Thursday, December 20, 2018

An Early American Christmas

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola (1987, Holiday House). 

This is a charming book about an early American family (originally from Germany) preparing for Christmas. There is an author's note in the beginning explaining how most people in New England back then didn't celebrate Christmas, and that he read a historical source that told of an Irishman being chased out of town because he was "a Christmas Man." This inspired him to think, "what might have happened in the early 1800s if a family who celebrated Christmas moved into a New England town?" 

Friday, October 26, 2018

My Cat Likes to Sit in Boxes

My Cat Likes to Sit in Boxes by Eve Sutton, illustrated by Lynley Dodd (Puffin Books, 1973). 

Now that I have my own house, I can finally have a cat.  I've always loved cats, but wasn't allowed to have one in my previous apartments, so I'm looking forward to getting one soon. The book I'm sharing today is about the unseen narrator's cat and how it likes to sit in boxes. They describe all sorts of clever, fanciful cats from different countries, and compare it to their cat, who simply likes to sit in boxes.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Josephine's 'Magination

Josephine's 'Magination by Arnold Dobrin (Scholastic, 1973).

This is sweet story about a little girl in Haiti who goes to market with her mother to sell brooms. Although she plays with flower dolls made from hibiscus, she's always wanted a real doll. When she's at market, she meets a man selling little straw animals. She asks who taught him how to make them, and he says no one taught him, he used his "'magination." Josephine wonders if she has 'magination that she could use to make something. She and her mother leave the market only having sold a couple brooms. That night, the idea comes to Josephine to make dolls out of the brooms. Her mother praises her for her smart idea, and together they make many dolls which sell quickly at market. 

I loved the soft and textured illustrations. I tried to find out more information about Dobrin, but despite having published a good number of books in the 60's and 70's, I couldn't find much more about him, besides on this page of Nebraska authors.  It appears he's still living, so I wonder why he stopped creating children's books so long ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna

Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Scholastic, 1987). 

This is a charming, sing-songy rhyming book that is fun to read aloud. The author also wrote the Jesse Bear books, which I loved as a kid. The always wonderful illustrations by Pinkney capture a young girl playing outside. Although the 80's fashion is now outdated, it hearkens back to a classic, innocent look of childhood. This is a great, playful read.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Cherry Tree

The Cherry Tree by Daisaku Ikeda (English translation by Geraldine McCaughrean), illustrated by Brian Wildsmith (Knopf, 1991). 

Today was the annual cherry blossom festival in my city. Although only a couple of trees were in bloom due to the late start to spring this year, it was a beautiful sunny day. As such, I thought this would be a good time to share this book.

The Cherry Tree is a story of a Japanese village that has been through war. The father of the two young protagonists was killed and their mother's heart is broken. When the children see an old man taking care of an old cherry tree that hasn't bloomed since before the war, they at first wonder if he's wasting his time and energy. But they decide to help him and soon they are filled with hope that the tree will bloom again. It's a powerful story about resilience through great struggle. As always, Brian Wildsmith's illustrations are rich and layered with amazing pops of color. 

Photo from today's festival:

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, 2018).

This sweet book is about a little girl with a big name: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. She tells her dad how she doesn't like her long name because it never fits when she's writing it. Her father proceeds to explain why she has the name she does. Each name is from a relative on her family tree, and he tells her a little about each person, so that they come alive to her. She notices the similarities between her relatives and herself. When they get to her first name, Alma, her father says he picked the name just for her. "You are the first and the only Alma. You will make your own story."

I've always been interested in family history, as well as origins behind names, so I really enjoyed this. Both the story and the illustrations are so lovely. Juana Martinez-Neal has illustrated a couple other books, but this is her debut as an author. I'm sure we'll see much more from her as she's obviously very talented in both areas! 

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story

The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Katya Krenina (Holiday House, 1999).

This is a beautifully illustrated book that tells a story about pysanky, or Ukrainian decorated Easter eggs.  When hundreds of small golden birds get stuck in the snow, a young girl inspires her village to help save them.  As spring draws close, the birds fly away. But they return later to gift the villagers with their beautiful eggs.

Visit this link to learn how to make your own pysanky.

