This Is Christmas by Tom Booth

Published by Jeter Publishing

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Image result for this is christmas book tom booth

Summary: A young chipmunk asks his mother, “What is Christmas?” Together, they see badgers decorating with holly, beetles carrying wrapped presents, and geese singing carols. His mother tells him all of those things are part of Christmas, but when he goes to bed on Christmas Eve, the little chipmunk still doesn’t feel like he understands what Christmas is. A snowstorm arrives in the night, and the chipmunks awaken to a beautiful snowy world. They gather with the other animals to sing and play, and the young chipmunk realizes that this is Christmas. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros: The beautiful illustrations have a somewhat retro look, and the simple story is just right for sharing by the Christmas tree with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

Cons: I didn’t really understand how playing in the snow constituted Christmas more than presents, carols, and decorations.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

Published by Tiger Tales

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Image result for christmas extravaganza hotel amazon

Summary:  Bear’s simple Christmas Eve is interrupted by a frog bearing a brochure for the Christmas Extravaganza Hotel.  He’s sure he’s at the right place, but Bear informs him that his map’s upside down, and the hotel is on the other side of the world.  Bear takes pity on Frog, and tries to create a Christmas like the one pictured in the brochure. They bake cookies, visit a tree decorated with snow and birds, and have a snowball fight and picnic in the woods.  When it starts to get dark, Frog is ready for some flashing lights, but all Bear has is some candles. Frog is disappointed, but then Bear gets an idea. He leads Frog outside for the most spectacular light show imaginable: the aurora borealis.  Heading back inside, they hear jingle bells heading for the rooftop, and dive into bed. The next morning there’s a new sled under the tree, and the two friends head outside for more adventures. 24 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute and cozy Christmas story that emphasizes the joys of simplicity for the holidays.

Cons:  Frog seems scantily clad for an amphibian traveling in the far

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

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Summary:  At the end of a busy day driving his taxi, Edgar finds a hamster in the back seat.  One of his customers must have lost it, and Edgar reports it to the cab company’s lost and found.  In the meantime, he takes the hamster home and feeds him. They share some supper, and Edgar decides to name his new friend Chickpea after one of the salad ingredients.  Together they light two Hanukkah candles. By the time Edgar is lighting four candles, he’s making toys for Chickpea and sending photos of him back to his family in Israel.  When a woman and her son show up outside his apartment building after work one evening, Edgar’s heart sinks. Sure enough, it turns out the boy had gotten a new hamster for his classroom, and it escaped when they were all riding in Edgar’s cab.  Edgar shows them his pictures, and they can see how happy Chickpea is. “I think this hamster belongs with you,” says the woman.  “He looks right at home.”  The final page shows the two friends sharing jelly doughnuts, with all the candles lit on the menorah behind them.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I know Hanukkah is over for this year, but I just saw this book this week.  It’s a charming story, and the illustrations of Chickpea are adorable. Edgar’s story is compelling, and he seems to have a positive, can-do spirit.  Put this on your holiday list for next year.

Cons:  I was hoping for a little romance for Edgar when the woman and her son showed up.

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You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  Jillian is excited to be getting a new baby sister, and when Emma is born, the family is thrilled.  But tests reveal that she has hearing loss, and Jillian’s parents have some difficult decisions to make about their new daughter.  Jillian turns to a friend from a tween fantasy online forum, a boy named Derek who is Deaf. He introduces her to the Deaf community, answers her questions, and straightens out some of her misconceptions.  He is also Black, as is Jillian’s aunt, and Jillian finds she has a lot to learn from both of them about racism. When one of Derek’s friends, a Deaf Black girl is shot and killed by police for not stopping when she is out for a run (she couldn’t  hear their shouts), Jillian realizes she still has a lot to learn about how the world around her works. The story concludes with three chapters: nine months later, three months after that, and three years after that, to show the reader how Jillian’s family has changed and grown as Emma has grown up.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This book fills a need for stories of Deaf kids and their families; I learned quite a lot about cochlear implants, American Sign Language and the Deaf community (including the capitalization of the word Deaf, a convention from the book I am continuing in this review, as well as capitalizing Black).  There were also a lot of thought-provoking conversations and situations about race, both with Derek and members of Jillian’s family.

