Children’s Books Holiday Round-Up

Here’s a few of our favorite new books to give to your loved ones this holiday season:

The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith, Folio Society; $59.95, 208 pages, all ages.

Smith’s 1957 classic children’s story gets the Folio treatment in this lavish update, complete with a black and white spotted slipcover. Illustrated by award-winning Sara Ogilvie and introduced by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, share this special edition with someone with a soft spot for canine capers. NOTE: Order by December 14th to ensure Christmas delivery.

Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zacharia OHora, Little, Brown & Company; $17.99, 40 pages, ages 3-6.


While sailing in freezing waters, First Mate Foxy reads that lemmings don’t jump off cliffs, only to finding his furry shipmates doing exactly that. “Guess they didn’t read the book,” he muses. As they keep leaping into the icy drink, Foxy takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of these jumping lemmings. Dyckman’s on-point humor is perfectly matched by OHora’s retro-inspired artwork. A warm and funny look at compassion and patience that’s perfect for all ages.

The Little Reindeer, by Nicola Killen, Simon & Schuster; $15.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.


Just as Ollie snuggles under the covers on Christmas Eve, she’s jolted awake by the sounds of jingle bells. Away she slides on her sleigh into the snowy night, where she meets a reindeer who sweeps her up on a magical journey. The black and white palette, punctuated by pops of red and metallic silver ink, makes for a most enchanting tale about the magic of the season.

Red Again, by Barbara Lehman, HMH Book for Young Readers; $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-7. 


A boy discovers a red book on the side of the road. Inside it is another book where another child finds a similar book, and two worlds collide in this wordless examination of loneliness, adventure, and the never ending pleasures of storytelling. Lehman’s sequel to her 2005 Caldecott Honor winning The Red Book is sure to delight fans both old and new.

The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup, illustrated by Brett Helquist, Candlewick Press; $17.99, 336 pages, ages 8-11.

nut mice

A family of mice live in Saint Petersbourg’s famous Mariinsky theater, and the little critters adore the ballet performed by both the humans and their furry cohorts, but a new ballet called the Nutcracker features mice as villains, sending the mice into distress. Meanwhile, among the humans, nine-year old Irinia, the daughter of a mouse exterminator, believes the mice she’s seen hidden at the theater may be more than just four-legged pests. Can Irina help save the Mariinsky mice from certain annihilation? Will the dancing mice make it in the ultra-competitive Russian Mouse Ballet Company? Veteran YA author Kristin Kladstrup gives The Nutcracker a delightfully whimsical origin story, and Brett Helquist’s full-page illustrations provide just the right touch of magic.

 Countdown to Christmas: A Story a Day, Disney Press; $10.99, 64 pages, ages 3-8.


This compendium of twenty-five stories includes characters from the wide world of Disney characters, from Bambi, the Aristocats, Wall-E, and the 101 Dalmatians. Serious Disney fans may notice some stories are repeats from the Five Minute Christmas Stories, but this update will surely please fans of the Mouse on your holiday list.

Help Comes in All Sizes

Welcome to our newest reviewer, Abigail Constance Richter, a New York third grader excited to share great new children’s books with you. This first review was inspired by the brave and selfless hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida, reminding us that anyone can lend a helping hand.

Bulldozer Helps Out, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 3-6.

In Bulldozer Helps Out, Bulldozer wants to help the rest of the construction team, but the other machines say he is not big enough, strong enough, or tough enough. Soon, they feel bad and give Bulldozer an “easy” task. The full-page pictures in the book are big, bold, and colorful, and make the book a good choice for preschoolers and kids in kindergarten who love construction and want to be part of the team.

(Children’s) BookNotes, April 6, 2016

Taxidermy and Trump make the news this week in the world of children’s books.

The Bruce Museum’s latest exhibit is wild about animals and art:


What do you do when you spot a Trump in the wild? The Donald gets the picture-book treatment, just in time for the Republican National Convention:


 Under the Sea

“Octopus’s Garden,” by Ringo Starr, illustrations by Ben Cort; Aladdin Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 1-6.

Beatles fans have had much to celebrate recently – February marked the fiftieth anniversary of the group’s stateside arrival at Idlewild (JFK) Airport, heralding a massive sea change in pop music.  A large piece of Ed Sullivan’s stage where the Fab Four signed their names is heading to a New York City auction, where experts estimate it could fetch anywhere between $800,000 and one million dollars.

