading the first book in this series – How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight (2000) – when my eldest was barely a year old; these books have become a touchstone in kids’ lives, with books to celebrate everything from managing emotions to table manners. Having Dinosaurs celebrate the holidays is just a natural addition to this series. The rhyming pattern is soothing and consistent through each book, and the dinosaurs are always drawn as larger-than-life goofballs having larger-than-life emotions: which is kind of what it’s like, being a kid. Different facets of the holiday get the spotlight, including latkes, gifts, lighting menorahs, and prayers.

Plus, kids love dinosaurs. So, home run. This series does well wherever it lives, so why not add to it?

 

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, (Sept. 2012, HMH Books for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9780547757315

Ages 2-5

Six short rhyming stories show readers how Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat celebrate Hanukkah with friends. Each story, tabbed for little fingers to turn quickly to, looks at a different moment in the eighth night celebration: George and his friend wrap gifts and head out visiting; they arrive and the party begins; the Man in the Yellow Hat (with his hat respectfully off) lights the menorah, George and the children spin the dreidel, George tries to help makes latkes; George and the kids play; and finally, George does a mitzvah by cleaning up and packing up some latkes to take to a sick friend.

Illustrated in the classic Curious George style we all know and love, and with a shiny, silver foil cover, Happy Hanukkah, Curious George is a good add to toddler holiday collections. The book and tabs are in shades of blue and yellow, with colorful Hanukkah symbols on each tab, and Curious George is one of the most recognizable children’s icons in literature. His familiarity will draw in readers, and the rhyming cadence is perfect for storytime reading.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley/Illustrated by David Harrington, (Sept. 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 9780761345077

Ages 3-7

Maccabee! is the historical Hanukkah story, made into a rhyming epic tale for younger readers. The polytheist Greeks and their leader, King Antiochus, weren’t happy that the Jews refused to bow to their gods, and decided to desecrate their holy ground, raise statues of their gods, and force the people into worship. Mattathias, an elder, turned to his sons, his son Judah, in particular, for support in raising a resistance. Judah led his army of Maccabees against Antiochus’ armies until they won, and then lead his people in rebuilding their civilization, devastated by war. An epilogue asks readers what Judah would do if he were alive today, and posits that he’d be pretty happy that his people are still thriving.

This is a very readable, child-friendly history of the struggle behind the celebration of Hanukkah. The rhyme scheme is simple and easily falls into pattern for a readaloud. A repeated phrase, “Sometimes it only takes a few, Who know what’s right, and do it, too”, brings home the message embodied by the Maccabees: see the need to do the right thing, and do it. It takes bravery, it takes strength, and it takes determination; here, the Maccabees model the behavior and inspire readers.

The artwork is bright, with a realistic cartoon feel: think of Judah Maccabee like a buff superhero. The spreads are full-bleed and colorful, with movement across the pages to keep little eyes engaged. Back matter includes a brief backgrounder on the festival of Hanukkah. This one’s a fun addition to holiday collections; it’s more history-based, yet still includes the focus on family that is central to the celebration.

 

My First Chanukah, by Tomie DePaola, (Sept. 2008, Grosset & Dunlap), $5.99, ISBN: 9780448448596

Ages 2-5

Tomie DePaola has a sweet board book that uses simple language and his immediately recognizable watercolor artwork to explain Chanukah to babies and toddlers. My First Chanukah simply and eloquently explains why families light candles (“to remember Judah Maccabee and his brothers”) and how the menorah is lit each night; he makes sure to cover latkes (“delicious potato pancakes”) and the dreidel, gelt, presents, and songs and prayers. He closes, reminding readers that they’ll celebrate again next year.

My First Chanukah covers the kid-friendly parts of Hanukkah: food, family, goodies, and together time. His illustrations are warm and intimate, with a welcoming glow from the menorahs and a smiley baby with its family. It’s a great pick to have in your board book collections, and a perfect storytime choice for the holiday.