Cons:  The story got bogged down with so many issues.  Derek and Aunt Alicia seemed to exist mainly to educate Jillian about race and the Deaf community; they needed a few more dimensions to make them seem more like ordinary mortals.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Published by Knopf

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Image result for through the window grandpre

Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that brought you The Noisy Paint Box and Vincent Can’t Sleep comes this introduction to the life of artist Marc Chagall.  Born Moishe Shagal in Vitebsk, Russia, he changed his name as a young man living and working in Paris.  Many of his paintings showed what he saw through various windows, which is referenced in the title.  Due to the two world wars, Chagall was forced to return to Russia for awhile before getting back to Paris and eventually moving to the United States. He continued to explore new art forms as he grew older, including sculpture, set design, and stained glass.  Includes an author’s note, which includes photos of some of Chagall’s work, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to Marc Chagall’s life, both visually and through the text, which the author’s note explains is written the style of Chagall’s poetic autobiography, My Life.

Cons:  The story might be a little confusing without some guidance from a knowledgeable adult.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

A Day with Judy Freeman

I spent today in Bristol, Connecticut at Judy Freeman’s What’s New in Children’s Literature workshop.  Judy was kind enough to invite me as her guest, and I enjoyed hearing what books she recommended and getting some programming ideas to promote them.  Sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Research (BER), it’s always a worthwhile workshop if you get the opportunity to go.

Judy and I have read a lot of the same books this year, but I did hear of a few that I missed and wished I had included on this blog.  Here’s a quick run-down if you want to try to get your hands on them.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Jackie Robinson’s baseball career is a familiar story, but this looks at his early life, growing up with a mother who refused to back down when their white neighbors tried to force the family to move.  The story also covers Jackie’s college and military career, showing how his early years shaped his later life playing baseball and working for civil rights.  32 pages; grades 3-6.

 

Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Published by Abrams

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Mae would rather sit up in a tree all day than face the uncertainties of the first day of school.  Soon she’s joined by another girl named Rosie, who shares Mae’s concerns about the unknown.  Finally, a third person joins them: Ms. Pearl, the new teacher who has her own insecurities.  The three finally decide to face their fears, climb down from the tree, and walk into school together.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

 

Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T. L. McBeth

Published by Henry Holt

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Two of the brothers are stegosauruses, but the third is a stegothesaurus.  Stegosauruses say hi; but it’s “Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” from the stegothesaurus.  A big mountain is “gargantuan, gigantic, Goliath”, and a hot day is “blazing, blistering, broiling”.  When the stegothesaurus meets an allothesaurus, the words really start to fly.  A fun introduction to word choice and thesauruses.  32 pages; grades K-3.

 

Worlds Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Abrams

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Seventeen children’s poets, plus Hopkins, created works inspired by paintings at The Metropolitan Museum in New York City.  A beautiful and accessible introduction to poetry and art.  48 pages; grades 3-7.

 

Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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A girl is surprised to find a substitute in her class, and writes disgruntled letters about the changes in the routine.  As the day goes on, though, she begins to appreciate the fun-loving sub, and by dismissal time, she realizes the day has turned out just fine.  32 pages; grades K-3.

 

 

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  When a group of boastful knights regale each other with slightly exaggerated tales at the Round Table, Merlin sends them off on a mission to slay the Terrible Lizard.  Knights Bors, Hector, Erec, and the mysterious Black Knight are joined by squire Mel on a quest that unexpectedly takes them back in time to the days of the dinosaurs. There they have one adventure after another with spinosauruses, triceratops, and more, all the while seeking the tyrant king, Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Along the way, some surprises are revealed about the knights and their squire, and they slowly learn to stop competing and start working as a team. After they finally meet and defeat their enemy, they learn that Merlin has been up to his old tricks, but they can’t help being pleased with the results. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  With lots of illustrations and a few comic-style pages, this would be a good choice for those still getting their feet wet in the chapter book realm.  There’s plenty of humor and a couple of unexpected strong female characters.

Cons:  I probably didn’t appreciate the humor as much as, say, a nine-year-old might.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.