In Like a Lion

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UnknownTrue to its reputation, March is coming in like a lion. But right around the corner, spring is ready to pounce. This weekend we will move forward one hour. Next week we are looking forward to warmer temperatures and melting snow. The following week we will look for four leaf clovers, leprechauns, and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. And before you know it, we’ll celebrate the official first day of spring with singing, dancing, and frolicking in the streets.

Let’s look back just a few short months. What good has come out of this past winter? Has being homebound brought you closer to loved ones? Helped you organize your closet or deep clean at least one room? Given you the time to focus on your craft? Forced you to eat home-cooked meals? Provided solitude for meaningful meditation? Inspired you to learn something new? Offered a creative outlet?

For myself, I’ve polished two manuscripts and sent them out to five industry professionals. I organized another critique group. I’ve started a number of new writing projects, one which is very promising. I’ve been invited to be one of the administrators on the Debut Picture Book Study group on Facebook. I completed last year’s picture book review challenge, Celebrate Every Day with a Picture Book.  And I embarked on this year’s challenge to keep up with new picture book publications, which includes reviewing picture books and offering some fun kid-friendly activities for each one on my new page, 2015 Books Alive!

 Check out some of these titles on my new page.

Book Love Blog Hop

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I’m participating in a blog hop to promote the books I love.

This isn’t a big stretch for me, is it? I’m always recommending great children’s literature on this site.

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Last year I challenged myself to find picture books to celebrate every day of the year. (Of course, I didn’t think of this until March so I’m still catching up a few last days of February to complete the year; but it’s almost done!) I’ll bet you knew that February 2nd is Groundhog’s Day, but did you know that May 13th is National Jumping Frog Day? Have you ever celebrated Rubber Duckie Day or World Smile Day or National Violin Day?  You can find my picture book recommendations for those and 360 other days under the heading CELEBRATE EVERY DAY WITH A PICTURE BOOK

So, to complete this blog hop challenge, I will/have:

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting. Here are pics of some of the 2015 books I have liked so far. You can find them on my page, at the BOOKS ALIVE! tab.

2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. I also post on goodreads. You can follow me there as well. I would love to connect with you and find out what you’re reading also. Take a peek at my 2014 Bookshelf on goodreads.

3. Post the reviews on your own blog.

unnamedThis year, I’m focused on reviewing newly published picture books for 2015. This endeavor includes a review of wonderful new picture books and links or ideas to help parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, caregivers etc. with simple and fun ideas to do with children to extend their enjoyment of the books. I call it BOOKS ALIVE! And I hope you will join me there to see the new and exciting publications.

4. Display the BOOK LOVE badge.

So you love the badge? Cute little bunny in heart-shaped glasses reading a book. Oh yeah! Grab it for yourself. And take a minute to visit the creator of the badge, Dana Carey Up in the Attic Lately and on the Sub It Club.

5. Tag some friends.

I’m tagging all the members of the new writing Facebook page, Mothers Writing Picture Books. Moms, Grandmoms, Mommies-to-be, and Favorite Aunties, heck pretty much anyone who loves a kid in their lives knows what it’s like to find just the right picture book for their little ones. So if you know of an uncelebrated picture book all you MWPBs, jump right in and share the love.  Even if you’re not a member of Mothers Writing Picture Books, you can hop right in and join the fun. Just follow the five easy rules and VOILA! you’re it!

Thanks to Carrie for her brainchild blog hop. If you would like to learn more about it and possible join in, visit Carrie Finison at her Story Patch site at BOOK LOVE – A BLOG HOP

One Lovely Blog Award

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10898140_10204445602193978_626633667977284180_nLooks like I’ve been awarded the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD by my friend, critique partner, and fellow blogger Keila Dawson.

KCB-cov-front-ORIG-700Keila is a debut picture book author who’s first book THE KING CAKE BABY comes out this month.

This is a spin on the traditional gingerbread man, the King Cake Baby runs away in New Orleans during Mardi Gras to avoid being baked in the yummy confection.

Keila even gives the reader a copy of her own recipe for King Cake at the end of the book.