 

That’s it for my first Hanukkah round-up! I’ve got a few more holds waiting to come in, so I hope to have at least one more post before the holiday is over. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid, by Christina Henry, (June 2018, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9780399584046

Ages 16+

A mermaid walks out of the sea to live with a man she’s fallen in love with. Years later, the sea takes him away from her. That’s the beginning of the story in Christina Henry’s newest fairy tale for young adults and grownups, The Mermaid. Living in a small seafaring Maine town, most of her neighbors are respectful of Amelia’s – the name her husband gave her – privacy, but rumors have a way of spreading; this time, they spread all the way to New York, and to the ears of none other than The Greatest Showman himself, P.T. Barnum. Barnum dispatches his partner, Levi Lyman, to Maine to talk to the “mermaid” and convince her to become one of Barnum’s spectacles. Amelia, a strong, smart woman in a time when women have no voice, no property, and no agency of their own, she decides – after sending Lyman on his way – to make her way to New York and negotiate with Barnum. She wants to travel the world, and she agrees to work with Barnum on her own terms for six months, in order to be able to finance it. The partnership between the two headstrong characters is tenuous, and Lyman finds himself falling in love with Amelia. The Mermaid is amazing storytelling that has a distinctly feminist voice.

The Mermaid gives us a Barnum that isn’t quite so friendly and fun as Hugh Jackman’s portrayal in The Greatest Showman; this Barnum is concerned with money, who’s paying it out, and how much of it he can make off the back of his “spectacles”. He’s recovering from the backlash of one of his exhibits gone wrong, and trying to recover his reputation; he’s known as a liar and a “humbug” (not exactly untrue); he treats his wife and daughters shabbily, and cares little for anyone outside of himself. That’s enough about him.

Amelia is the star of this story. She’s a real mermaid who touches the lives of those who lay eyes on her. Charity, Barnum’s put-upon wife, resists believing in her at first, but later comes to treasure her friendship with Amelia, finding her own voice to stand up against her bulldozing husband. Caroline, Barnum’s young daughter, is enchanted with the idea of knowing a mermaid, and discovers her own young voice thanks to Amelia. Levi Lyman finds his scruples and love in her stormy eyes. Amelia refuses to be taken advantage of, and demands to be heard. She empowers those around her. She reminds Barnum that at any moment, she can walk away from him and he’ll never find her: she’s a mermaid, for crying out loud, and the Earth is 75% water; good luck finding her. We don’t learn about her family or her people; she is the focus of the novel and the narrative. She stands alone. An adult novel, this can easily cross over into YA/Teen for fantasy readers. There are discussion questions available at the end of the book.

Want more circus and sideshow books? Booktalk and display with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. Want more of Christina Henry’s fairy tales? Check out her website and learn about her other books.

 

 

Water for Elephants

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Posted in Family Storytimes, Storytime, Urban Librarians Unite

Urban Librarians Protest Storytime: 6/30/2018

I was one of the librarians at the Urban Librarians Unite Protest Storytime yesterday, at the New York City Keeping Families Together protest. Our reasoning: we can’t read to the kids who are separated from their families, but we sure as heck can read books on empathy, diversity, and refugees/immigrants/migrants to the many, many families that participated in the protest. Books we read included Faith Ringgold’s We Came to America, Justin Roberts’ The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, Rachel Isadora’s Say Hello, Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, and Humans of New York Brandon Stanton’s Little Humans.

New ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo joins ULU at the march
ULU’s Christian Zabriskie reads The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade to the smallest protestors
Reading Faith Ringgold’s We Came to America
We really are. ULU’s Lauren Comito shouts out to the profession.

We held the first storytime at Foley Square, gathering spot for the protest. As the crowd started moving, we packed up and headed to Brooklyn, settling in for the rally at Cadman Plaza and holding another storytime. Parents sat down with their kids in the shade, listened to stories and songs, and thanked us for the break.

As Lauren said, “When kids don’t have access to a normal life, even storytime is a radical act.” We were reading books to children that empower them and remind them that immigrants are what America’s built on, and to always be welcoming and share with others. You know, the kind of stuff you’re supposed to learn from adults.

Yours truly reading I’m New Here

We even garnered a mention in School Library Journal, which is amazing. When you’re standing with Christian and Lauren, you realize the immensity of a situation; I’m flattered, thrilled, and blown away to call them my colleagues, and to have been invited to be part of this event.