AGAIN! Reproduced with permission from the publisher Simon & Schuster. 

“Again!” by Emily Gravett; Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 4-6.

Here we have a great example of why physical children’s books still have an edge over their digital counterparts. In this story, Cedric the dragon prepares for bedtime, which also means mama dragon will read his favorite bedtime story.  As the title aptly suggests, the evening tale is read over and over, even as his very patient and accommodating mother starts to doze off. As a result, Cedric transforms from an almost angelic looking creature into a fire-breathing fiend. Dragons aren’t known for their patience, and Cedric demonstrates his lack of this particular quality with an ending that is sure to enthrall young children. (Without giving it away, this is where the paper copy triumphs over the e-version.) Fans of Emily Gravett’s award-winning illustrations will be happy to see that she has stayed true to her style – simple, engaging drawings that pop off white backgrounds. Readers will recognize Gravett’s work from her other award winning titles such as Wolves and The Odd Egg.

THE RACE FOR THE CHINESE ZODIAC. Text copyright © 2010 by Gabrielle Wang. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Sally Rippin. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books Australia and Black Dog Books.

“The Race for the Chinese Zodiac,” by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin; Candlewick Press, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 5-7.

In Gabrielle Wang’s retelling of this classic Chinese creation story, the Jade Emperor announces a race to determine which twelve animals will have a year named after them in the zodiac. As the gong sounds, the animals plunge into a mighty river and make their way to the finish line.  Who will be first? Who stops at nothing to win?  Children and adults will find this a pleasure to read, and its quick pace mimics the feel of competitors vying for the top spot. Sally Rippin renders Charming Rat, Spirited Horse and all the other animals in Chinese ink and earth-toned linocuts. 

After reading the end notes to find out which Zodiac year is yours, try this fun post-reading activity: Enlarge the Chinese characters for each animal that are found throughout the book. Give children a big brush and let them trace the characters with bold brushstrokes.  

马年大吉(Wishing you luck in the Year of the Horse!)


Reproduced with permission from Quirk Books 

“Winter Cocktails,” by María Del Mar Sacasa, photographs by Tara StrianoQuirk Books; $22.95, 160 pages, all ages.

No, this is definitely not a book for children, but it would make a wonderful present to parents who have been busy helping Santa prepare for Christmas. These  winter drinks  infuse the body with warmth and ooze holiday spirit.  Recipe developer María Del Mar Sacasa shares 100 delicious liquid infusions such as English Christmas Punch, Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate and Pumpkin-Bourbon Eggnog.  Tara Striano’s enticing up-close photographs plus step-by step photo instructions will bring out the holiday barista in everyone.  Try out the Nutella Melt recipe in the accompanying post and enjoy in front of a blazing fire. 

Photo and Recipe Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books 

This delicious drink, made with Nutella as its base, is a sophisticated take on a childhood staple.  

Nutella Melt
A steamy treat with hints of hazelnut
Serves 4

Nutella, the addictive hazelnut-chocolate spread, melts effortlessly into milk and gets a wink and smile from hazelnut liqueur.

4 cups whole milk

¼ cup Nutella

Pinch salt

6 ounces hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped, for garnish

Toasted coconut flakes*, for garnish

*To toast coconut flakes, arrange them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350°F over for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking, until toasted. Alternatively, toast them in a large dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes.

Bring milk, Nutella, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until Nutella is completely dissolved. Stir in liqueur. Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the stove while you whip the cream.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, confectioners’ sugar, and espresso powder on medium speed in a large, chilled bowl until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, beat by hand using a large wire whisk.) Ladle drink into warm cups and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and coconut.

Cooking Tip
The most efficient way to remove hazelnuts’ unpleasantly bitter skins is to blanch them. Bring 4 cups water and ¼ cup baking soda to boil in a large pot. Add hazelnuts and boil for 5 minutes. Drain hazelnuts in a colander and rinse them under cold running water, rubbing them against each other until most of the skins have come off. Place hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel (one you’re not too attached to, because it will stain) and rub them with the towel to remove any remaining skins.

After removing the skins, place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350°F oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 15 minutes.

Images reproduced with permission from Phaidon Press.

“Bugs at Christmas,” by Beatrice Alemagna, Phaidon Press, $12.95, 38 pages, ages 3-5.

It’s Christmas Eve in the bugs’ cozy blanket world, and they’re trying to organize a holiday party.  Unfortunately, they each seem to have a different idea of how to celebrate; Little Yellow Bug wants to sing Jungle Bugs around a piano, while Little Long-Legged Bug prefers dancing the Santa Samba until he drops. The critters can’t agree on the best way to ring in Christmas until they learn that the spirit of love and togetherness triumphs over creative differences.  Beatrice Alemagna created these surprisingly loveable hairy creatures using appliqué, fabrics, and stitching techniques that together resemble the texture of a nubby, wooly quilt. 

Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.

“What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings,” by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski ; HMH Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 80 pages, ages 7-10.

Newbery Honor winning poet Joyce Sidman has crafted a book that will touch readers’ hearts and stir their emotions. What the Heart Knows offers poems to address just about every possible feeling; pleas for forgiveness, incantations to summon bravery, and chants simply to find happiness.  The book is organized into four sections, with each group exploring a different theme. Ultimately, Sidman’s words provide courage, comfort and strength no matter the topic.  This is the poet’s third collaboration with Caldecott winning illustrator Pamela Zagarenski, and it’s easy to see why; Zagarenski’s dreamy, expressive paintings are a perfect match for Sidman’s soulful verses.


WITH A MIGHTY HAND. Text copyright © 2013 by Amy Ehrlich. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Daniel Nevins. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 “With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah,” adapted by Amy Erlich, paintings by Daniel Nevins; Candlewick Press, $29.99, 224 pages, all ages.

Award winning author Amy Erlich decided to tackle the Torah and render it accessible for children, or anyone interested in reading a new interpretation of this ancient story. Here she has managed to condense the five books of the Hebrew Bible into a single, flowing narrative. When Erlich began the project, her goal was to ‘follow the thread of the story’ by keeping the text as clear as possible without being mired in complexity and contradictions. Her mission was a success; simple, powerful words, with lots of white space in the background make for easy reading.  Bringing the people and places to life is painter Daniel Nevins in his debut as a children’s book illustrator. The pigment-laden images capture a world that existed over 5,000 years ago, yet are still exuberant and emotional.  With a Might Hand would be a lovely gift for a budding religious scholar or for children just starting Torah study.