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The first part to accepting this award is that I must reveal

Seven Things You May Not Know About Me

1. All of my opera knowledge comes from Warner Brothers cartoons.

2. I grew up wanting to be Bewitched, not Elizabeth Montogmery but Samantha Stevens herself.

3. I randomly quote  The Princess BrideMonty Python and the Holy Grail, and Back to the Future (the complete franchise).

4. My first crush was Donny Osmond, no wait Davy Jones, no wait David Cassidy… hey they all have names that start with D.

5. Then I grew up and Rod Stewart stole my heart.

6. My husband and I have an agreement, if I ever meet Rod Stewart… well, you know.

7. I fib a little. At least one of these thing may not be completely true. :)

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The second part of accepting this award is to nominate up to seven other

Worthy Blogs

1. My first nomination goes to my friend and fellow writer Kathy Cannon Wiechman. Kathy’s first book, LIKE A RIVER: A CIVIL WAR NOVEL comes out in April, 2015 and has already recieved a Kirkus star. You can find Kathy’s blog at her website Swagger Writers.

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2. My second nomination goes to the following picture book bloggers.

Danielle at This Picture Book Life.

Tiffa at The Picture Book Review.

Eric at This Kid Reviews Books.

Goodnight Already!

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Goodnight Already! written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies (2014)

Bear is ready for bed. Duck is not. Just as Bear closes his eyes, his neighbor, Duck knocks on the door. Duck has all kinds of ideas… play cards, watch a movie, make smoothies. No. No. No. Bear shows him to the door and goes back to bed.  Through the bedroom window, Duck shows up wanting to borrow ingredients to make cookies… sugar, butter, eggs. No. No. No. Finally, Bear gets to sleep when who should show up, right on top of his chest? Duck! He used his emergency spare key. A stubbed beak is not an emergency! Duck goes home complaining about Bear’s grouchy attitude. He picks up a book and… zzzzz. Duck falls asleep in his reading chair while Bear is wide awake making cookies!

Jory John tells a familiar tale in just about any toddler household, with outrageous requests and outcomes. The humorous plot and twist will have little ones roaring with laughter.

Benji Davies accentuates the differences of these two personalities expertly. Poor bear looks like he desperately needs to sleep (i.e. hibernate) for a good long time, while the lively Duck badgers him mercilessly to stay awake. The facial expressions, body language, and attention to detail are masterfully illustrated in bold shapes and bright colors.

Love this book! I believe it will become a bedtime classic. See for yourself.

Tying Up Loose Ends

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Tick-Tock 2014

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I’m down to the last two hours of 2014 and I need to extend the year by at least two months. I started a new feature on my blog in late March. And I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with it. But I need to more time to fill in the blanks. If you’ve been following Celebrate Every Day with a Picture Book (and I hope you have), you’ll know what I mean. I found a niche in this crazy blogsphere that I thought I could fill. I found some reason, whether big or small, to celebrate every single day of the year. And I paired the celebration with one or more picture books. I hoped that this would inspire teachers, parents, and caregivers to read to their charges every day. I did my best to have the daily pages posted at least a few days in advance so people would have time to pick up some of the books I was recommending for each day. Well, I did fairly well with that, but it took so much time that I didn’t have time to go back and fill in all the days prior to when I first undertook this endeavor. I got all of March filled in and have just started ordering books for days in January. I hope you’ll stick with me for a few more weeks while I find appropriate picture books for January and February.

Looking Forward

imagesAnd now, with 2015 upon us, I have another idea for this blog. It’s something I used to do with children to extend the life of a picture book beyond the published pages. Teachers used to have more time and freedom to foster creativity in children through literature. That time is seriously dwindling to a few precious minutes per year. Ironically, sites like Pinterest are exploding with creative ideas. So I’m going back to something I always enjoyed doing for my children and students, and hopefully give parents, grandparents, and others some simple and fun ideas to do with their little ones to make a favorite picture book come to life.

Beginning this month, I will be reading newly published picture books. I will choose a few each month to pair with a fun craft, game, or activity associated with one or more of the themes of the book to increase a child’s love of books and reading. Join me, won’t you?

