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February 2017

    book reviews, children's books

    Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times

    Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie DePaola

    Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 3 – 5 years
    Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten

    Synopsis
    Being a preschooler means days full of discovery every time you step out of your door. It’s a time filled with wonder, at all the sights and sounds of the outdoors and at the huge variety of people there are to meet. This collection of nineteen original poems features little ones eager to explore, whether it’s splashing in puddles, riding in an elevator or through a car wash, or visiting the library. They go full-steam ahead to the park, the beach, and dance class, somewhat begrudgingly learn to share and get their first haircut, and enjoy lots of time with their families. Full of contagious rhythm and rhyme, this inviting picture book introduces young children to the sounds of poetry through familiar childhood activities.

    Reflection
    This poetry book is great for preschool and kindergarten little readers!  It starts off with a poem called “Steppin’ Out” which invites children to step outside and explore the world around them.  From leafy trees to buzzing bees there’s so much to see and learn every day.  The introductory poem also includes a clever gatefold page which opens up and makes it seem as though the children are really stepping out into the book.

    Some of my kids’ favorite poems are: “The Library”, “My First Haircut”, “The Elevator” and “Super Market”.  I find all 19 of the poems in this book to be relatable to little readers as the characters are seen doing everyday things that will likely be familiar to most toddlers and kindergartners – going to to the library or grocery store, splashing in puddles, getting their first hair cut, riding on the elevator, playing in the sandbox, spending the day at day care/school, and going to the beach.

    The cast of characters featured is very diverse.  The playful illustrations are colorful and include lots of everyday objects that can be pointed out to children for further discussion.  For example, you could ask them what each of the objects is, what color they are, how many of a particular item they see – i.e. “How many blocks do you see?”  “What color is the book?”  “What are they doing?”

    Overall, I think this is a playful and inviting book good for introducing young readers to poetry, rhythm, rhyming and the world around them.

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    When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner (A Book Review)

    When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow

    Publisher: WaterBrook
    Page: 48
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 3 – 7 years and up
    Grade Level: Preschool – 2 and up
    Available for Sale: February 28, 2017

    Synopsis
    From early on, children are looking to discover their place in the world and longing to understand how their personalities, traits, and talents fit in. The assurance that they are deeply loved and a unique creation in our big universe is certain to help them spread their wings and fly.

    Through playful, charming rhyme and vivid, fantastical illustrations, When God Made You inspires young readers to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God’s divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves.

    Reflection
    Our family believes in the Christian faith so this book couldn’t be any more perfect for us…it’s so, so sweet! Told in rhyming and playful text with beautiful illustrations, When God Made You inspires young readers to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God’s divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves.

    Written by Matthew Paul Turner, husband of author Jessica Turner who wrote The Fringe Hours and illustrated by David Catrow, this is a book you’ll definitely want to add to your bedtime story lineup. It’s great for reading at the start of each day or just before bed to remind children just how special, unique, and loved they are.

    An exclusive design, one God refined, you’re a perfectly crafted one of a kind. ‘Cause when God made you, somehow God knew that the world needed someone exactly like you.

    Isn’t that a great message to send to children (and adults)? Because let’s be honest, sometimes we all need a reminder like this.  Am I right?

    I think children will love listening to the rhyming text and the way the words flow together.  I like that this book uses a variety of advanced vocabulary words and phrases for the preschool crowd like: exclusive, debut, self displaying, portraying, conceived and peacemaker.  These words may force some curious children (like my daughter) to probe and ask what they mean, which is a good thing.

    The vivid illustrations throughout this book add a bit more to this book.  Little readers will see the adorable brown-skinned protagonist, a pet cat and dog sitting in an over sized green and white polka dotted chair reading a book. The protagonist’s baby sister is off to the side on the floor playing with her toys.  The older girl and her dog then go on a mini adventure after leaving her baby sister and their cat behind at home.  She ends up in a local park after going for a bike ride.  There she encounters a distressed artist who is mourning the loss of a dead flower.

    The girl picks up the artist’s paintbrush and starts to paint an elaborate picture of colorful flowers and birds on the ground and in the air.  Next thing you know, the girl, her dog and the artist are flying in the sky on one of the birds the girl drew.  In the end, you see the girl back at home with her baby sister and their dog sitting in the same chair reading a book. Although this time the chair is different.  It’s decorated with the same beautiful paintings the girl drew on the ground in the park with the artist.  This leads you to believe perhaps the girl started daydreaming while she was reading.  Was it just her imagination?  Was it part of the story she was reading to her sister?  Or did it really happen? I love when the ending of a book leads to further discussion and lets you ponder or create your own interpretation.