And Ringo Starr is as busy as ever – in addition to planning a tour this summer and recording new music, he recently authored a children’s book.   The drummer’s 1969 hit “Octopus’s Garden” is perfect for young audiences, and it’s surprising that in the song’s forty-six years of existence, this is the first time it has been adapted into book form.

The original lyrics swim along to Ben Cort’s playful and cheery illustrations.  A smiling, bright orange cephalopod welcomes a group of adventurous children into his fanciful submarinal plot filled with dancing starfish, sticky sea cucumbers and other playful ocean creatures.  Children will adore the story, and parents of all ages will find themselves unconsciously humming the happy tune.

Perhaps the highlight of this publication is the accompanying audio disk, which features Ringo on four separate tracks. He introduces himself to a new generation of readers, sings a fresh recording of the song (which sounds a lot like the original,) reads the book aloud, and even offers an instrumental version of “Octopus’s Garden” for children to sing along, karaoke-style.  What a wonderful way to spend a day. 

Sweet summer reading

As the heat of July gives way to August, what better way to fill in that sweet down time between lounging at the beach and an evening chasing fireflies than with a great book.  Below is a quick run-down of a few of the best titles available right now. 

Joe and Sparky go to School, by Jaimie Michalack, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz; Candlewick Press, $15.99, 48 pages, ages 5-7. 


The kids may have just finished classes and want nothing to do with school, but this caper involving Joe the giraffe and Sparky the turtle will delight kindergarden-age readers.  Michalak’s third book in this award-winning series sets the spunky duo loose on a class full of children and a vision-impaired teacher. 

Good Night, Sleep Tight, by Mem Fox, illustrations by Judy Horacek; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5.


Acclaimed Australian children’s book author Mem Fox and fellow Aussie Judy Horacek have another hit for young readers. The duo, who created the outstanding Where is the Green Sheep? share a story of two tireless youngsters and their heroic babysitter. Skinny Doug attempts to lull his charges to sleep by reciting seven nursery rhymes, each to the delight of the little Bonnie and Ben. This book will encourage memorization skills in early readers and likely be requested frequently as a read-aloud.  

The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett; Simon & Schuster, $15.99, 40 pages, all ages. 


This wordless book is an ode to a boy who devises a unique way to retrieve his toy airplane that he stranded on a rooftop. The sepia-toned pencil and watercolor drawings by veteran cartoonist Mark Pett illustrate a timeless and charming tale of patience and ingenuity while sharing the magic of aviation and imagination.

Great new board books for babies

More often that we’d like, books for babies have moveable parts that don’t stay attached. Sometimes they are so beautiful that you wouldn’t want to share them with tiny, nimble hands. Or perhaps the book is sturdy, but the content is flimsy. The following list meets the demanding criteria for the youngest readers, and the price points permit generous parents to purchase every one.

“Bizzy Bear Pirate Adventure,” by Benji Davies; Nosy Crow Press, $6.99, 10 pages, ages 0-3.

In this pirate adventure Bizzy Bear sails the seas in search of treasure and adventure. The sliders that move Bizzy and his friends are easy for little hands to manipulate, and the rhyming tale keeps a quick pace throughout. 

“Quick, Duck!” by Mary Murphy; Candlewick Press, $6.99, 10 pages, ages 0-3.

Welcome spring with this fun board book. In it, we meet an adorable duckling who scampers over rocks, around flowers, and through the mud to reach his family waiting in a nearby pond. Large, hand-lettered text accompanies bright and engaging ink and watercolor illustrations.


“Little Bunny,” by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by John Butler; Simon & Schuster, $5.99, 30 pages, ages 0-3.  (Also available as an E-Book)


“What will you do today?” asks Mama rabbit to her baby bunny. “Everything!” he replies and scampers off into the meadow in search of adventure and fun. Previously published as Wee Little Bunny, this sturdy board book will enchant readers with Butler’s cuddly and cute renderings of birds, butterflies, and of course, bunnies.

“Away We Go! A Shape-and-Seek Book,” by Chiêu Anh Urban; Scholastic Press, $6.99, 20 pages, ages 0-3. (Available June 2013)  


The innovative die-cut images present shapes hidden inside brightly illustrated planes, submarines and hot-air balloons.  Children will adore tracing and identifying the cutout shapes. Author-illustrator Urban’s background as a graphic illustrator is put to excellent use in this boldly crafted and illustrated book. 

