Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Halloween Books: Bears and Boos

Bears and Boos, by Shirley Parenteau/Illustrated by David Weber, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536208375

Ages 2-5

In the seventh Bears outing by Shirley Parenteau and David Weber, the bears are getting ready for Halloween and couldn’t be more excited! They rifle through a box of costumes, but as they get excited, manners give way to chaos, and little Floppy’s knocked right on her plushy behind! Floppy decides to let everyone else have their turn, but when the fuzz clears, there’s nothing left for Floppy but a crumpled sash. The other bears realize their mistake, and each takes a turn in giving part of their costume to Floppy, creating a wonderful costume. Now that they’re all ready for Halloween, they can all enjoy their holiday. As Shirley Parenteau writes, “When the bears all share, the bears all win. Let the Halloween celebration begin!”

A gently rhyming story that makes for a wonderful readaloud about sharing and kindness, kids and adults alike will recognize the chaos that can happen when emotions run high and even small tasks, like choosing a costume from a box, becomes a free-for-all. Having the teddies empathize with their friend and share their costumes with Floppy teaches a valuable lesson about kindness. The acrylic artwork is soft in color and depicts the teddies in their different colors, with cheerful costumes. Soft orange endpapers feature hanging ghost decorations for a fun Halloween feel. A fun Halloween addition to an adorable series.

Shirley Parenteau’s author website has downloadable resources for educators and caregivers, including writing prompts and drawing sheets.

Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, History, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Tween and Teen Fiction that keeps readers on the edge of their seats

I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.

 

They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus/Illustrated by Rovina Kai, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250224408

Ages 12+

I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.

The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.

 

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick), $21.99, ISBN: 9780763663247

Ages 13+

This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.

 

This is Not the Jess Show, by Anna Carey, (Nov. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691976

Ages 13+

I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Back to School stories!

Step right up, I’ve got a bunch of back to school stories for your readers!

Pearl Goes to Preschool, by Julie Fortenberry, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207439

Ages 3-5

Pearl is the youngest and smallest student at her mother’s ballet school, but when Mom suggests that Pearl try out preschool – a school full of kids her age! – she’s got some questions: Is there dancing? Do they have stories? What else is there to do? Mom answers all of Pearl’s questions, and Pearl mulls it over, finally deciding that yes, she, and her stuffed mouse, Violet, are ready to try out preschool. Narrated from little Pearl’s point of view, this is an adorable story for kids getting ready for preschool: questions get answers, there’s a routine to the day, and best of all, Pearl has a wonderful day – and dances! Digital illustrations are soft, with muted pastels and lovely illustrations of ballet dancing and the relationship between a mother and her child. An adorable addition to school stories.

A free, downloadable activity kit features a Pearl paper doll with two outfits! Try to print it out on a heavier card stock, so it’s durable. Brightly has a good list of ballerina books for preschoolers, Scholastic has a list of books for beginning preschoolers.

 

Play Day School Day, by Toni Yuly, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536202830

Ages 3-7

It’s always a good day for a Toni Yuly book, and her latest, Play Day School Day, captures a sweet moment between a little boy and his older sister. Mona, a young girl, is excited for the first day of school; her younger brother, Milo, asks what she does at school. “Lots of things”, Mona replies, and tells him about a typical school day, from riding the bus, to practicing reading, writing, science, and math. She tells him that sometimes, one must sit quietly at school, but other times, one can run around and be loud with friends. Mona makes school sound pretty great! The two siblings share their day in a garden or backyard, playing together with their black cat. Toni Yuly’s spare prose is to-the-point and enticing, giving Milo a wonderful vision of school. The story text is bold and black, easily readable against the bright white background, and Toni Yuly’s mixed media artwork is bright, cheerful, and vibrant. Play Day School Day is a fun school story for school-aged children and their younger siblings.

Pair Play Day School Day with Anna McQuinn’s books, Lola Reads To Leo.

