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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field is an illustrated transition book from beginning readers as move from picture books to chapter books. Bear is a kind animal who is woken up from hibernation, but Rabbit is a disgruntled creature who has some bad habits, like eating his poo.

When the characters are introduced, you expect to see who robbed bear of her food, since the robber supposedly stood on her nose, but the robber seems to vanish in thin air. The illustrations in this story are gorgeous, right down to the wisps of snow falling. Bear calmly handles Rabbit’s cranky retorts and doesn’t even blink at being called “Idiot.” Personally, this household shies away from those words because they are hurtful and can have long-lasting effects, but kids in my daughter’s school and at her age certainly do use that word and others that are far worse. While I don’t like the use of it, I can see how it mirrors a child’s reality on the playground — only here the kids are animals and the playground is the forest.

My daughter reached for this book the moment it entered the house and started reading while eating breakfast. She didn’t eat much before school that morning. She was too absorbed in the story and she easily read the first pages on her own. Because it still has pictures, it helped keep her engaged with the story.

Talk of gravity and digestion, as well as how to build the best snowman, pepper the pages. Kids will learn something while laughing at the antics of these animals, and they’ll be thankful they did as they find Rabbit is later in peril.

Despite a few initial bumps, Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field ended up being a good story about overcoming initial differences and finding a friendship based on caring and giving.

RATING: Quatrain

Logan and Luna Find the Magic Tree by Cristina Hanif, illustrated by Murray Stenton

Source: Author
Paperback, 34 pgs.
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Logan and Luna Find the Magic Tree by Cristina Hanif, illustrated by Murray Stenton, is a delightful exploration of imagination for children, and it reminds adults that there is a time to slow down and spend time with their kids. As I did a preliminary edit of Cristina’s manuscript, I’m just going to give you what my daughter thought about the book and what I observed when she was reading it out loud for her homework, rather than my normal review format.

My daughter really carefully looked at each, vivid illustration. She was engaged with the characters and the story. As she read, she did stumble a bit over more challenging words like “original” and “differentiate,” but for the most part, she kept reading. One point she looked up at me and said the illustrations did not look like the family they are modeled on, except for the boys. She also thought the story was a bit long, but I chalked that up to her having to read before dinner and before we headed out for her evening music class. She told me that her favorite part was the gnomes, the library, and the adventure in the woods.

RATING from my daughter: Quatrain

Knock, Knock: The Biggest, Best Joke Book Ever

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Knock, Knock: The Biggest, Best Joke Book Ever from Highlights for Children is a book my daughter received from Santa Claus, and if we are taking a trip in the car, she will take it with her. We started telling her knock, knock jokes a couple years ago, and she told us that we made them all up ourselves. Now that she has this book, she can see that we didn’t, but we were clearly inventors in her eyes for a while.

My favorite one to tell her was the one with the banana, and when she got this book, she insisted I had made it up. Eventually, she found it in the book and was surprised that I hadn’t. I love those little moments.

This book has brought her hours of fun and enjoyment, and if you could hear her read from the book and her grampie tell her knock, knock jokes he remembers, you’d be laughing. They go back and forth for hours sometimes. The pure joy makes this book worth every penny Santa spent.

RATING: Cinquain

Mother Earth’s Lullaby by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is a delightful bedtime story read for younger kids. The rhymes make it easy for kids to be lulled into sleepiness. Each page has a cuddly illustration of an endangered animal nestling down with their family or in a cozy den. Each of the endangered animals featured in the book are described in the back pages, providing kids and parents information about where the animals live and how much they weigh, etc., as well as why they have become endangered.

My daughter read this one on her own, which was great to hear. She learned new words along the way, like slumber and wallaby, and she loves the words that mimic sounds, like flutter-flap. The book provides a gentle reminder to kids that they can feel safe falling asleep with their families and that the darkness will not harm them. It would be interesting to have a singer sing this lullaby on an accompanying CD to enrich the experience for kids.

Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is beautifully illustrated and the rhymes were spot on. I liked that it was easy for my daughter to read for the most part, though there are some unfamiliar words that she had to work at.