    I appreciate the author chose to write this book that celebrates each person’s own special and unique gifts and talents.  The fact that there is a religious component to it referencing God is an added bonus for me as it’s not something you normally come across in mainstream children’s picture books.

    I can honestly say When God Made You fills my heart with so much gratitude and joy.  It even makes me a bit teary eyed, but it doesn’t make me feel sad.  I get a bit emotional because it’s so beautifully written.  The words pierce my heart and make me immediately think about how grateful I am for my children and our perfectly imperfect little family.

    This book also makes me reflect on how grateful I am for where God has brought me throughout my life thus far.  It challenges me to want to continue to use my talents, passions and gifts and share them with others.  It makes me want to think up even more new ideas and put them into action.  It makes me want to show kindness, dream, discover, explore, have faith and love more.  Did I mention how much I love this book?  If this book has that type of effect on an adult, imagine how powerful it would be for children to receive these messages from an early age.

    With overall themes of: God, love, individuality, self-love, empathy, kindness, creativity and imagination you really can’t go wrong with this book.  I think it would make a great addition to an Easter basket or makes a great gift for a christening or baby shower.

    About the Author
    MATTHEW PAUL TURNER is the author of sixteen books. He lives with his wife Jessica (TheMomCreative.com, The Fringe Hours) and their three children in Nashville, TN.

    About the Illustrator
    DAVID CATROW is an editorial cartoonist whose vibrant illustrations have appeared in more than seventy children’s books, including several New York Times bestsellers, such as I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More and I Like Myself. He makes his home in Ohio with his wife, Deborah.

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this book with your little readers?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books

    Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes (A Book Review)

    Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes

    Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 5 – 8 years old and up
    Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3 and up
    Available for Sale: April 11, 2017 Pre-Order Now!

    Synopsis
    In this adaptation of The Princess and the Pea, Ma Sally cooks the best black-eyed peas in Charleston County, South Carolina. Her son, John, is a highly eligible bachelor, and three local women vie for his hand in marriage by attempting to cook as well as Ma. At the last minute, a surprise contestant named Princess arrives at the door. Princess and John are well-matched, but Princess has her own ideas. When told she has won John’s hand, she asks him to scrub the pots and pans before she’ll give him an answer. Her answer, it turns out, is that she wants to spend some time getting to know John first.

    Reflection
    We love this retelling of The Princess and the Pea fairy tale!  In the author’s note of this book Rachel Himes explains she was always confused by the classic fairy tale so she vowed to someday write her own version.  She always wondered why the princess needed to be sensitive enough to feel a single pea through all those mattresses.  That’s why she decided to write this story about the things she thinks are truly important – love, family, and community.

    Set in the mid-1950’s in Charleston County, South Carolina this book features a vibrant African-American community with themes of love, family and of course – food and cooking. John’s mother, Ma Sally, cooks the best black-eyed peas in town. When her son John tells her he wants to get married, three women vie for his hand in marriage. The caveat? The lucky woman chosen must be able to cook black-eyed peas as well as John’s mother.  A woman named Princess ends up winning the cooking contest hands down.  Princess and John are two peas in a pod.

    I adore the vintage feel to this book.  The hand drawn watercolor and acrylic illustrations are so well done and really seem to bring you back in time to the 1950’s in the South.  Women are dressed in over the knee length dresses and hats while the men are dressed in denim overalls.

    I also like the mother/son bond that John and his mother Ma Sally share.  It’s clear John is a true and proud mama’s boy.  When he tells his mother he’s ready to get married she becomes troubled by the thought of her son potentially sitting down to an “ill-cooked meal”.  That’s why she comes up with the idea to have a cooking contest to find the perfect wife for John.

    I also like the sense of community and how the food that Ma Sally cooks brings everyone together.  You see tables piled high with collard greens, sweet potatoes, hot rolls, ham, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and black-eyed peas. Yum!  I’ve always believed that food has the ability to break all language barriers.  It doesn’t matter where in the world I am.  If there’s good food or music, there’s a kind of connection and understanding to the others around.