Best of 2014

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This has been an awesome year for picture books!

I have been having a blast reading and writing about picture books this year. I’ve been blown away by the talented authors and illustrators published in the last twelve months. Like so many other sites, I wanted to create my own Top 10 list, but honestly there are so many superb picture books, I can’t limit my 2014 favorites to only 10 so I’ve chosen 25 instead. And even that was difficult!

Let me say right up front that there are many books on other ‘best books’ lists that I have not read, but these are my picks based on the ones I have read and featured on my blog this year. You can go back and look at what I thought about each one individually by following the title link back to my recommendations.

I seriously couldn’t put these in a hierarchy of ‘bestedness’, so I put them in alphabetical order by author’s last name like you would find on the shelves of your favorite bookstore or library.

So, without further ado…

Drumroll, please!

My Top 25 Best Picture Books of 2014

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Best Clumsy Moose Book

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DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE! by Sudipta Bardham-Quallen and Noah Z. Jones

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Best Treasure Hunting Adventure

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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 Best Naked Toddler Adventure18352657NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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Best Light in the Dark Picture Book

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FLASHLIGHT by Lizi Boyd

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Best Misunderstood Teacher/Monster Book

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MY TEACHER IS A MONSTER, NO I AM NOT by Peter Brown

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Best Believe-in-Yourself and Touch the Moon Story

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IMANI’S MOON by JaNay Brown-Wood and Hazel Mitchell

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Best Elephant Friendship Story

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LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG CITY by Mike Curato

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Best Cave Boy Book

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THIS ORQ HE CAVE BOY by David Elliott and Lori Nichols

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Best Wordless Friendship Picture Book

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THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN by Marlee Frazee

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 Best Sharing Underwear Counting Book

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ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld

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Best Interactive Color Concept Toddler Book

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IT’S AN ORANGE AARDVARK by Michael Hall

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Best Polar Bear Miracle Story

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SIMON AND THE BEAR by Eric A. Kimmel and Matthew Trueman

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Best Friendship Despite Size Difference Story

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PIG AND SMALL by Alex Latimer

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Best Sibling Relationship Book

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LOUISE LOVES ART by Kelly Light

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Best Bedtime Bear Book

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BEAR HUG by Katharine McEwen

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Best New Baby Storybook

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MAPLE by Lori Nichols

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Best Pictureless Picture Book

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THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak

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Best Competition for Number One Friend

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NUMBER ONE SAM by Gred Pizzoli

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Best Imaginary Friend

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THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND by Dan Santat

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Best Penguin Farting and Forgiving Book

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NOT SO PERFECT PENGUIN by Steve Smallman

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Best Chicken with Arms Character

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HENNY by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

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Best Cat Disguised as Santa Story

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HERE COMES SANTA CAT by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueba

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Best Hat Parade

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HOORAY FOR HAT by Brian Won

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Best Lost and Found and Loved Book

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FOUND by Salina Yoon

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Best PreSchool Sharing Book

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EARLY BIRD by Toni Yuly

Little Elliot, Big City

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Little Elliot, Big City written and illustrated by Mike Curato (2014)

Little Elliot was an elephant who was different from everybody else. He lived in a big city, where he had to be careful because he was so little. The one thing Elliot wanted more than anything, was a cupcake. But he was too small to reach over the top of the counter and so he was never even noticed. Then one day, Elliot found someone who was even smaller than he was, a mouse. And the mouse had even bigger problems than Elliot because of his size. Elliot was able to help the mouse by lifting him up. And the mouse was able to help Elliot when he was lifted up over the top of the counter at the bakery. Now Elliot finally got a cupcake… and something even better, a friend.

Mike Curato first picture book is treat for the eye and ear. His artwork has the perfect balance between vintage and modern. And his story has mass appeal for children and adults alike.

Little Elliot’s sweet innocence and sweet tooth will capture your heart. It has mine!