RATING: Cinquain

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, explores the various styles of painting from a number of masters, including Leonardo da Vinci. In the opening pages, young readers are treated to a step-by-step outline of how to draw a stegosaurus in crayon. Many kids begin drawing with crayons, and this opening page highlights how they can draw their own dinosaur before asking them what it would look like if a famous painter and/or artist used dinosaurs in their paintings.

Through imaginative renderings of famous paintings, the author and illustrator work in tandem to engage young readers in an exploration of artistic styles, famous works of art, and playful pretend games. In one instance, kids are asked to find how many dinosaurs are hidden in Diego Rivera’s painting. This was a great way to introduce my daughter to some famous works of art and she was stunned to learn that a can of soup became a famous piece of art. She asked if she could sell the soup from our pantry to make lots of money, and I told her that art is in the eye of the beholder. So we did have a good discussion about that.

One quibble I had as a parent with a young reader is that there are no pronunciation keys for some of the harder to pronounce names. These could help parents sound out the names with their children. I prefer these in books because it demonstrates that like my daughter, sometimes I need help pronouncing names. This helps her to feel less frustrated.

Not only is drawing explored, but also painting, stamping, and more. Art is what you make it. In If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, kids can see how art is transformed with dinosaurs and it will get them thinking about their own art work.

RATING: Quatrain

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, Illustrated by David Bucs

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, is a delightful read full of adventure and riddles for young readers to solve. A trio of friends, including the birthday boy Mason, are invited to have a sleepover at the museum. This is an adventure that they will never forget, as it tests their knowledge of history, evolution, and biology. These friends work well together solving the riddles and in the process Mason gets to imagine what it would be like to sleep in each of the rooms at the museum. Which one will he actually pick, is something readers will have to find out for themselves.

This was a book that my daughter and I read together over several days as she did her nightly reading. There were some large words like “biodiversity” and “behemoth” that were a challenge for an early reader, but sounding out smaller chunks helped her get through them. She loved reading the riddles with Mason and his friends and even figured some out on her own. She was very proud that she knew some of the answers. The images are detailed and colorful and will have kids looking at everything all at once.

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, will test kids’ imaginations and knowledge, as well as ensure they strengthen their vocabularies. My daughter was thrilled with this book, and enjoyed following Mason on his birthday trek through the various parts of the museum.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Karen LeFrak is a creative and philanthropic New Yorker. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Mt. Holyoke College. Karen continued her education earning an MA in Music History from Hunter College. Her thesis “In Search of the New Classics,” which surveyed the commissioning activity of the New York Philharmonic from 1842-1986, won the Dean’s Award in Arts and Humanities. Karen’s education also includes courses in archival management and historical editing at New York University. In 2010, in recognition of outstanding achievement, the Hunter College Alumni Association elected her to the Hunter College Hall of Fame.

About the Illustrator:

David Bucs studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. After working in the animation industry in Los Angeles as an art director and character designer, David moved to Beijing, where he was a designer in a 3D animation studio. He loves to create characters, bringing them to life through strong expression using digital media. David is the illustrator of Sleepover at the Museum by Karen Lefrak (forthcoming from Crown/Penguin Random House). He has also created artwork for Capstone, Highlights magazine, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leveled readers. David lives with his wife and young son in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where life is sweet. Find him online: @davidbucs / davidbucs.com.

The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell

Source: Purchased from school book fair
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell, teaches Alfie the elf and kids about teamwork. Alfie loves to be the best at everything and boasts about his accomplishments, but he also loves to win. When he learns that Santa is hosting a selfie contest with a special prize he wants to win very badly.  To that end, he ditches his toy making duties to find the best selfie to win the contest.

My daughter read this book on her own as well, with very little help from me. This makes reading all of these 400 minutes per month with her worthwhile. When she looks to me to correct her and say she got it right, she smiles right away. One thing that did trip her up a couple times was the name of the elf, Alfie, and the word “selfie.”

