Dasher by Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Long ago, before there were eight flying reindeer, Santa’s sled was pulled by a single horse named Silverbell.  Meanwhile, Dasher is living a miserable existence in  a traveling circus with the rest of her reindeer family.  She loves the children, but hates the crowds and heat, dreaming of the snowy landscape of her mother’s stories. An open gate one night provides her a chance for escape.  Guided by the North Star, she eventually meets up with Santa and the aging Silverbell, and helps him with his deliveries. (She can fly! Who knew?) They wind up at the North Pole, where Dasher makes a wish for her family to be together again.  Who better to grant a wish than Santa, and before long Dasher is joined by Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Vixen. And the rest is Christmas history. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s not too early to start thinking about those holiday storytimes, and this will make an excellent addition to the lineup.  Matt Tavares’s illustrations are magical and kids will be captivated by Dasher and the story of how the reindeer got to the North Pole.  Pair this with Red and Lulu, also by Matt Tavares.

Cons:  The story is a little long for the youngest listeners.

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Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Rachel is excited about Rosh Hashanah, but not as thrilled to be wearing last year’s skirt.  When her aspiring dressmaker mother offers to add new buttons, Rachel goes to the store to see what she can find.  The cheapest solution is to get one card of buttons for her and her little sister Hannah, but Rachel wants something of her own.  When she finds three beautiful rose buttons, she arranges with the storekeeper to buy them when she’s earned the money–if she can get it before the holiday.  Rachel’s entrepreneurial spirit works well for her until she gets so busy with her errands that she loses Hannah. Finding her sister and discovering a surprise her mother has created help Rachel to understand what’s really important as she gets ready for a new year.  112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The close Jewish family and tenement living reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family series that I loved as a child.  There’s not a lot of historical fiction available for third graders, and this would make an excellent and accessible introduction to the genre.

Cons:  I was hoping for more information about Rosh Hashanah.  There’s a brief author’s note at the end, but not much detail about the history and traditions of the holiday or how it is celebrated.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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

This Is Christmas by Tom Booth

Published by Jeter Publishing

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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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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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All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  Gertie, the youngest of the five daughters in the all-of-a-kind family, is eager to help get ready for Hanukkah.  Her mother and older sisters grate potatoes, chop onions, and fry the latkes, but Mama says Gertie is too young to handle sharp kitchen utensils and hot oil.  Gertie eventually has a meltdown and is sent to the bedroom, where she hides under the bed she shares with her sister Charlotte. When Papa comes home, he invites her to help him light the first Hanukkah candle.  Suddenly, everything feels right again, and after Gertie and Papa light the candle together, the whole family sits down for a Hanukkah feast. Includes a glossary, a note from the author with more information about the original All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, and a note from the illustrator.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I was delighted to see a new book telling about one of my favorite fictional families from my childhood: the all-of-a-kind girls growing up in a tenement in turn-of-the-century New York City.  Everything I needed to know about Jewish holidays I learned in a Sydney Taylor book, and this beautifully illustrated picture book continues that with a sweet introduction to Hanukkah.

Cons:  I have mixed feelings about the revival of this beloved series in the hands of a new author and in picture book format.  

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