Pig and Small

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Pig and Small written and illustrated by Alex Latimer (2014)

Pig and Bug want to be friends but they don’t seem to hit if off. When they rode a bike, Pig did all the work. When Bug made a cake for Pig, he ate it in one bite without even noticing all the beautiful decorations. When they played chess, But couldn’t move the pieces. When Bug knit a sweater for Pig, he couldn’t get it over his head. It just wasn’t working, so they decided to part ways. Just then, Pig noticed an ad for an upcoming movie he thought Bug would enjoy. They bought one ticket, shared one box of popcorn, and talked about the great movie all the way home. As they were talking they thought of a few other things they could do together. So Pig and Bug went to an art gallery, aquarium, theater, restaurant, zoo, and beach. As a matter of fact they forgot that one of them was big and the other was small.

Alex Latimer wrote a great little story about friendship despite differences. The art work is friendly and engaging. And the story is universal.

I love that just as the characters are learning to appreciate each other for who they are and find common ground, a third character enters the scene… Elephant. Yes, size is relevant.

The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend

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The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend written and illustrated by Dan Santat (2014)

Beekle waited and waited for his friend to imagine him. One day he takes it upon himself to journey into the real world far away. It was a strange place, but he finally found his way to a familiar place. Just as he was about to give up, he heard a voice calling him. Her name was Alice, his was Beekle, and they were perfect for each other. ‘Together they did the unimaginable.’

Dan Santat has created the most lovable imaginary friend ever! Beekle tugs at your heartstrings as he does the unimaginable… he goes out in search of his real friend. In a world that can be scary at times, Beekle finds the one friend who is perfect. She is the one who was waiting for him all along, the one who needs him as much as he needs her.

I love this concept. It’s a boy meets girl set-up on the imaginary friend level.

Check out the trailer for the book here.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer written by Robert L. May and illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo (2014)

Take another look at Rudolph. His story remains the same, written in 1939 by Robert L. May. Each generation has its own favorite edition. This is the newest, and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo, this book immediately draws in the reader with its paintings. The richness of the scenery and the child-like qualities of the characters play opposite each other to create a beautiful and yet whimsical place in time.

As the story goes, Rudolph is excluded from the rest of the herd because of his shiny red nose. But he was always good and kind, and went to bed on Christmas Eve hopeful that Santa would visit and leave him candy and toys.

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While up at the North Pole, Santa is worried about the foggy night ahead. 81GNNuz3-7L

The illustration of Santa leaving the North Pole, flying over the polar bears, seals, and norwhal, is gorgeous.

81h4PSs5i0LThe fog is so bad, Santa barely missed a speeding plane. And when he lands, he can hardly see the street signs and house numbers. Santa finally makes his way to Rudolph’s house and climbs down his chimney.

santa-2And, as they say the rest is history! Santa sees the glow from Rudolph’s red nose and asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh. All the presents got delivered in time and the next morning, Rudolph returns home, the envy of all the other reindeer. He proudly lands Santa sleigh in the field and everyone watches on as Santa appoints Rudolph Commander-in-chief. From that year on, whenever the weather is bad, it’s Rudolph Santa calls to guide his sleigh.

A Cookie for Santa

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A Cookie for Santa written by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Bruno Robert (2014)

A gingerbread cookie worried all evening about his fate as Santa’s midnight snack. While he worried about whether or not he would be brave when the time came, two puppies entered the room romping and destroying the decorations. The Gingerbread cookie knew he had to do something, so he made himself a puppy distraction. The puppies stopped what they were doing to watch the gingerbread cookie. Just then, they heard the sound of jingle bells and the puppies hid under the table. Santa saw the huge mess and asked the gingerbread cookie for help cleaning it up. When they were finished, the gingerbread cookie made one last wish. Santa looked down at him and instead of eating him, Santa asked him to be a special helper at the North Pole. For the puppies, Santa left a gift certificate for obedience school.

Stephanie Shaw’s story is written in rhyme. Little ones will enjoy the rhythm and the  story of the brave gingerbread cookie who helped Santa on Christmas Eve.

Bruno Robert’s illustrations are clean and fresh. The faces of the puppies are adorable, and the gingerbread cookie is so childlike I’m sure kids will identify with him right away.