Alphabets, Pigs, and Irish Rabbits

This week we’re looking at a technical workbook from Princeton Architectural Press, persistent piglets who won’t go to sleep, and an Irish translation of a classic children’s book. 

“Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own,” by Tony Seddon; Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95, 160 pages, ages 12-up.

(Available April 9, 2013)


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY.

This book takes the art of custom-drawn fonts, – lively, hand-drawn letters often perfected by middle school adepts – to an extraordinary level of sophistication. British graphic designer Tony Seddon opens the manual with a primer on the history of hand-lettering, including tips for perfecting one’s craft, the pros and cons of tracing, and understanding the basic structure of letterforms. Seddon teaches the proper techniques to create funky, personalized fonts in this very hands-on workbook.

The thirty alphabet fonts all are custom drawn by a team of young designers and illustrators who each reveal a little about themselves and the inspiration for their fonts. For example, artist Michelle Tilly discovered the origins for her “Spotty Fairground” font by observing antique signs on a Bristol pier.


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own  Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY. 

There is a style here to suit any mood and personality, ranging from the Pacman-inspired “Butterman,” to “Topiary” where the letters resemble leafy bushes. My favorite font is the “Octobet.” This intricately detailed font is influenced by the Norse legend of the fearsome sea-monster, the Kraken.  

Seddon concludes with a useful section on how to use one’s fonts by digitizing them.  A glossary of terms as well as an anatomy of principal font features rounds out the book. This isn’t necessarily a book geared towards children, but placed in the right hands it would no doubt be lovingly received and perhaps nurture grains of artistic creativity.  A perceptive child might also enjoy reading the included designers’ biographies.


Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own  Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY. 


Piggies in Pajamas, Reproducedby permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, NY.

“Piggies in Pajamas,” by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ard Hoyt; Simon & Schuster, $15.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5.

Michelle Meadows has brought back her adorably boisterous pig family, this time for a nocturnal escapade. In 2011’s Piggies in the Kitchen, the piglets took over the kitchen and surprised Mama with a birthday cake. In this latest installment, bedtime takes a back seat to navigating an ocean adventure, riding a train, and playing dress-up.  Each imaginative pursuit is a precarious one – they are supposed to be counting sheep, after all – and when they suspect Mama’s heading up the stairs, they dash to bed to avoid detection.  As with the Kitchen book, Meadows employs the same lively, catchy quatrain a-b-a-b pattern that younger readers will adore repeating.  “Piggies in pajamas/Scoot across the floor,/ Going for a train ride,/speeding past the door.” Ard Hoyt renders the plucky piglets in light watercolors that fully capture the spirit and excitement of the tale.  The high-octane energy level in this book may make it a difficult bedtime choice, but will be thoroughly enjoyed no matter when it’s read.  


Piggies in Pajamas, Reproducedby permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, NY.

“Tomhais Méid Mo Ghrá Duit” (Guess How Much I Love You in Irish), by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram; Candlewick Press, $9.99, 32 pages, ages 3-7.


While the classic tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare is close to two decades old, this brand-new edition is just in time for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  Both author Sam McBratney and illustrator Anita Jeram call Ireland home and pay tribute to their land and language with this Gaelic translation of their beloved story.  There’s no Irish-English glossary, nor is there a pronunciation guide, so intrepid readers may want to have the English version on hand, or visit one of the many Gaelic pronunciation guides available online.  (I found to be quite informative and straightforward.) 

Omnia vincit amor

“Boot and Shoe,” by Marla Frazee; Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.


Two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee introduces us to Boot and Shoe, an inseparable pair of pups who share everything – a bed, a food bowl, even a communal arboreal latrine. The majority of their time is spent on opposite ends of their ranch-style home. Boot is a back deck kind of dog and Shoe naturally resides on the front porch. A squirrel, bored and mischievous, confuses the canines to the point that they spend the rest of the book on opposite porches mournfully waiting for the other to return to his rightful spot.  This adorable misadventure is rendered in black pencil and gouache, giving the dogs a soft and lighthearted feel while the hand-lettered text by Frazee adds more charm. Younger readers will delight in being in on the joke that the dogs need only bark to hear each other, while older children will appreciate learning about a true friendship that conquers loneliness and grief.