Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Counting to Christmas

Counting to Christmas by Nancy Tafuri (Duck Pond Press, 2014). 

I really love this book. The text is simple but lovely and the illustrations are wonderful. It shows a girl as she counts the days to Christmas and what activities she does each day, such as baking cookies, making cards, stringing popcorn, playing recorder at a recital, and making treats for wild animals.  I like that it starts with her opening an advent calendar, and the image on the calendar is then the last page of the book. Also her pet Keeshond follows her throughout, which is very cute. In the back of the book are instructions for the activities and recipes that were shown in the story. I definitely recommend this for a nice holiday read!

For more Christmas books, see my Pinterest page. I also have a list of multicultural Christmas books here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Pinkaboos

The Pinkaboos series by Jake and Laura Gosselin, illustrated by Billy Kelly (Andrews McMeel, 2016). 

Note: Although I was provided with free copies of these books, the opinions in this review are my own.

This is a great beginning to a middle grade series aimed at girls. The Pinkaboos are a group of friends who are frights (illustrated as various types of monsters) who attend Fright School to learn how to help little human girls conquer their fears by entering their dreams and chasing away nightmares (who are also shown as monsters). 

I quickly became invested in the story, which is imaginative and fun. I liked that it didn't shy away from some dark elements, like a fright who is a school bully becoming a Nightmare. Before starting to read, I wasn't sure if the message of "overcoming your fears" would be too heavy handed, but the authors do a good job of "show, don't tell" and focus on the imaginative details of their invented world.

The illustrations are super cute and playful. I also really liked that there are activities and fun facts at the end, such as the history of the legends of giants, and a worm cupcakes recipe. Each book is quite short (as an adult, it took me about 15 minutes to read each) so I think kids will anxiously be awaiting more stories in the series. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bear in the Sky

Bear in the Sky by Stefan Czernecki and Timothy Rhodes, illustrated by Stefan Czernecki (Hyperion, 1990). 

This was a childhood favorite of mine. Judging from the little I could find online, it doesn't appear to be a well-known book, which is a shame. The folk art illustrations left a strong impression on me.  

This is an origin story for the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The title bear loves to dance in the forest with the birds and other creatures.  When he is shot with an arrow by hunters, a gypsy couple nurses him back to health, names him Zloty, and gives him a velvet vest. His joyful dancing cures a princess who cannot smile.  However, she is a cruel princess, and keeps Zloty captive.  When he will not dance for her anymore, she gets mad and throw his vest out the window, which disappears and leaves a stairway of stars. Zloty climbs the stars into the sky, where you can still see him dancing. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Over the River and Through the Wood

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Wishing you peace on this day.

Over the River and Through the Wood, poem by Lydia Maria Child. Illustrated with woodcuts by Christopher Manson. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Pumpkin Heads

The Pumpkin Heads by A.K. Roche (Prentice-Hall, 1968). 

I found this while searching online for books that take place in my state of Connecticut. This story takes place in my city of New Haven so I had to check it out.  It's presented as a story explaining why people in New Haven are calling "pumpkin heads" (which is not a real thing), but there is a note in the back that explains the truth.  The author was inspired by  reading an anecdote in a General History of Connecticut by Revered Samuel Peters, a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War who made up stories exaggerating the conditions in Connecticut to get back at the people who drove him out and back to England. This makes a lot of sense, as the story definitely makes the people of New Haven seem pretty foolish!

In the story, men of New Haven would line up to get their haircut which was cut while wearing a special cap so that they all had the same length hair. When the cap is lost, they try using various bowls and baskets, but nothing is the right size.  That is, until a wise old woman suggests a pumpkin cut in half. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by K.Y. Craft (HarperCollins, 1994). 

This Russian folktale, which is a variation of Cinderella, was a favorite of mine as a kid and I especially loved this version, which changes the traditional title for the heroine from the Beautiful to the Brave. Vasilisa's cruel stepmother sends her to borrow a light from the horrible witch Baba Yaga, who lives in a house of bones.  The witch gives her a series of seemingly impossible trials, but Vasilia has a magic doll that her late mother made for her, and the doll completes the tasks for her. The illustrations are both beautiful and creepy, without being too scary for young kids. This is a good story for Halloween season.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Jasmine's Parlour Day

Jasmine's Parlour Day by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi (Lothrop Lee & Shepard, 1994).

This is a beautiful, colorful book about a girl who helps her mother sell fish and sugar cake at a stand, or parlour, in Trinidad. Grifalconi captures the feel of the Caribbean and the lovely bright pinks. Joseph, who grew up in Trinidad, has her characters speak in the native patois which adds to the authenticity.  She has written many great Caribbean children's books.

Interested in making those delicious looking pink coconut sugar cakes?  Here is a recipe.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake

The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson (Harcourt, 1990). 

This was a childhood favorite of mine. The girl in the story wants to bake a special cake for her mother's birthday-- a cake that her grandmother baked for her when she was a little girl. When the girl searches the attic for the recipe, she finds it, except there is one secret ingredient missing. Luckily, a trio of angels show up in her kitchen to help her make the most delicious, heavenly cake ever. 

I found this to be a magical story as a kid. Reading it again now, I'm especially impressed with the illustrations, which are extremely creative and layered. It's also nice that the angels are diverse in race (white, black, and Asian), gender, and age.

Most of all, you will find your mouth watering for angel food cake after reading this book!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Caribbean Canvas

Caribbean Canvas by Frané Lessac (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1987). 

My mom found this for me at a used bookstore recently.  Lessac is one of our favorite illustrators.  She's perhaps most well known for My Little Island which was featured on Reading Rainbow.  This book is a compilation of West Indian poetry and proverbs illustrated with Lessac's artwork.  Listed in the image captions are the islands where each image was created.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Day at the Beach

A Day at the Beach by Mircea Vasiliu (Random House, 1978).

Seeing as it's 90 degrees here, I thought this book was appropriate for today.  It's a simple story showing a family at the beach: swimming, building sandcastles, exploring tide pools, collecting shells, playing in seaweed. A nice feature is that there is a picture glossary with the names of different types of wildlife at the beach. There is also some diversity in the crowd scenes. All in all, a nice little book for summer.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Sorry it's been a while since my last post. I recently got a new job and moved back to my hometown in Connecticut so I've been busy, but it's also easier now for me to raid my parents' attic for my old childhood books.  

Moonshadow by Angela Carter, illustrated by Justin Todd (Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1982).

Apparently a rather rare book, this was one of my favorites as a kid.  My dad and I found it at a used bookstore when I was little and I loved the way he would read me the zany story and we would find the hidden pictures within the illustrations. 

The book is about a boy named Tom who likes to play with his shadow, casting shadow puppets on the wall before bed.  One night, a goblin, who says he's the Man in the Moon, jumps out at Tom and tells him his shadow is tired of him playing games with him and wants a night of freedom where he doesn't have to follow him around all the time.  Off his shadow goes, in the shape of a cat, and Tom must run to catch him.  The illustrations feature many optical illusions and hidden pictures.  In the beginning there is also a map for a board game that you can play with dice. 

In researching the author and illustrator, I discovered that they are both relatively well known in Britain.  Carter is known for her feminist and magical realism novels and Todd seems to be best known for illustrating British children's classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows. 

This is definitely a unique children's book! Maybe a little too scary for some young kids, but it was enchanting for me.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Surprise

Easter Surprise by Catherine Stock (Bradbury, 1991).

This is a sweet story that follows a brother and sister with their mother on Easter.  I always love Stock's watercolor illustrations and her style works perfectly for the story. 

For more Easter children's books, visit my Pinterest here.