I like this new twist to the ordinary gingerbread cookie. And I like that the gingerbread cookie earns a reward from Santa for his help. It makes a good read aloud and easy reader for young children.

Simon and the Bear

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Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Matthew Trueman (2014)

Simon set off on to America leaving his family behind. His mother packed a knapsack with food and something a little extra, because Hanukkah was coming. Simon left promising to work hard and send tickets for all of them to join him in America as soon as he could. On his journey, the ship Simon was on, hit a giant iceberg and began to sink. Simon helped the sailors load the lifeboats and jumped into the last boat himself. Suddenly another man appears crying for help, but there wasn’t any more room on the lifeboat, so the man threw Simon a heavy pocket watch to give to his son in New York when he lands. Simon knew what it’s like to grow up without a father, so he traded places with the man and the last lifeboat rowed away. Just before the ship sank, Simon jumped onto the iceberg thinking only a miracle could save him. Remembering what his mother told him, Simon opened his knapsack and lit the first candle on the menorah, said the blessing, and played with his dreidel until he spun ‘Nun’ which stands for the word ‘Nes – Miracle’. Then Simon heard a splash in the water and was face to face with a polar bear. Simon fed the bear the latkes, black bread, and herring that his mother had packed for him. Simon ate the hard boiled eggs and soon the bear fell asleep with Simon snuggled up next to her. The next morning the bear was gone and Simon wondered if he would ever see her again. Soon, the bear returned with a fish in her mouth. She skinned it with her teeth and bit it in half. Simon cut his piece with a pocketknife and ate it. That night when he lit the second Hanukkah candle, Simon’s belly was full and he slept with the polar bear again. This continued until the last night of Hanukkah. Simon counted his miracles, but he was out of food and out of candles, he needed one more miracle or he would die of cold and hunger. Just then the polar bear jumped back into the water leaving Simon alone and cold on the iceberg. Immediately, he heard voices. Another ship had seen the lights of his menorah and had sent a boat to pick him up. Simon had his eighth miracle, he was rescued and taken to New York. His story was in all the papers. And, the mayor of the city was none other than the man Simon had traded places with on the lifeboat. The mayor was so thankful, he sent tickets to Simon’s family so they could all be together again and he gave Simon the perfect job, Polar Bear Keeper at the Central Park Zoo!

Eric Kimmel, author of my favorite Hanukkah story, The Chanukkah Guest later published as Hanukkah Bear, and many other books gives the old-world flavor to his modern picture books. This is an example of his unique and authentic storytelling which will delight readers everywhere.

Matthew Trueman lit the pages of this book with the warmth and peace of the menorah and the beautiful details of the story.

I am in awe of another masterpiece. The text and the art blend superbly together to create this story of hope, prayer, and miracles, in a fun and fanciful way.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears

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Santa Claus and the Three Bears written by Maria Modugno and illustrated by Jane and Brooke Dyer (2013)

The three Polar Bears were getting their home ready for Christmas. They decorated the tree, hung the stockings, and cooked a huge Christmas pudding. But when they sat down to eat, they found the pudding was too hot, so the three bears decided to go for a walk while it cooled down. While they were gone, Santa had just landed on the roof the the three bears’ house. Santa saw the beautiful decorations and smelled the wonderful pudding on the table. Thinking the pudding had been left for him, he began to eat… Papa Bear’s pudding was too hot, Mama Bear’s pudding was too cold, but Baby Bear’s pudding was just right, so he ate it all up. Then Santa proceeded to sit in the bears’ chairs… one too hard, one too soft, one just right. But like the story goes, Santa bounced a little too much in Baby Bear’s chair and it broke, landing Santa on the floor. So of course, Santa moves into the Bears’ bedroom and tries out all the beds… too high, too low, just right. And Santa falls asleep in Baby Bear’s bed. When the bears returned home, they grumbled and growled, ‘Somebody has been eating my pudding!’ ‘Somebody has been sitting in my chair!’ and finally ‘Somebody has been sleeping in my bed!’.  All the commotion woke Santa up. He made the bears promise that they wouldn’t tell anyone they had seen him and gave them each a bright red present to open in the morning, and he jumped in his sleigh and took off.