You can find more books about Easter on my Pinterest board here

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When I'm Sleepy

When I'm Sleepy by Jane R. Howard, illustrated by Lynne Cherry (Dutton, 1985). 

This is a delightful book about a little girl who imagines herself sleeping like different animals, only to decide that her own bed is the best. The illustrations are so warm and cozy, you'll wish you could snuggle up with a bear or some big penguins as well! I discovered this book in a local used bookstore, and I'm glad I did, because it's such a fun, imaginative book. I definitely recommend it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Like Vanessa

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (Charlesbridge, 2018). 

I'm very happy to share this new middle grade book that comes out on March 13! I've only had a chance to read the beginning, as I recently got back from a vacation, but I'm really enjoying it so far. It's an important book about how our society views beauty.

Book Description from Amazon: 
In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with a mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty.

Early Buzz
2017 SCBWI Book Launch Award
2018 "Indies Introduce" Selection
A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus starred review
A Foreward starred review

Endorsed by New York Times Bestselling author, Rita Williams-Garcia 
and Vanessa Williams, Multi-Platinum Recording Artist & TV/Film Actress

Below is a video where the author discusses her inspiration for the book.

You can read more about the book on the author's website and pre-order it from the publisher here.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Let the Children March

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). 

This is a powerful book about the thousands of African American children who marched for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, inspired after hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak. It's an amazing story. Children and teens took to the streets to protest segregation. They were sprayed with water hoses, hit with batons, and threatened with dogs by the police. Many of them were arrested and jailed. But footage of the violence against these children was seen around the world and there was a public outcry.  Eventually city leaders agreed to desegregate local businesses and free all children who had been jailed. It's an important reminder that we all have a voice, and that sometimes we need to take the risk to speak out against injustice. 

The oil painting illustrations capture the anger, courage, and determination of the protestors. There is also more historical information in the back, like photos, quote sources, and a timeline.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bar Mitzvah Chicken

Bar Mitzvah Chicken by Sarah and Seth Entin, illustrated by Marina Kokhanova (self-published, 2018). 

This is a very cute book told in rhyme about a little chicken named Jacob who feels like he doesn't fit in because he's the only Jewish chicken on his farm. He decides to throw a big Bar Mitzvah party so that all the chickens and other animals will like him. However, he soon discovers that there is a lot of studying and hard work involved. When the time comes for the Bar Mitzvah, his chicken siblings are excited to attend, and assure him that he's belonged all along, but they are glad he now knows his self-worth. I think kids, particularly Jewish kids, would get a kick out of this story.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

This Is It - Book Giveaway!

I'm very excited to announce my first ever book giveaway! HarperCollins has generously offered to provide a free copy of their new book This Is It by Daria Peoples-Riley. 

Enter the Giveaway Here! This Is It Book Giveaway
Open to residents of the US and Canada only. Deadline is February 15. You will receive extra entries for blog and social media follows, but they are not required.

Watch a beautiful trailer for the book below and then read the amazing behind-the-scenes story.

What’s the Story Behind the Book Trailer?
An interview with Daria Peoples-Riley

Tell us a little bit about the trailer.
It’s not the average book trailer for a picture book. I know, right? Well, I’ve always been interested in making films, so when THIS IS IT was acquired, I knew I wasn’t going to do an animated book trailer. Creating a live action book trailer would be the perfect opportunity to try filmmaking. I thought the idea of bringing my heroine to real life would be more impactful. To be honest, as a child, I wasn’t very interested in cartoons. I liked shows and movies with real people. It’s hard for me to believe there aren’t more kids out there like that. The book trailer is the prologue to the book, and you have to read the book to find out what happens next. It was a wonderful opportunity to create my first experience as a filmmaker.

Who was some of the talent behind the scenes of the trailer?
I enlisted the expertise of Patrick Lascu, a Los Angeles based filmmaker, and he put together a crew of amazing talent. He really went out of his way to involve me in the creative process. I learned a lot from him, and hope we can work together again in the near future.

And in front of the camera, who plays the shadow?
The shadow is played by my daughter, Jonah Marie. She is an aspiring ballerina who inspired the poem in THIS IS IT.

