We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  “Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude.  It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles–daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.”  With each season, the Cherokee people in this book are grateful, whether it is for food or community or festivals or family.  People are shown creating traditional crafts, celebrating life and death, eating, playing, and remembering their people’s history and how it is woven into the history of the United States.  Cherokee words and their pronunciations are scattered throughout the text. End matter includes a glossary, an author’s note, and a Cherokee syllabary with some lessons about the Cherokee language.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful book that would make an interesting harvest time supplement to Thanksgiving reading.  I loved the bright folk art style illustrations.

Cons:  After studying the Cherokee syllabary, I think I can safely cross learning that language off my bucket list.

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A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

Published by Little, Brown and Company

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Summary:  When Little Star’s mama hangs the big mooncake in the sky to cool, she reminds her daughter how long it took to make, and that she shouldn’t touch it.  Little Star agrees, but when she wakes up in the middle of the night, the mooncake is all she can think about. She nibbles just a tiny bit, then hurries back to bed.  Night after night, she eats a little until gradually the shape changes from perfect circle to half a circle to a crescent. And then one night, when Mama comes looking for the mooncake, all she finds is a pile of crumbs.  Is she mad? Of course not…she and Little Star head off to make a new cake. An author’s note on the back flap of the cover explains how she was inspired by the Asian Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (which is September 24 this year, in case you were wondering), as well as a loving parent-child portrayal, and a nice bedtime story.  Although it’s an original story, it has the feel of a folktale.

Cons:  The author’s note gives important information about the story; placing it on the book cover makes it easy to miss.

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Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  As pumpkins are chosen one by one to become jack-o-lanterns, Stumpkin realizes he’s not getting picked because he doesn’t have a stem.  With Halloween approaching, there are fewer pumpkins in the shop and more jack-o-lanterns in the windows of the apartment building across the street.  Finally, it’s Halloween evening, and even the gourd has found a home. Only Stumpkin is left. But wait! There are two black pages. Then a white triangle appears on one, and two white triangles on the next page.  The shopkeeper has transformed Stumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. With a black cat on one side and a bowl of candy on the other, he is ready for trick-or-treaters. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Preschoolers and early elementary kids will enjoy this Halloween tale.  The illustrations showing Stumpkin’s change from pumpkin to jack-o-lantern are ingenious.

Cons:  It felt a little bit like no one wanted Stumpkin because of a physical difference, maybe not the best message for young kids.

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Every Month Is a New Year by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Published by Lee & Low Books

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Summary:  Designed like a calendar, opening at the bottom instead of the right side, this book explores how a new year is celebrated in cultures around the world.  Eighteen poems celebrate the new year, beginning with “Midnight Ball Drop” on December 31 in New York City, and wrapping up with “Las Doce Uvas de la Suerte” in Spain the following December 31.  In between, there are visits to Scotland, Russia, China, Iran, Thailand, Jordan, Chile, New Zealand, India, and Ecuador, and celebrations that take place in every month of the year. Includes several pages with additional information about each holiday; a glossary and pronunciation guide; and author’s sources.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A wealth of information about a wide variety of cultures, all in a clever package–a book designed like a calendar.  The collage illustrations add texture and plenty of color to the poems.

Cons:  I would have preferred the information about each holiday to be on the page with the poem rather than all in the back.  The poems made me curious to learn more, and it was a little unwieldy to have to keep flipping back and forth.

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Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrations by Jason Chin

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  A family of four sets off for a picnic in the park one summer day.  The red, white, and blue napkins and paper plates, as well as the fireworks at the end indicate it may be the Fourth of July.  The story is mostly told in the illustrations, while the text is a meditation on sharing: “A book is for sharing/A ball is nice for sharing, too/And a tree? A tree is always shared…even when you think you’re alone.”  What can be shared can be as abstract as time or as concrete as a towel, warmed by the sun.  The book comes full circle with the final lines: “Many can share one light./And a blanket? A breeze? The sky? These are for sharing./Just like pie.”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  This book really grew on me; both the text and the illustrations are deceptively simple.  My favorite page shows eight smiling kids (and their dog) of different races, genders, and sizes standing around a sparkler that says, “Many can share one light.”  A perfect book for sharing on the Fourth of July or any summer day.

Cons:  The sad picture of the littlest girl looking for a piece of pie and finding only an empty tin.

Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by Christopher Denise

Published by Disney-Hyperion

Summary:  Moose is throwing a Valentine’s party; all his friends are excited, except Groundhog, who is still hibernating.  While the others get into a heated discussion about how  to make Groundhog stay above ground after February 2, they don’t notice their friend emerge, take one long around, and dive back into his burrow.  When they plead with him to come back, he tells them he’s afraid of shadows.  His friends convince him to come out so they can show them there’s nothing to be scared of, then show him how to make silhouettes and shadow puppets.  In the end, though, it’s too cold for Groundhog to stick around for the party, and he goes back to sleep until St. Patrick’s Day.  By then, he’s ready to party, but now Bunny is holed up, preparing for the next spring holiday.  48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  You can kill two birds with one stone with this book that celebrates Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day (with nods to St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, as well).  The digital illustrations are cute and colorful, and the shadows are well portrayed.

Cons:  Whoops, just noticed this book was released in December 2017.  Back to 2018 tomorrow.

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Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! By Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Kathryn Durst

Published by Carolrhoda Books

Summary:  The Christmas family–Ma, Pa, Chris, Holly, Mary, and dog Rudy–love everything about Christmas, and do it in a big way.  All of them, that is, except Mary, who thinks their tree is too big (it pokes through the roof), their lights are too bright (they cause the lights on the rest of the street to go out), and their presents are too plentiful.  She consults with Santa, who tells her plenty of people would love her Christmas and that he’s sure she can find a way to appreciate it as well.  On Christmas Eve, Mary comes up with her plan, and on Christmas morning, she convinces her family to pack up the tree, lights, and gifts, and throw a huge party for the rest of the town.  Everyone in her family and the town is delighted, and when Mary settles down that night, she finally feels like she has had a merry Christmas.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Cheerful cartoon-style illustrations of garish Christmas excesses complement the story about learning to share holiday abundance with others.

Cons:  What, is my name Ebeneezer Scrooge?  Merry Christmas to all!

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