Celebrating the New Year with a Trio of Books for Young Readers

December 30, 2016

everywhereHappy New Year Everywhere! by Arlene Erlbach

Whether at home or school, books that celebrate ways of honoring holidays in different parts of the world are important additions to the bookshelf.  In this carefully researched book, readers are truly entertained as well as enlightened about different times of year that cultures and countries mark as the beginning of a new year.  The drawings are colorful and the maps place the countries in a world context.  It’s fun to learn about different traditional greetings (and be able to say them correctly thanks to a pronunciation key), as well as experiment with some of the crafts and recipes that go along with the holiday.  I really appreciate the extensive bibliography to help interested audiences learn more.


a-happyA Happy New Year’s Day by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Gilles Pelletier

Setting:  A Canadian village in the 1940’s, in a world in the midst of war.  The simple pleasures of warmth and family and community shine through this childhood memory of the author.  The tale is a simple yet timeless one, as the family prepares to gather together to celebrate the New Year.  Despite the themes, the story is not sentimental, but rather a story that resonates with anticipation, planning, and fun.  The illustrations are just right to engage multiple readings:  full page pictures in bright colors with lots of intricate details.


happy-new-yearHappy New Year by Emery Bernhard

A nice complement to Happy New Year Everywhere! with an emphasis this time on ancient and modern New Year’s customs as well as around the world.  Interesting (and new to me) information on why Time Square is a destination in America for New Year’s celebrators.  And what about the Wild West?  Or Ancient Rome?  How and why did their celebrations unfold?  And how did the different religions make an impact?  In Columbia the tradition is to put an egg in a glass of water and watching how it changes to predict what will happen in the coming new year.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try that one out in the classroom–or at home?


IMPYRIUM by Henry H. Neff: New Series Recommendation for Tweens and Teens

December 24, 2016

impyriumImpyrium by Henry H. Neff

Just out this fall, Impyrium ‘s first novel promises to be the beginning of a whole new world to delight tween, young adults, and older adults as well.  For those of us who have been lamenting the lack of fully realized fantasy worlds a la Harry Potter, this book is a dream come true, with the promise of at least two more books in the series.  In this magical world, the Faeregine dynasty has ruled Impyrium for over three thousand years. They have held onto their power through use of their magic to hold the empire together, but it appears to be fading. Many factions–competing “houses” and outright rebels–are counting on just that.

But as the tale unfolds, it isn’t so easy to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Our intrepid–and fascinating–heroes are Hazel, youngest of the triplet princesses, and a powerful magician in her own right, and Hob, a brilliant commoner from an outlying province who cares deeply about saving the realm.  They must figure out who to trust to help them in their quest, and also forge an unlikely bond.  Magic and mystery abound, as well as an underlying theme of social activism.  Strong, interesting characters, lots of action and intrigue, court politics, scary myths…something for everyone. I am looking forward to the next installment–coming in 2017.


December 17, 2016

lemonyThe Latke That Couldn’t Stop Screaming:  A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket

OK, the book is red and festive.  It’s even named “a Christmas story.”  But don’t be fooled:  note that the author is one Lemony Snicket, trickster and hilarious author.  This book is for kids, but is also a very clever satire for the adults in the family, as the potato pancake hero, aka Latke,  is caught up in a Christmas home that thinks Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas.   Holiday lights, a candy cane and a pine tree just can’t understand that not everything is about Christmas, especially a little potato pancake. The flashing lights say that the latke is basically hash browns, which go great alongside a nice Christmas ham. Finally the latke finds some kindred spirits: a Jewish family who understands him so well, it eats him.

This book is perfect for each Winter holiday season, but especially this one:  The first day of Hanukkah falls on–you guessed it–Christmas Eve!

And for a trio of fine Winter Holiday books, we recommend this blog post recommendation.

THUNDER BOY, JR. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

December 10, 2016

thunder-boyThunder Boy, Jr. by Alexi Sherman, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Here’s a new picture book collaboration from a couple of favorite award-winners.  National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie’s poetic and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales’s gorgeous pictures celebrate the special relationship between father and son.  Thunder Boy is a great name, but Thunder Boy, Jr. wants his own name to celebrate something special about himself, not just a little version of his dad, Big Thunder.  He wants to quite literally make a name for himself.  While humorous, the story also has a simple honesty and sincerity.  Can’t say enough about the bold and appealing illustrations.  Our prediction:  a new classic.



