Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Picture Book Review - 'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Christmas is a week away, can you believe it?? I'm in total shock. It feels like the past few weeks have just flown by, with a flurry of shopping, decorating and readying for all the events we've had going on. Last night was the Nativity play at Sprout's school, an absolutely terrific event that was full of just what you'd expect - a bit of confusion, some dropped lines, but lots of shining faces and kids singing enthusiastically with joy in their hearts. Such a special moment for us and for Sprout.

Tonight's pick is for all those who celebrate Christmas and want to add a bit of diversity into the mix. Roseanne Greenfield Thong is fast becoming one of my go-to authors for high-quality multicultural titles (in fact, I have two titles of her titles sitting on my desk at the moment!). And her new book 'Twas Nochebuena is just spectacular - a winner for Spanish-speakers as well as those who are still learning the language.

The story in 'Twas Nochebuena mirrors Clement C. Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, but puts an entirely fresh storyline in place. Gone are the nightcaps and that bowl full of jelly, to be replaced by farols and tamales. The heroine relates her family's Christmas tradition, making food together, decorating, visiting house to house, attending mass. The night culminates with fireworks, a midnight feast and lots of gifts. It's a joyous, exuberant celebration that readers will want to jump right into!

The festivities are captured by Thong's skillful rhymes, which integrate Spanish phrases into the text, allowing readers to discern meaning from context. That's a strategy I much prefer to the repetition that some books employ - I think this method makes books more accessible to all audiences. Sara Palacios did the illustrations for 'Twas Nochebuena and I *love* them. The tone is absolutely on-point: festive, fun, full of life and spirit, just like the holidays should be. Love the colors, the touches of collage, and the inclusion of multiracial families as well.

Add 'Twas Nochebuena to your holiday bookshelf and think about reading it as part of your Christmas Eve celebrations. Fair warning, though - you'll want to have champurrado (hot chocolate) close at hand!

'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, published by Viking
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Picture Book Review - Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Hello friends! Back at the blog after a little break to catch my breath from 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. I really, really enjoyed the series and hope you did too. It was a great opportunity for me to call out some of the many fantastic diverse books that we've read over the past year. And, based on the response, I'll be back doing the series again next year!

On to tonight's pick, which is one we actually read a few weeks ago but I held onto because of the 30 Days series consuming my attention. Sprout has always been super interested in science and nature, and as he grows that interest is only deepening. He loves loves loves science-y facts - actually that's something his kindergarten teacher said during our recent conference, that he always shares facts and that she checks them later and he's always right. (Boo-yah!) So based on that, and knowing how much he'd enjoyed Swirl by Swirl, I felt pretty certain that Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold was going to be a hit.

And naturally, it was. The poetry in Winter Bees is just lovely, simple enough for the target audience, but complex enough for adult readers to enjoy. The illustrations by Rick Allen -- rarely do words fail me, but these images left me speechless, thanks to the depth of detail, the texture, the emotion that is evoked. Sprout and I together stared at a picture of a den of hibernating garter snakes for at least five minutes -- and I'm terrified of snakes, for crying out loud! -- so that should tell you a little something about the magnificence of Allen's craftsmanship. Pair these pictures with Sidman's deft wordsmithing, and then spice them up with a juicy sidebar on each page that is loaded with scientific facts and you have a recipe for an absolute jaw-dropper of a book.

I really see Winter Bees as a great way to bridge the gap between art-lovers and science kids. This title is equal parts of each, all beautifully done, and is bound to sway skeptics on either side to find something to appreciate. Sidman and Allen received a Caldecott honor for their previous collaboration Dark Emperor, and for my money Winter Bees could easily go all the way this year.

Make Winter Bees part of your collection at home, school or library - it's a purchase well-served, for you and the kiddos!