 

I Got the School Spirit!, by Connie Schofield-Morrison/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, (July 2020, Bloomsbury Kids US), 9781547602612

Ages 4-7

She’s back! The exuberant, spirit-filled little girl from Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s previous books, I Got the Rhythm! and I Got the Christmas Spirit! is back and ready for school in her newest story! Brushing her teeth, and getting dressed, she’s filled with the spirit, which stays with her and powers her – and her friends – through the school day! The spirit helps her comfort a scared friend on the school bus and enjoy her school day; it helps her kick a ball at recess, and propels her right into her mother’s arms at the end of her school day, leaving her ready to do it all again the next day. Filled with small moments that make up a school day, and with gorgeous, evocative oil painting, I Got the School Spirit! is the picture of Black Joy, and a picture book that will get kids excited about their own upcoming school days. Sound effects throughout: the stomp, stomp of shiny new shoes, zip, zip! of a school bag, and crunch, munch, sip! of lunchtime makes this a perfectly interactive read-aloud. A definite must-add to your back-to-school/first day of school collections.

For more Black Joy book selections, refer to these articles and lists from School Library Journal, We Are Teachers, Brightly, and Helping Kids Rise.

All Welcome Here, by James Preller/Illustrated by Mary GrandPré, (June 2020, Feiwel and Friends), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-15588-7

Ages 4-7

James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones chapter book series, and Mary GrandPré, whose illustrations we all know and love from Harry Potter, come together to present a collection of haiku poems about the first day of school. Covering subjects like new school supplies, the fear of boarding the bus, and class pets, all students will find themselves in the words and mixed media illustrations in the book. Moments like “Growing Up”, as a parent sighs after waving goodbye to the school bus, and “Principal K”, the new principal who has a dab of shaving cream on his ear, show kids that we grownups have our own first-day jitters, too. It’s not easy saying goodbye to our littles and it’s a little scary when the first day of school is your first day of work, too! Other poems celebrate first-day stalwarts like name tags on desks, the Reading Rug (it was the Circle Time rug when my elder boys were was in grade school), and running errands – and choosing a friend to accompany – all find their voice here. “Library” is a touching nod to school libraries everywhere: “…the whoosh and thrum / of the school’s heart beat”. Colorful and buoyant, with a diverse group of students and teachers, All Welcome Here is a thank you letter to schools, teachers, and students everywhere.

A free, downloadable storytime kit encourages readers to write their own haikus and make their own name tags.

 

I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office, by Jancee Dunn/Illustrated by Scott Nash, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201987

Ages 3-8

A delightfully hilarious companion to Jancee Dunn and Scott Nash’s 2017 book, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in Trouble Today, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office is all about you – the principal is speaking to you, isn’t she? – and your teddy, who stashed away in your backpack and went to school with you today; Teddy, along with your friends’ stuffed animals, who all did the same thing, waited until everyone was in assembly to burst out of their schoolbags and wreak havoc all over your school! They wrote their names with condiments and tied up the coach; they trapped the art teacher in glue and rolled around in finger paint. As the principal details everything that went on during the day, parents will have to suppress their giggles – just like poor Mr. Krimple, standing next to the principal – as they imagine the principal’s tone of voice. But are you really in the principal’s office? Is there even a principal? Or is it an imaginative little girl playing school? Way too much fun to read and act out, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office is fantastic reading… and will put a new spin on playing school, I’m sure. The colorful digital illustrations showcase a group of stuffed toys having the time of their lives throughout school, as teacher chase them through the chaos. The title page begs for a real-life storytime setup, featuring a bunch of guilty-looking toys sitting uncomfortably on chairs, some covered in paint, waiting to be claimed by their children. Just great fun to read.

 

When Pencil Met the Markers, by Karen Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr./Illustrated by Germán Blanco, (July 2020, imprint), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250309402