New Picture books that Celebrate Snow

December 2, 2016

snowNothing says winter like Snow!  (Except if you are in Portland, then it’s Rain–or in LA, where it’s Sun!)  But we can dream–and remember the sweet crisp smell of new snow and the clean fresh blanket covering the earth that made the world look like a winter wonderland.  Sigh.  When we took a look at these brand new picture books that celebrate snow, we found ourselves nostalgic and drawn to those endearing memories.  For those of you who live where snow is surrounding you–and those of you who remember those cozy days of snowfall–here are  a few books for anticipating the winter holidays.


best-in-snowBest in Snow by April Pulley Saire

Images can often say it best, especially when the photographer is April Pulley Saire, award-winning photographer.  Filled with gorgeous pictures, this book is also perfect for sharing with young scientists as the marvels of the natural world come alive in the captivating poetic text.  Truly a delightful and appropriate read for the changing seasons and an understanding of the life cycles of snow and the journey from lakes and rivers, to the clouds, and back the earth again.  Spell-binding.


poem-for-peterA Poem for Peter:  The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea David Pinkney, Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

This book makes me cry every time I read it.  First, it brings back my love of The Snowy Day and the power it has always had for children.  And to know more about the author and artist, Ezra Jack Keats, opens a whole new world behind the creation of this classic and ground-breaking book.  I had no idea this visionary artist was a Polish immigrant, suffering the hardships not only of coming to a new country, but the discrimination of anti-Semitism.  Pinkney’s verse is masterful and appropriately poetic:  “Brown-sugar child,/when you and your hue/burst onto the scene,/all of us came out to play.”  The images are an ode to Keats’ work using mixed-media collages of prints, fabrics, photos, and paint, all of which capture the liveliness of the urban setting and historical points.  If you buy one picture book this year to add to your collection, this is the one!


before-morningBefore Morning by Joyce Sidman

Have you ever done a little snow dance to “encourage” a snow day and no school/no work the next day?  If so, you’ll appreciate the  young child in this story who chants a poetic invocation to bring a snowy day to her family for the following morning.  What a treat to be able to spend an unhurried, leisurely day together when the weather prevents the normal schedule and routine!  We love the quiet beauty of this book, with its gorgeous scratch board illustrations.  A gift for your own snowy day!


HEARTLESS by Marissa Meyer: Recommended!

November 26, 2016

heartlessHeartless by Marissa Meyer

We are delighted to share–and recommend–Marissa Meyer’s latest YA title:  HEARTLESS, a stand-alone novel that tells the back story of the Queen of Hearts (and other characters) of ALICE IN WONDERLAND fame. As a girl, Catherine is a delightful and talented young woman, one you’d want for a friend.  She wants to make her own way as a baker with her best friend Mary Ann rather than marry the King of Hearts.  But her mother is determined that she should become Queen and Cath hates to disappoint. . .until she meets Jest, the new joker of the Court–a handsome, intriguing, and mysterious young man.  In her quest to frame her own destiny, we come to know other characters in the land of Hearts and Chess and Looking Glass Land.  It’s a place of distorted fairy tales, magic, and not a little madness.  Meyer is at her best in this tale, creating a magical and believable fractured fairy tale.  You’ll never see the Chesire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle, or Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater in the same way.  And you’ll have a new appreciation of The Queen of Hearts.   And if Marissa Meyer is a new author to you, you’re in luck!  Check out her wonderful series The Lunar Chronicles.  You won’t be disappointed! (For reviews of the individual books in this series, check out our earlier posts here.)

Leonard Nimoy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Two New Picture Book Biographies to Recommend!

November 19, 2016

Want to introduce the young readers in your life to two important contemporary figures?  No better way than through the magic of picture book bios of Leonard Nimoy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, hot off the presses.  Guaranteed to entice and encourage kids to learn more about these and other 20th and 21st century greats.

fascinatingFascinating:  The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

This biography is really the perfect mix of a detailed investigation into the life of Leonard Nimoy, and a wide appeal for larger themes to share with kids, such as:  feelings of alienation, the power of creativity and the arts, the importance of foundational cultural insights and understandings, and more.  There is a great deal of irony in Nimoy’s early experiences and his ultimate success as Mr. Spock.  For example, when his Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrant parents arrived in the US, their passports were stamped “alien.”  Being “other” was certainly how the whole family felt as they learned new traditions and ways to be “American.” It’s also a lot of fun to see the young Leonard and his love of acting and music.  The author writes about Nimoy with compassion and a great deal of tenderness.  (I loved learning about the roots of Mr. Spock’s famous Vulcan greeting gesture  being in Jewish tradition.)


ginsbergI Dissent:  Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

A perfect book for the times:  the importance of thoughtful dissent.  This biography of Ruth Bader Ginsberg tells the story of her life through the lens of her many “dissents.”  As a Supreme Court justice, she  has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere.  Love this book on so many levels.  Inspiring and informational, and also tells the quiet but important story of her friendship with Justice Scalia though she dissented with his opinions constantly.