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman
Ages 5-9
Source: Library
Highly recommended

Monday, December 1, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

It's Day 30 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Wha?? Did that month pass quickly for anyone else?? I can't believe we're at the end of this year's series already. I hope you've enjoyed all the picks we've shared as much as we've enjoyed reading them. When I started the series this month, my husband remarked that he hoped I'd have enough picks to make it -- and I'm pleased to say that there are several I didn't even get to, so look forward to more titles to come! (But maybe a break first. . . )

So, onto today's pick -- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. I originally had planned to share this one earlier in the series, but decided to wait, as this seemed like the perfect title to end with. Wilson's story centers around Chloe, who finds it hard to reach out to the new girl in her class. Maya doesn't have as much as some of the other girls, who laugh and make fun of her, and Chloe goes along. Even though Maya desperately wants to a friend, the girls rebuff her - and then Maya is gone from their school, and Chloe's left thinking about kindness, and what might have happened if she'd reached out to this girl who was all alone.

The theme of Each Kindness is a powerful one, one that I feel we all need to read and internalize. It's especially moving for me to read this one now with Sprout, and talk about the importance of understanding others, of walking a mile in their shoes, of demonstrating empathy even if we find it hard to agree. E. B. Lewis did the illustrations, and they are very moving. In particular we like the one that accompanies Chloe's teacher's explanation of kindness, like a ripple moving through a pool of water. It's an image that makes you stop and think in the same way Woodson's text does - quite a message, this.

I encourage you to read Each Kindness yourself, and to your kiddos, and think of it in light of our world today. If you reach out in kindness, to someone unlike yourself, you'll never know how far that kindness can go.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Sunday, November 30, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - It's a Small World by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman

It's Day 29 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Tonight I'm really thankful for good friends. We spent the day with some friends at their annual Thanksgiving feast, which was loads of fun. Sprout got to show off his puzzle-building skills to a crowd. His latest trick is asking to be timed as he builds his 200 piece puzzles - he's going for a personal best. :)

Tonight's pick is also one that was a gift for Sprout from a great book-giving friend, just before our first trip to Disneyland as a family. It's a Small World is of course the recognizable (some might say painfully so) tune written by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman for Walt Disney's iconic ride. Yep, you know it - the one with all the dolls. Love it or hate it, we bet you know the tune.

In this book, illustrator Joey Chou has re-envisioned the lyrics of the song as a picture book. Now, I will say that it's just about impossible to read this one without singing the song, so don't even try, especially if your kids know the words. But the thing that makes this one just about the best is Chou's illustration style. He brings those familiar dolls of all nations to life, as children playing and laughing and singing together in a fresh way that still pays homage to the ride's origins. Readers see the cherubic youngsters sharing a Mexican fiesta, playing in a jazz club, and enjoying the sights on the African savanna. It's all spirited and full of whimsy.

It's a Small World will bring back memories of many parents' childhood, and is the perfect introduction to the ride for a new generation of readers. And it's a great message for us all to share - it is a small world, and we're all its citizens!

It's a Small World by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, published by Disney Press

Saturday, November 29, 2014

30 Days of Diverse Picture Books - Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez

It's Day 28 of our 30 Days of Diverse Picture Books. Sprout is fortunate that his school starts teaching Spanish in kindergarten. He absolutely adores it! They have class every Monday and I'll tell you, that kid bounces out of bed Monday mornings so thrilled for school and his Spanish class. As a result we've been seeking out bilingual books whenever possible, to give us more exposure and learning opportunities.

And tonight's pick, Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez, is one of our favorites! I first heard about this title when it won the Pura Belpré Illustration Honor last year, but it had fallen off my radar for a bit. Then Sprout grabbed it off the shelf at a recent visit to the library and we were both hooked - the illustrations are just so darn cute that you can't help but smile from the cover right on through to the last page!

As you might expect, Maria Had a Little Llama is a spin on the familiar nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but freshened up and set in Peru, and with a Spanish text added. Maria's llama loves her so much that he follows her to school, where trouble ensues (naturally) and the llama has to be sent out. But no matter, the two friends are soon reunited and the tale ends on a happy note. The story is simple enough to share with littles, but there are lots of points to talk over with older kids as well -- this would be a great springboard into reading about Peruvian culture, for example.

Maria Had a Little Llama is a terrific example of how to refresh a classic story: add a new location, throw in some cultural details and a second language to make the title accessible to a wider range of readers. Add to that the super adorable pictures, and you've got a title that wins on every level!

Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez, published by Henry Holt