Maria Modugno did a nice job of retelling a favorite fairy tale with a little Christmas twist. And the illustrations are splendid. Jane and Brooke Dyer gave just enough detail in their artwork to resemble the traditional three bears story with a fun little twist at the end, when Papa Bear gets the little wee present, Mama Bear gets the medium sized present, and Baby Bear gets the great big present.

This was a fun story to read. And, whether or not children are familiar with the traditional tale, this is one I’m sure they will enjoy reading and hearing over and over.

Papa Jethro

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1160924Papa Jethro written by Deborah Bodin Cohen and illustrated by Jane Dippold (2007)

Rachel is always so happy to see her Grandpa Nick when he comes to visit. Grandpa Nick keeps candy in his pockets for Rachel, they play games together, and Grandpa Nick tells her bedtime stories. One day Rachel asks Grandpa Nick why he goes to church and she goes to synagogue. Grandpa Nick tells Rachel the story of Moses’ father-in-law, Papa Jethro. Papa Jethro was a leader of a people called the Midianites, but Moses and his son, Gershom, were Jewish. Grandpa Nick explains that Gershom’s father and mother (Moses and Zipporah) fell in love and started a family even though they came from different backgrounds. And when Moses was called to return to Egypt and lead his people to freedom, Gershom and his mother and baby brother stayed behind in Midian with Papa Jethro until he returned. Gershom played games with Papa Jethro and Papa Jethro told him stories too. But when Moses crossed the Red Sea with the Israelites, Papa Jethro took Gershom, his mother, and baby brother back to the desert to be with Moses and returned to Midian alone. Sometimes Papa Jethro would travel back to the desert to visit his grandsons. He would give them delicious Midianite candies, play games, and tell stories. Papa Jethro taught Gershom a few Midianite words, they called it their secret code. And Gershom told Papa Jethro all about being Jewish. Even though they came from different backgrounds they still loved each other. Papa Jethro didn’t want to change something that was very important to him, and he didn’t want Gershom to change something that was very important to him either. Just as Rachel is about to fall asleep she asks Grandpa Nick if it matters to him that she is Jewish and he is Christian. Grandpa Nick replies, “You are my granddaughter. Nothing else matters. I love you just like Papa Jethro loved Gershom.”

Deborah Bodin Cohen writes a beautiful story within a story about interfaith families. She treats both stories and all the differences between the families with dignity and respect. Her words help children understand that it is love that holds families together, not their differences.

Jane Dippold’s illustrations have an ‘ancient feel’ about them. The reader is transported from a modern day bedroom with a Grandpa in a shirt and tie to biblical period in history with a Papa in robes and sandals. And in both settings, she depicts love and happiness.

I really love this story. It’s not the traditional quirky picture book. It takes a serious look at family differences and helps the reader understand that interfaith relationships have been around for thousands of years, and that the love that keeps a family together that is more important than what differences they may have.

Flashlight

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Flashlight written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd (2014)

One night, a boy takes his flashlight camping with him. After reading a book in his tent, the boy goes outside in the dark. As he walks, he shines the light on the many things hiding in the darkness all around him. He sees a boot lying in the grass, bats flying in the air, mice in the grass, an owl in the tree, skunks behind a tree, sticks in the pond, and a beaver in the dam. The farther he goes into the woods, the more his flashlight reveals to him. At one point, the boy stumbles on a rock and his flashlight is picked up by a raccoon. As all the other animals look on, the raccoon shines the light on the boy. The other animals each take a turn shining the light on the boy. Bit by bit, the boy is revealed to the animals. Eventually the light is shone on the boy’s tent. He returns to the tent and his book, and a family of mice hold the flashlight for him so he can read.

Lizi Boyd tells this story without words and with loads of imaginative, fun, light/dark artwork. In addition to the flashlight illuminating the story as it unfolds, there are tiny peepholes on each page foreshadowing the next page.

I can’t wait to share this picture book with a very inquisitive and not-sleepy granddaughter at bedtime. I know she’ll love exploring this little boy’s environment from the darkness of her own bedroom.

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