    I truly enjoyed this heartwarming and charming love story.  I love how the table was the common ground and seemed to served as a bridge for bringing everyone together, forging bonds and creating conversation.  Everyone brought something unique to the table – especially Princess.  I’m looking forward to trying out the tasty recipe for Princess’s black-eyed peas that’s included in the back of the book!  Check this one out when it publishes in April 2017!

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this book?  What other adaptations of Princess and the Pea do you and your children enjoy reading?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews, children's books, read aloud

    Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner (A Book Review)

    Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

    Publisher: Agate Bolden
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 9 years
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Publication Date: April 11, 2017 Pre-order now!

    Synopsis
    Love and family. These are the things that a little girl finds most special about Sunday mornings. Early Sunday Morning follows June, Mommy, Daddy, and brother Troy through their weekend routine as June prepares for a special performance leading the children’s choir at church on Sunday morning.

    Readers spend the weekend with June as she collects helpful pieces of advice on how to be less nervous about her big solo. Along the way, she visits the barbershop with Mommy and Troy, gets her hair done by Mommy, receives a special dress from her aunt, and shares her family ritual of getting ready for Sunday morning service. As her special moment approaches, June leans on the support of her whole family, as well as advice from her father, to conquer her fear of singing in front of the congregation.

    Early Sunday Morning is a heartwarming celebration of the special time a young girl and her family share together as she learns how to lift her mighty voice.

    Reflection
    It’s almost little June’s big day to sing her first solo in the youth church choir and she couldn’t be more excited! But when it’s time to practice at choir rehearsal, June gets a little stage fright. As a result, her voice starts to tremble when she sings.  She overhears her friends making fun of her which hurts her feelings and makes her even more nervous and scared. With the help of her supportive family and community members, June gains back her confidence. But will she be ready to sing her big solo on Sunday morning in front of the whole congregation?

    We really enjoyed reading this adorable book!  The thing I love the most is that it highlights a situation children (of all races) might encounter in their everyday lives.  It’s an added bonus that the protagonist in this story is a little Black girl who lives in a loving home with her married parents and little brother. It’s a direct reflection of our family of four which makes my heart sing!  I am always elated when I come across good quality children’s books that showcase Black kids doing everyday things because Lord knows there are already enough books about the Civil Rights era and slavery.  Can I get an amen?

    The eye-catching illustrations drew me in immediately.  I mean, look at that cover!  When I initially saw the cover and the title I knew I had to add this book to our home collection without even knowing what it was about.  The colorful, hand drawn pictures are so detailed and beautiful adding even more life to the story.  Readers will see little June getting her natural hair done on wash day, practicing at choir rehearsal and visiting the barbershop with her little brother Troy.  The artwork appears on full spreads with text shown above, below or alongside providing movement to the pages.

    I also like the loving bond June and her dad share.  It reminds me of the relationship my daughter has with my husband. June is a true daddy’s girl who values his opinion.  She is happiest when she is singing with her daddy.

    The one thing I will mention is I was initially confused about the name of the little girl.  I thought her name was Sarah, but after asking the author she confirmed her name is June although it doesn’t say it directly in the book. Overall, I think this book is a beautiful story with themes of: love, family, feelings, courage, confidence, patience and positive affirmations. Great for helping children cope with stage fright or teaching them about bravery, courage and using their voice.

    About the Author
    Denene Millner is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and contributing editor at Agate Publishing where she directs the Denene Millner Books imprint. She has penned 25 books, including Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, co-written with Steve Harvey; an upcoming memoir with actress Taraji P. Henson; and The Vow, the novel on which the hit Lifetime original movie, “With This Ring” was based. She also is the founder of MyBrownBaby.com, a critically acclaimed blog that examines the intersection of parenting and race. Millner frequently contributes to Essence, Ebony, and Redbook, and has appeared on the Today Show, The Meredith Vieira Show, HLN, MSNBC, and NPR. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters.

    About the Illustrator
    Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator whose passion for children’s books began when she came across The Snowy Day by Ezra Jacks Keats as a child in the 1960s. The Snowy Day marked one of the first representations of a black children in picture books, and seeing a character who looked like her and lived in a neighborhood like her own was a turning point in Vanessa’s life. She hopes to inspire young readers as Keats did for her. Vanessa has illustrated more than 30 books, and is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table. Vanessa lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband of 22 years and their daughter Zoe and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes.