Jonah, can you tell us a little bit about your ballet training?
I train in Vaganova Ballet, a style of Russian ballet. I train about ten hours a week right now, and in the summer I attend summer intensives. Last summer, I attended Los Angeles Ballet School and next summer I will attend UNCSA’s classical ballet intensive.

What was it like dancing as the shadow?
It was really fun because I didn’t have to worry about being on the camera, but I was still apart of the trailer. Besides ballet, what are some of your other interests? I like fashion and baking.

What are some of your dreams for the future?
I would love to become a professional ballet dancer. The mom and the daughter—who plays those roles? The mom is played by Tanya Hill, and her daughter Jalyn Noelle. They are real mom and daughter, so the connection was natural.

How did you go about finding Tanya and Jalyn?
It was pretty unconventional actually. We call it a God story—one of those acts of Providence only God could orchestrate. Patrick and I were looking for actors, and reached out to a few casting directors, but we hadn’t found anyone who looked quite like the character in THIS IS IT. However, after a couple of weeks of unsuccessfully finding anyone, I was leaving a hotel in Buena Park, California when I drove by Tanya and Jalyn who were standing along the street at a crosswalk. Immediately, I was amazed at how much Jalyn looked like my heroine, so I pulled over. It wasn’t until I got out of my car to approach them, I realized Jalyn and Tanya were holding a homeless sign and asking for money.

What did you do next?
Truthfully, it caught me off-guard a little and probably out of nervousness, I commented on Tanya’s t-shirt, a North Carolina Panther’s shirt. I don’t really watch football, but I am a Cam Newton fan because of all the wonderful things he does for kids, so the first thing I said was something like “I’m a Cam Newton fan!” Awkward, right? So funny. But she said, “I am too!” Then, we Cam-dabbed together. Once the ice was broken, I told her I was an author/illustrator who wrote a book, and her daughter looked a lot like the character in my story. I asked her if she was interested in acting in my book trailer, and that was when Jalyn told me, “Of course, I’m an actor.” Tanya told me she was struggling after relocating to California from North Carolina. She cried tears of joy when I offered Jalyn the role. Then, I cried. Then, we celebrated by taking a selfie. We exchanged information, and Jalyn became my real life heroine. The best thing about it was I was able to compensate Jalyn for her talent.

How are Jalyn and her mom doing now? Can you give us an update? Do you still keep in touch? 
Absolutely! We keep each other updated. Jalyn and her mom will be in my heart forever. They are doing wonderful. Shortly after our first meeting, I reached out to my aunt who lives in the LA area to find Tanya and Jalyn housing. She enlisted the help of Boys II Men singer, Nathan Morris who has a heart for helping the homeless. Together, we raised $9,000 in three days on GoFundMe. Jalyn and her mom moved back to the Carolinas. Jalyn is acting and attending school and mom is working as a manager of an optical gallery.

Jalyn, what did you think about Daria asking you to be in her trailer?
I felt excited because I wanted to be an actress and she just came in my life and helped me fulfill my dreams, and well, it was the first time I was on onset with cameras. I did NarroWay, A Christian theater in South Carolina, but it wasn’t like that.

How was your experience? What was your favorite part?
I loved the experience. It was a lot of fun doing it. My favorite part was learning ballet. It was the first time I ever tried it, but now I actually want to do ballet.

What are you doing now?
Well, I went back to NarroWay and now I’m doing a show called Not Just Another Love Story.

What are your some of your dreams for the future?
One of my dreams is becoming a veterinarian. I love animals and I really want to help the homeless. I’ve been in that situation before, and it’s not fun.

Where can people purchase the book?
This Is It is available now online (the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble) and in bookstores wherever books are sold.  You can also check your local library to see if they have it in their circulation. If they don’t simply request your library to order a copy.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan, illustrated by John Holyfield (HarperCollins, 2015).

In honor of Black History Month, I am sharing this wonderful book about how Mahalia Jackson became the Queen of Gospel. Born in New Orleans, Mahalia had a hard life growing up, but she always loved singing in church. She saved up money working as a maid so that she could move to Chicago and sing in more churches, sometimes for a little money, sometimes not. Eventually she got a record deal and her music was played on the radio. From there, she sang on TV, in movies, at Carnegie Hall, and for presidents and other world leaders. Mahalia even performed at the March on Washington, right before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. 

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