Ages 4-8

The companion to 2019’s When Pencil Met Eraser, also by Karen Kilpatrick, Luis O. Ramos, Jr., and Germán Blanco, is about teamwork, friendship, and coloring outside the lines. A group of markers loves to color, but Purple sees things differently. He colors outside the lines, which drives the other markers CRAZY. They confront Purple, telling him his creativity is a mistake and that he doesn’t fit in. Dejected, Purple sets out on his own and meets Pencil and Eraser, who inspire him to look at things differently: he doesn’t need lines! As Purple creates, Pencil and Eraser fill in the area around his work, making gloriously purple grapes, butterflies, birds, and cupcakes. The creative team’s work draws the attention of the other markers, who ultimately learn that coloring outside the lines can be fun, and Pencil says – in a tribute to Bob Ross – that “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents!” It’s a great story to read to kids, while reminding them that it’s good to approach life with a flexibility and attitude, and to color outside the lines every once in a while. Be creative, take chances, and don’t be afraid to be the Purple Marker. The digital artwork has bright, primary colors that pop off the bright white background; dialogue between the markers, Pencil, and Eraser are bold and rounded, while the narrative text is more of a Roman font, not bolded. Endpapers let Purple – and, later, the other markers – show off their scribbly best. Full of lessons that respect the reader, When Pencil Met the Markers is perfect for school stories like Eraser, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, The Day the Crayons Quit/The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, and A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery. Visit the When the Pencil Met website to sign up for their newsletter and get a free, downloadable activity book.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Blog Tour- Bear and Fred: A World War II Story

Inspired by the true story of a boy and his teddy bear, this story of survival during the Holocaust is achingly, lovingly translated into English for a new generation of readers.

Bear and Fred: A World War II Story, by Iri Argaman/Illustrated by Avi Ofer/Translated by Annette Appel,
(May 2020, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-542018210
Ages 7-10

Told by Bear, a stuffed toy bear belonging to a young boy named Fred, Bear and Fred tells the story of a young Dutch Jewish boy and his family when they go into hiding as the Netherlands fall under the Nazi shadow. Bear is the only toy Fred takes with him and provides comfort as Fred is shuttled first, to his grandfather, and then to a “nice lady” to stay with when his parents leave and go into hiding elsewhere. When the War ends, Fred and his family reunite, and Bear stays by Fred’s side, until Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, contacts Fred, having heard about his story, and asks to borrow Bear to teach children. In her author’s note, Iris Argaman describes how she discovered Fred Lessing’s story when she saw Bear at Yad Varshem and contacted him, asking to write his story. There’s a photo of the actual Bear.

Originally published in Hebrew in 2016, Bear and Fred tells the story of the Holocaust from a child forced into hiding, without his parents, with only his stuffed bear for company. Having Bear narrate Fred’s story adds a touching depth to the story; it’s the story of a best friend. Moments like having Bear’s paw dry Fred’s tears when he misses his family, or having Bear describe his own feelings of being scared in Fred’s backpack or, the fear of being left behind, provides relatable moments for kids to latch onto and create valuable moments for discussion. Annette Appel’s English translation reads beautifully, with all of the emotion intact. Avi Ofer’s digital illustrations rely on simple colors to tell the story: the characters are grey-blue, washed out figures, with bear’s yellow-brown coloring allowing him to stand out, designating him the narrator, and the family a memory.

A strong book to have in younger historical fiction collections.

 

Iris Argaman is the author of a number of books for children, including Bear and Fred, which was awarded the Yad Vashem Prize in Israel and the Giovanni Arpino Prize for Children’s Literature in Italy. She lives in Israel, where she is a lecturer on children’s literature, holds writing workshops, and writes activity books which promote museum education.

Avi Ofer is an illustrator and animation director born and raised in Israel and now based in Spain. His work has been exhibited in art shows and screened in festivals around the world.

Annette Appel is a translator of books for young readers and truly enjoys the challenge of making stories written in Hebrew accessible to English speakers.

“Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war…Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Moving and accessible.” —Kirkus Reviews

Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.

Posted in Uncategorized

A league of heroes dedicated to protecting: Spark and the League of Ursus

Spark and the League of Ursus, by Robert Repino, (Apr. 2020, Quirk Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781683691662

Ages 8-12

Have you ever seen that meme with a teddy bear standing over a sleeping child, challenging a looming monster? If you have, you’ve got the basis for Spark and the Legends of Ursus. Spark and Sir Reginald are teddy bears, pledged to protect their now-tween children, Loretta and Matthew, from monsters. Sir Reginald is the elder bear and mentor to Spark, the one who introduced her to the League of Ursus – the secret society of teddy bears, sworn to protect. Things are dire when a monster shows up in Loretta’s room, and when a neighborhood girl goes missing. Spark and Sir Reginald are determined to protect their charges, but find themselves up against a terrible evil that they need help battling. Additional League of Ursus members, a sock monkey, and Amazon warrior princess doll are all that stands between the monster and the children of their neighborhood.