    Your turn: Are you excited to read this book with your little readers when it’s published?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro (A Book Review)

    Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien

    Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    Publisher: Chronicle Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8 years old

    Synopsis
    With playful prose and vivid art, Things to Do brings to life the small moments and secret joys of a child’s day. There are wonders everywhere. In the sky and on the ground—blooming in a flower bed, dangling from a silken thread, buzzing through the summer air—waiting …waiting to be found.

    Reflection
    I love books that can spark a child’s imagination simply by using one small two-letter word, “if”.  In this book, the phrase “things to do if” is repeated several times when introducing different wonders of the world.  For example:

    Things to do if you are DAWN
    Shoo away night,
    Wash the eastern sky with light.
    Wake the sleeping sun: Rise and shine!
    Rouse resting roosters.
    Set songbirds singing.
    Let dreams drift away.
    Start a new day.

    Doesn’t that describe dawn so eloquently and perfectly?  It imagines kids to think about all of the things dawn is responsible for and what happens first thing in the morning.  It then goes on to playfully introduce other things like: birds, an acorn, scissors, rain and the moon in their own lovely poems.

    The illustrations are so vividly beautiful – I love them so much!  The illustrator really captures each moment in detail. Each two-page spread is truly a work of art that I want to frame.  I also like the fact that the author chose to emphasize each item along with some of the more descriptive words.  For example, in the poem about rain the words “whoosh”, “patter” and “go away” are shown in italicized text and are a different color.  This helps children make the connection between the item and some of the popular words and phrases that are usually associated with it.

    I love reading this book with the kids at night right before bedtime.  Something about it has this calming effect on both me and the kids.  I think it’s a combination of the beautiful poetry and stunning illustrations that help get us ready to lay down and rest our heads for the night.

    Overall, I think this is an amazing book of poetry with themes of creativity, imagination and nature. Definitely one not to be missed for poetry lovers!

    About the Author
    Elaine Magliaro is now retired from teaching and writes poetry for children and serves as a member of the NCTE Poetry Committee.  She lives in Massachusetts.

    About the Illustrator
    Catia Chien was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Today, she is happily working as a children’s book artist from her art studio in New York, with a view of the East River and an old pencil factory.

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    The Amazing Book of Disney Princess + A Giveaway!

    The Amazing Book of Disney Princess by DK Books

    Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Synopsis
    The Amazing Book of Disney Princess is the perfect introduction to the magical world of Disney Princess. Young fans will love discovering more about their favorite characters in this reference book that’s perfect for young readers with fold-out paper flaps and folds. Large pictures and short, simple sentences bring the characters to life for children aged 5 plus. Favorite Disney Princess characters and their kingdoms are explored in a fun way, including Belle, Jasmine, Merida, Tiana, Mulan, Ariel, and Rapunzel. The Amazing Book of Disney Princess also comes with a giant pull-out poster.

    Reflection

    What a fun book for kids to learn a little more about their favorite Disney princesses!  I love the large text and images as well as the clear and simple sentences.  I also like this book has an interactive element to it with questions and flaps that can be lifted throughout.  The table of contents also clearly points out which page each princess can be found on.  In the back there is also a quiz and answer key.

    While Disney has made strides over the past few years to diversity its lineup of princesses, I still think there is more work that needs to be done.  As you may know, finding a book that actually includes African princesses, African American princesses, Native American princesses, Indian princesses, Latina princesses, or Asian princesses, is next to impossible.  Perhaps one day book publishers, television producers, and movie producers will understand the beautiful variety of princesses (and princes) that the world has to offer.  Good thing there are a few children’s books available on the market to help remind little readers of all cultures and backgrounds that princesses, kings, and queens are not limited to the images they see in the mainstream media.

    Although I do find this book to be a great reference to help children explore and learn more about the Disney princesses, I did notice something I wanted to point out.  When this book introduces princesses like Snow White and Aurora, Rapunzel and Belle they are described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘very kind’.  However, when other multicultural princesses like Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine and Tiana are introduced, there is no mention of how beautiful or kind they are. Instead, they point out lackluster details like ‘headband with sparkling jewel’, ‘sparkling gloves’, and ‘traditional dress’.  Why aren’t any of these princesses described as beautiful or kind?  I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it’s worth pointing out as it may send mixed signals to children.