The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell, is a delightful read about teamwork and its importance, as well as a colorfully illustrated book. My daughter laughed at Alfie’s struggles, but she also felt bad for him when he gave up on winning and went back to work in the toy shop. But while she felt bad for him, she noted that his return to the workshop meant he learned something important.

RATING: Quatrain

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Source: Purchased school book fair
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a delightful book for kids this Christmas season. It’s easy enough for them to read on their own if they are early readers and offers a few more challenging words for older readers. The book offers tips to children on how to catch Santa and involve their entire family. It advises that children be clever but gentle in their efforts. Kids should even ask their parents for what tricks they used to try and catch Santa.

Be warned that your child may want to try some of these out and one of them includes an envelope full of glitter so you can track Santa’s movements throughout the house.

I was delighted to see my daughter read this one on her own and sound out the harder words on her own as well.  She loved the colorful pictures of Santa behind piles of letters and so much more. Even Rudolph makes an appearance. How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a warm story for kids who want to keep Christmas adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author and Illustrator:

Jean Reagan was born in Alabama but spent most of her childhood in Japan. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband. In the summers, they serve as backcountry volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. To learn more about Jean and her books, please visit JeanReagan.com.

Lee Wildish became interested in art at a very young age. He is the illustrator of many acclaimed children’s books, and he has also worked in advertising and greeting card design. Lee lives in Nottinghamshire, England. Visit him on the Web at WildishIllustration.com.

The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, Mike Lowery

Source: School library
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, is a book from the series The Gingerbread Man on the Loose, and it pairs the resourceful gingerbread man’s wits with those of a mischievous leprechaun. The leprechaun is on the loose in the school and making big messes. The gingerbread man wants to help his classmates, so he goes on a search for the leprechaun mischief maker with the help of some witty, rhyming notes with clues as to his whereabouts.

My daughter had some challenging words to read in this book like “leprechaun” but for the most part, it was a fun easy read for her. She loved how the gingerbread man trapped the mischief-maker and made him cleanup all those messes. She’s on track to read another 400 minutes this month, and I think she’s getting better the more she practices.

The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, is just one book in a series, and I think my daughter should find more of these to read as she had so much fun with them.

RATING: Cinquain

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 64 pgs.
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Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic is a cookbook for younger kids to start learning how to cook simple meals with the help of an adult. The recipes come with a little bit of story from Shimmer and Shine and their friends, as well as an ingredient list and step-by-step instructions. These recipes are easy enough to read that early readers can follow along themselves. Some elements will require help, including pre-heating the oven and taking the items in and out of the oven, etc. I will caution that there are some odd recipes in here for Pizza and ice pops, but they do make for healthy alternatives.

My daughter loves helping in the kitchen with recipes and the Blue Apron boxes (which I have 5 free boxes to give out so if you want one, let me know — you can’t have been a previous customer or previously received a box before).

For her first recipe, she selected Sparkle Cakes from the book, though we did not have the ingredients to make the frosting. We did have some other store-bought frosting, which we used on the cupcakes and improvised with the fruit topping since we also didn’t have raspberries. The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes was easy to follow, though when we added the hot water at the end after everything was mixed, it took a bit to get the right consistency for the mix before putting it into the cupcake pans. Since I’ve baked before, I knew the consistency wasn’t right when we poured it in, so I had to help her mix it more thoroughly. For this recipe, I would have added the water earlier in the recipe.  Otherwise, the cupcakes turned out nice and fluffy and moist.

 

Our second recipe, Cheesy Noodle Flowers, was messy and fun to make, though we had no-bake lasagna noodles, which made it a little harder to roll our flowers up. Eventually we got them rolled up and ready for the oven, even though some noodles cracked and broke.  Despite the messy look of this one, I can tell you it was a big hit in the house and was nearly eaten in one evening with very few leftovers. My daughter was extremely proud of how well it tasted and how much everyone ate.

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic would make a perfect gift for kids who want to cook with their parents. It makes cooking more of a family activity and helps kids see how things are measured, how long they take to cook, and how much prep time is needed for some recipes. In today’s instant gratification world, kids can learn that taking our time and putting in additional work can lead to some great results.