This is an exciting, heartfelt adventure book that embraces our love of teddy bears. Their gentle natures belie the fact that they are bears, who can be pretty ferocious! The story also looks at the love between a toy and a child – in this universe, a toy doesn’t “awaken” until it’s loved by a child – and how that changes as the child gets older and finds less time for their toys. If you have Toy Story fans, and readers of books like Brian Lynch’s Toy Academy series, that are ready for a more involved book, this is the book to give them. Spark is a wonderfully idealistic, eager young character, waiting to be called upon for her moment; Sir Reginald is a world-weary warrior with much to pass along to his student. Loretta and Matthew are burgeoning filmmakers with their own YouTube channel, so there’s some filmmaking tidbits here and there that could link up nicely with some Summer Reading programming involving filmmaking, maybe on a cell phone.

Spark and the League of Ursus is a good first fantasy novel to give to readers who are looking for something new, and a good fantasy novel to give to readers who may need that reassurance that it’s still okay to love a teddy bear. (I do.) Have Stranger Things fans? Give them this one, too – that monster can surely come from The Upside Down.

Note: I believe the final book will have illustrations; my ARC didn’t.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Picture Book Nonfiction in May: Spirit Bears and Teddy Bears

A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, by Carmen Oliver/Illustrated by Katy Dockrill, (May 2019, Kids Can Press/CitizenKid), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-77138-979-2

Ages 7-10

Simon Jackson doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids as a child; he was bullied over his stutter, and found himself most at home in the woods, exploring, photographing, and learning about wildlife. As a teen, he found himself fascinated by a rare subspecies of black bear called a Spirit Bear and became an advocate and activist for the bears when their habitats were threatened with deforestation. Jackson founded the Spirit Bear Coalition, met Dr. Jane Goodall, and hiked the Great Bear Rainforest, always using his activism to educate others and advocate for the Spirit Bears. A Voice for Spirit Bears tells Jackson’s story, and shows kids that one is never too young to advocate for change. The book is an inspiring call to action for young activists (suggest a letter-writing exercise for a cause they believe in!). I would have liked to see a little more on the indigenous T’simshian people, for whom the Spirit Bear is sacred, but all in all, A Voice for Spirit Bears is a good biography on a young activist, with lovely, muted artwork. There are discussions to be had on overcoming obstacles, environmentalism and conservation, and activism, and would be a good STEM read-aloud. Check out the downloadable educator guide for discussion questions and an activity.

The Spirit Bear Coalition concluded its mission in 2014, after 20 years of advocacy. Their website is still active and offers education and information.

 

Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, a Cartoonist, a Toymaker and a Bear, by James Sage/Illustrated by Lisk Feng, (May 2019, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771387958

Ages 6-10

Teddy brings together the story of the teddy bear in three parts. First, we have the legend: President Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a “scruffy, no-account cub” while hunting. This story spread, and the Washington Post ran a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman, entitled, “Drawing the Line in Mississippi“, which led to husband-and-wife toymakers Morris and Rose Michtom creating a bear doll to honor “the President’s big warm heart”. They received permission from President Roosevelt to feature “Teddy’s Bears” in their shop, and an iconic toy was born. The book tracks the evolution of the teddy bear from those first bears, stuffed with wood shavings and with sewed on buttons for eyes, through today and notes how the teddy bear endures. It’s a happy, warm story, and the digital illustrations lend a realistic yet warmly colored feel to the tale. An author’s note mentions the differing versions of the Teddy Roosevelt story. It’s a cute book to have in your nonfiction collections, and would make a nice display with the Caldecott Medal-winning Finding Winnie.

For readers interested in learning more about Clifford Berryman’s political cartoons, the National Archives has a wonderful Clifford Berryman collection, which includes a great piece featuring Berryman drawing a bear, while a black bear stands next to him. The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University has an interesting blog entry on the origin of the teddy bear, and a link to Berryman’s artwork in their digital library.