The Last Christmas Tree

The Last Christmas Tree9780803737570_p0_v1_s260x420The Last Christmas Tree

Stephen Krensky, Author

Pascal Campion, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 16, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Christmas trees, Empathy, Hope, Spirit of Christmas

Opening: “Almost exactly a month before Christmas, the trees arrived for the holiday. On the day before, the lot had been empty.”

Book Synopsis: Among the grand balsams and firs at the Christmas tree lot is a little hunched tree that is missing several branches. Still, no tree is more filled with the spirit of Christmas. As the weeks go by, many others are selected but the little tree holds onto its hope of finding a home. On Christmas Eve, now alone in the lot, the little tree receives a special visitor who might just give it what it wants most of all.

Why I like this book: This is such a heartwarming and moving Christmas story by Stephen Krensky that will delight young children for years to come. His story will certainly create empathy among children as the little tree endures snickers and rejection by families searching for the perfect tree. But this little tree has spunk.  It is filled with hope that it will be selected until it is the last tree standing in the lot. Yet Krensky’s little tree is a very upbeat with an unwavering faith and personality. The plot will keep children turning pages and guessing what will happen to the last tree. Pascal Campion’s digital illustrations are colorful, inviting and show the loneliness and joy in the story. Beautiful book with a surprise ending.

Resources: Take your children to a Christmas tree farm or tree lot and let them select the family tree. Encourage them to make their own ornaments and decorate your tree together.

Stephen Krensky is the author of more than one hundred fiction and nonfiction books for children, including How Santa Got His Job, How Santa Lost His Job, Chaucer’s First Winter, The Great Moon Hoax, Big Bad Wolves, Ghosts, Paul Bunyan, and Casey Jones. Visit Krensky’s website.

Pascal Campion is a French American illustrator and animator. Visit Campion’s website.

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale

Simon and the Bear9781423143550_p0_v2_s260x420Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale

Eric A. Kimmel, Author

Matthew Trueman, Illustrator

Disney Hyperion Books, Fiction, Sept. 2, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Pages: 40

Themes: Miracles, Survival,  Shipwreck, Hanukkah, Jews, Polar Bear, Faith, Courage

Opening: “When Simon set out for America, he promised his mother and brothers and sisters that he would work hard and save money. As soon as he could, he would send tickets for all of them. Simon’s mother lovingly packed his knapsack for the journey…Because Hanukkah was coming, she added something extra.”

Book Synopsis: When Simon leaves his home in the old country, his mother reminds him to celebrate Hanukkah during his sea voyage: “Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” Turns out Simon does need a miracle. When the ship strikes an iceberg Simon is offered the last seat on a lifeboat, but selflessly offers it to a gentleman who has a son. As the ship sinks, Simon leaps onto the iceberg. Knowing he needs a miracle, he pulls out his menorah and lights the Shamash. A polar bear appears from the icy water. Simon shares some of his latkes and eggs with the bear. In turn the bear curls up and sleeps next to Simon, keeping him warm. Days pass, Simon runs out of food and has one last candle to light. Will Simon run out of miracles?

Why I like this book:  There are never too many altruistic books for children during the holiday season and this one is perfect for Hanukkah. Eric A. Kimmel has written a heartwarming story for children that encourages faith and a belief in miracles, which is what Hanukkah is about. The story mirrors the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic. The plot is strong with just the right amount of tension to keep you turning the pages. Kimmel’s tale is filled with details of foods and traditions related to Hanukkah. Simon is a child filled with heart, faith and courage.  Matthew Trueman’s illustrations are evocative and add considerably to the sacred mood of the story. His stunning double-page spreads of black and deep blues are contrasted with images of light in the darkness, symbolically suggesting miracles are possible. Beautiful collaborative work between author and illustrator.

Resources: An Author’s Note on the history of Hanukkah is included at the end.  Jewish communities in the United States celebrate Hanukkah from Dec. 17-24. Visit the Lookstein Center for activities, poetry, games and projects.

‘Twas Nochebuena

Twas Nochebuena9780670016341_p0_v2_s260x420‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish

Roseanne Greenfield Thong, Author

Sara Palacios, Illustrations

Viking, Fiction, Oct. 16, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Latin American Christmas traditions, Christmas, Feast, Family, Community

Opening: ‘Twas Nochebuena / and all through our casa, / every creature was kneading tamale masa. / For one of our holiday tradiciones, / is making tamales — / not one, but montones!”

Book Synopsis: It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re invited to a Nochebuena celebration! Follow a family as they prepare to host a night filled with laugher; love and Latino tradition. Make tasty tamales and hang colorful adornos (decorations) on the walls. Gather to sing festive canciones (songs) while sipping champurrado (hot chocolate).  After the midnight feast has been served and the last gifts have been unwrapped, it’s time to cheer, “Feliz Navidad and to all a good night!”