RATING: Quatrain

Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly Dean and James Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly and James Dean as you might have guessed is a reworked version of the “12 Days of Christmas” song. In Pete’s version, his groovy gift giving begins with the grand road trip to the sea. The text in this song is fun and easy to read for young readers, though I’m not sure what is supposed to be “groovy” about it, unless you find fuzzy gloves and cupcakes groovy.  For kids, this may be the case. Or perhaps it was the use of “far-out” to describe surfboards.

The pictures are what I come to expect from these books with basic designs and colors, animals and shapes to attract children to the page. Many of the animal characters from the previous book make an appearance in this one, and kids will like seeing them in action with their gifts. As the song is really about the extravagance of gift giving, it is kind of appropriate that some of the gifts Pete gives are a bit weird, like sloths. However, I’m not sure that kids will pick up on those nuances as much as adults will, and that should prompt a conversation about Christmas and what it means (i.e. not about getting gifts). The last page of the book should help with that since the friends are all at the beach enjoying their company. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for any preaching here in Pete the Cat.

Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly and James Dean is a fun rendition of a classic carol that will have younger readers singing along with different lyrics if they already know  the song. In our case, it was mom why are you saying the lines like that and I had to explain there was a song with different lyrics.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author and Illustrator:

James Dean’s art has sold in more than ninety galleries and shops across the United States. He has devoted his paintings to Pete the Cat for ten years and has turned his natural love for cats into his life’s work. James published his first adult book, The Misadventures of Pete the Cat, a history of his art work, in 2006. He illustrated his first self-published children’s book, Pete the Cat I Love my White Shoes, written by Eric Litwin, in 2008, and the follow-up book, Pete the Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes, in 2011. James lives in Savannah, Georgia with his wife, Kimberly.

In 2004, Kimberly & James Dean sat down at their kitchen table to work on a children’s book together. Their dream has finally become a reality with the release of this new Pete the Cat book, Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Both left corporate jobs in the late nineties (James was an electrical engineer, Kimberly worked in the press office of the governor of Georgia) to pursue their passion for art, and they have experienced a life made up of strange and wonderful coincidences ever since. Pete the Cat has brought magic into their lives. They work in side-by-side studios, sharing their home with five cats and Emma the pug.

The Sun Is Kind of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk imagines the sun as a rock star of sorts in the solar system where everyone knows his name and his importance. Even Pluto is in the background of this one. My daughter loves books where she’s learning without realizing it. Nonfiction told in a way that’s fun and engaging will always be a big hit with her. Seluk achieves that for the most part in this book.

The book includes a main dialogue about the sun as well as some sidebars about specific facts on the solar system and space terms like “asteroids.” The pictures are colorful and fun, especially since space can be very black and colorless.  My daughter loved how the planets introduced themselves, with Saturn being the “Hula-Hoop Champion.” And Seluk uses a racetrack to illustrate the rotation of the planets around the sun. Very helpful for younger readers just learning about space. The visuals explaining direct and indirect sunlight and its affect on Earth were helpful as well.

However, there are some larger words like Condensation, Evaporation, and Precipitation that make an appearance in the water cycle section, which younger readers may stumble over. Challenging words, however, should never be a discouraging thing. My daughter and I made a game out of mispronouncing the word and breaking each down into smaller, more pronounceable parts until she got them right.

One of our favorite parts of the book is the visual of the sun’s roll in the water cycle where the sun is putting raindrops down an enclosed slide for precipitation. It’s cute. At first my daughter thought the book was too challenging until she realized how fun the pictures were and the thought bubbles became amusing to her.

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk is chock full of facts about the solar system, nature’s cycles, and so much more. The pictures are bright and engaging, and the characterizations of the planets and other elements are amusing for young readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Nick Seluk worked as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time illustrator. He is the creator of the popular Awkward Yeti comic and author of the New York Times bestselling Heart and Brain, and its follow-ups Gut Instincts and Body Language. His work has appeared on CBSNews.com, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, reddit, and blogs across the internet. Nick lives in Michigan with his wife, three kids, and a very awkward dog.