    In addition to learning more about each of the princesses, there is also mention of some of the evil enemies and princes.  You also learn some of the princesses favorite things and special skills.  For example, did you know Rapunzel loves to paint?  Or that Belle loves reading and Tiana loves baking delicious beignets for her friends?  I am always fascinated to learn more about any Disney characters as it makes them more human and relatable to me.

    Each book also comes with a giant pull-out poster from Beauty and the Beast, just in time for the live action movie release in March 2017!

    If your daughter(s) have been hit by the princess craze, consider checking out this book.  Little readers who like the series Fancy Nancy or Pinkalicious will adore this book just as much.  Cue the sparkles, tiaras, and tutus!

    About DK Books
    DK is a bestselling and award-winning publisher known for informing, entertaining, and educating global audiences through beautifully designed content.

    The Giveaway!
    Our friends at DK Books were generous enough to offer a book giveaway!  See the entry form below to enter.  Only open to US residents age 18 and over.  Good luck!

    The Amazing Book of Disney Princess

    Your turn: Are you planning to go see the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie when it comes out in March? Which Disney princess is your daughter’s favorite one?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    black history, children's books, read aloud

    Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born by Gene Barretta (A Book Review)

    Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison

    Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    Publisher:
    Katherine Tegen Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range:
    4 – 8 years old
    Grade Level: Preschool – Grade 3

    Synopsis
    In this picture book biography of Muhammad Ali, author Gene Barretta and illustrator Frank Morrison tell the unforgettable childhood story of this legendary boxing champion and how one pivotal moment set him on his path to become the Greatest of All Time.

    The Louisville Lip. The Greatest. The People’s Champion. Muhammad Ali had many nicknames. But before he became one of the most recognizable faces in the world, before the nicknames and the championships, before he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he was twelve-year-old Cassius Clay riding a brand-new red-and-white bicycle through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky. One fateful day, this proud and bold young boy had that bike stolen, his prized possession, and he wouldn’t let it go. Not without a fight.  This would be the day he discovered boxing. And a champion was born.

    Reflection
    At the very beginning of this book, the author’s note explains Muhammad Ali’s birth name was Cassius Clay.  At the age of twenty-two he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.  Therefore, Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali are the same person.

    I love how this book starts off chronicling a few important events in Muhammad Ali’s professional boxing career.  In February 1964, Cassius Clay surprises everyone and wins the world heavyweight championship to Sonny Liston.  In May of 1965, Clay and Sonny Liston meet for a rematch, but this time Clay has a new name.  He now goes by the name of Muhammad Ali.  At the age of thirty-six near the end of his career, Ali becomes the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship three times.

    The book then takes us back in time to when Cassius Clay was just 12 years old living in Louisville, Kentucky.  He didn’t know it then, but having his bicycle stolen turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  That single event helped launch his boxing career.  When he went to report his stolen bicycle to a police officer, he ended up in a local boxing gym. There, Officer Martin told him that before he went to look for the person who stole his bicycle, he should learn to fight. Under police officer Martin’s wing, Cassius worked hard and eventually became a huge force in professional boxing.  It’s funny how one unfortunate event changed his life forever.

    I truly enjoyed this contagiously positive book for so many reasons.  For one, Ali is represented as nothing short of an iconic superman, his achievements are glorious and his predicaments are merely minor roadblocks to greatness.  It’s clear to see that Ali’s life was truly amazing, and this book is a great introduction to that remarkable life.

    I think Frank Morrison’s vivid illustrations accompany this story so well.  My son’s favorite illustration is the last one in the book with Muhammad Ali wearing a white robe (pictured below).  The page formatting throughout the book varies between beautiful two-page spreads with text at the top and bottom.  Action words and phrases like: “Pow!”, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, “I am the greatest!” and “I shook up the world!” are printed in larger bold type which makes them stand out on the pages.  When reading this book aloud, it’s fun to emphasize these words with smaller children as it adds a bit more action and excitement.

    Overall, I find this to be a high quality children’s biography that little readers are sure to enjoy.  There are themes of: hard work, determination, overcoming obstacles, boxing, sports, persistence and confidence; something Muhammad Ali clearly had plenty of.  Perfect for boxing lovers, for reading during Black History Month or anytime of the year. The back matter includes some additional facts about Ali’s life, a bibliography, photos and other resources for further reading.

    Your turn: Have you read this book with your little readers yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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