Why I like this book: Roseanne Greenfield Thong has written a beautiful and heartwarming Latino themed picture book that re-imagines the beloved Christmas story, Twas the Night Before Christmas. The story is narrated  in English and peppered with Spanish words to expose children to a language some of their friends may speak. The rhyming is perfect. The setting is vivid and festive and teaches children about other cultures and traditions. The plot is lively and shows strong family bonds and community. The characters are endearing. Sara Palacios’ illustrations are vibrant, colorful, expressive and action-packed. She works with a variety of media including collage, ink and digital to combine her drawings with layers of color and texture. This is a joyful and magical holiday story that offers children a way to celebrate a Latino family’s Christmas traditions.

Resources:  One Latino celebration is the making of piñatas, which are filled with candy and small toys. I used to help children make them at Christmas.  Blow up a large balloon and then help kids cover it with strips of paper mache.  [Here] is a site that shows you step-by-step of how to make a piñata. Most of the ingredients you have at home.

Roseanne Greenfield Thong has authored many multicultural books including Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper. Her most recent November book release is, Noodle Magic.

Sara Palacios illustrated the Pura Belpré honor book Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Night Before The Night Before Christmas – Book Giveaway

The Night Before Christmas9780989810821_p0_v1_s260x420The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

Jay Dee, Author

Darren Geers, Illustrators

Kraine Kreative, Fiction, Nov. 3, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3 and up

Themes: Santa, Elves, Workshop, Christmas

Opening: “At the North Pole — buried deep in glistening, powdery white snow– lies the cabin of Santa Claus. Outside, not a sound could be heard…But inside, on this night –the night before the night before Christmas — Santa’s cabin was anything but quiet.”

Book Synopsis: At Santa’s workshop, the night before the night before Christmas is hardly a time to rest. The elves work tirelessly to get the final toys made before Christmas Eve, but Elfie just can’t keep pace. He spends too much time making his toys perfect, and when Santa comes to check on production, all the elves are surprised by his reaction.

ElfieTNBTNBC_4_5

Illustrations Courtesy of Darren Geers

Why I like this book: Children worldwide know about the night before Christmas, but have they ever wondered about the night before that night at the North Pole? Jay Dee has written a heartwarming Christmas story about Elfie who makes sure that his toys are flawless and that gets him in trouble with the head elf, Nathan. Elfie is behind the other elves and shutters when he hears Santa is on his way to inspect the progress in the workshop. I like the book’s theme about doing your best no matter how others feel.  Giving your best is all the counts. The story is very creative reminder about the true meaning of Christmas and the holiday season.  Darren Geers illustrations are eye-popping, expressive and gorgeous — just look at the expression on Elfie’s face on the cover. Geers sketches his illustrations with ink and digitally colors them.  They really make this book a standout for children. Visit Jay Dee at his website.ElfiePage8_9_revision1

Resources/Activities:  After reading the book, provide your kids with paper, crayons, scissors, glitter and glue and encourage them to draw a favorite Christmas scene related to the book or to the true story of Christmas. Make an elf mobile. Have children make a Christmas list, but a list that they would give to a special child in need.  Drop off a toy to “Toys for Tots” or look at programs your church may sponsor to help the less fortunate.

Book Giveaway:  Participants must be U.S. residents. All you need to do is leave a comment and indicate that you are interested in receiving a copy.  A winner will be selected randomly. Comment by 11:59 EST December 4.  I will announce the winner on my blog December 7.  Please make sure I know how to get in touch with you (via Blog, FB, E-mail, Twitter) if you are selected.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Father’s Chinese Opera

Father's Chinese Opera9781628736106_p0_v2_s260x420Father’s Chinese Opera

Rich Lo, Author and Illustrator

Skyhorse Publishing,  Inc., Fiction, Jun. 3, 2014

Suitable for ages: 3-8

Themes: Chinese opera, Acrobatics, Father and son, Perseverance

Opening: “Father was the band leader and composer of the Chinese opera in Hong Kong.  Sometimes I sat on top of the instrument cases and watched the actors onstage.”

Book Synopsis: The Chinese opera is anything but boring. Songs, acrobatics, acting, and costumes make the opera a truly spectacular show to behold. Spending a summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera, a young boy yearns to be a part of the show. Rehearsing his acrobatic moves day and night with the show’s famous choreographer, the boy thinks he is soon ready to perform with the others. But the choreographer doesn’t agree. Upset, the boy goes home to sulk.  What will he do next? Will he give up?

Chinese OperSpread_1

Artwork Compliments of Rich Lo

Why I like this book: This autobiographical story is based on Rich Lo’s childhood. His father, Lo Tok, was a famous opera composer in China before the family immigrated to the United States in 1964. The author is the child backstage longing to be a performer. This dramatic, expressive and colorful art form will be new to many readers. The story is narrated by the boy who is determined to become an acrobat. The text is simple so that the illustrations showcase the action in the story. It is a realistic story that encourages children to practice hard and not give up on their dreams. The boy’s disappointment turns into determination, perseverance and success. Every page is filled with colorful, evocative and detailed watercolors which highlight the traditional costumes, make-up, and dramatic action of the performers. Lo’s book is an inspiring tribute to his father and culture, and an introduction for children to the beautiful traditions in Chinese opera.

Chinese OperaSpread_2

Resources: Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note”about Chinese Opera at the end of the book.  There is also detailed information about the author’s father, Lo Tok, who was a famous opera composer and great musician. He shares the family’s struggles to immigrate from Communist China, and what it was like for his father being “a renowned writer of poetry and music to being illiterate.” The author lists other reading resources about Chinese Opera. Visit Rich Lo at his website for more information. Children can make their own Chinese Opera masks if they click [HERE] on the First Palette website.

Chinese OperaSpread_10

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Animal School: What Class Are You?

Animal School9780823430451_p0_v1_s260x420Animal School: What Class Are You?

Michelle Lord, Author

Michael Garland, Illustrator

Holiday House, Nonfiction, July 1, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Vertebrates, Reptiles, Fish, Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Animals, Rhyming text

Opening: “Vertebrates have spines. Elephants to pygmy wrasses, vertebrates are grouped by classes. Vertebrates have spines like you, mammals, fish and reptiles too!”

Synopsis:  Animal School begins with very detailed illustrations of the skeletons of five classifications of vertebrates with spines like  mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Some walk on legs, while others swim, crawl, scamper or fly. Some breathe air while others live in water where oxygen flows through gills. With rhythmic text the author explores a subject many children will find fascinating.

I like this book because: it introduces children to the intriguing world of vertebrates. Michelle Lord’s knowledge of vertebrates is captured in her catchy and entertaining rhyming in each classification.  She provides the appealing facts about the special characteristics of each vertebrate classification: reptiles, fish, mammals (including humans), bird, amphibians, and animals.  Verses describe whether the vertebrae is cold-blooded or warm-blooded, scaly or furry,  hatched or birthed from an animal. Her language is understandable and kid-friendly. Michael Garland’s “digital woodcut” illustrations of the animals and reptiles add a dramatic touch that is eye-catching and suits the preferred natural habitat. The texture really adds realism to the story. His double-page spreads are simply stunning, complimenting the story. The cover is regal.

Favorite verses and illustrations:

Reptiles: “But alligators / raise their young. / Hatchlings ride on / Mother’s tongue. / Every noise / a reptile hears / through covered holes, / not floppy ears.”

Garland Gator6-7Compliments of Michael Garland

Fish: Underwater / fishes roam. / Rivers, lakes, or seas are home. / Oxygen flows/ through their gills./ Water passes/ through these frills. /Fish are cloaked / in flaky scales, / lacking hair or / furry tails.”

Garland Fish 8-9Compliments of Michael Garland

Resources: At the end of the book is a chart with all five classifications, their characteristics, some of the species, examples, an afterword about “invertebrates (spineless),” and suggested websites to check out. Use this book before you take your children on a visit to a zoo, aquarium or on a walk through the woods.  Visit Michelle Lord and Michael Garland’s websites to learn more about their books.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

Rhino9780990539506_p0_v2_s260x420The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Authors

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Reading Rainbow, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Themes: Comforting a child after a tragedy, Dealing with emotions and feelings

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Opening: “In the middle of the morning, Mica Mouse trembled under her blanket. A storm boomed outside her window. Rain crashed against the glass. Wind rattled the shutters.”  

Synopsis: Mica mouse is afraid of storms because she lost her home the year before to a powerful hurricane.  Papa reassures Mica that they are safe and the storm will soon pass. To calm Mica, Papa reads her a story about a little Rhinoceros who lives happy and carefree until one day a raging storm destroys everything around him. Angry, he opens his jaws and swallows the storm.  He digs himself into a deep hole until some friends pull him out. Swallowing the storm makes him feel awful, so the little Rhino sets out on a journey to heal himself. Along the way he meets wise animal friends who guide him.

Why I like this book: Sometimes scary things happen to children and they don’t know how to cope. LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo have co-authored this powerful and compelling story that will help children deal with tragic events in their lives. The book  is really two stories in one. The opening is written in prose. And, I detect Bernardo’s beautiful and lifting rhyme in the little Rhino’s story. I love the metaphor of the storm and the Rhino burying his feelings until his friends encourage him to let them go. Even the typeset words and lines have movement that mirror the action. Courtenay Fletcher’s stunning and colorful  illustrations take the reader on a visual journey through the darkest moments of death and destruction of the ravine, the Rhino’s loneliness and despair, to his steps towards healing and making new friendships. This picture book is a beautiful collaboration between the authors and illustrator. It is a book I would recommend parents add to their book shelves because it can be used for many different situations to comfort a frightened child.

Resources: At the end of the book is a discussion section with eight great questions that help children and parents take a deeper look inside the story. The discussion encourages children to share their feelings and explore how they handle difficult times. This book is also a good resource for teachers and counselors.

LeVar Burton: Actor, director, and educator LeVar Burton has been an icon for more than 35 years. It’s his 31 years as host, producer, and now co-owner of Reading Rainbow that have given Burton his greatest impact, delivering the message of the importance of literacy and reading to generations of children.

Co-author and poet Susan Schaefer Bernardo and illustrator Courtenay Fletcher created their first book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs to help children deal with separation and loss.  It’s one of my favorite healing books for children. Click here to read the review.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.