Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Virginia Wolf is a story about how far a little girl will go to make her sister feel better. Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, wakes up feeling “wolfish” mood. She howls, growls, and just acts very odd. Vanessa tries to do everything in her power to make her sister happy but her sister says an imaginary town called “Bloomsberry” is the only thing that could possibly make her happy again. She then decides to create “Bloomsberry” for her sister by painting exactly what her sister described on the walls of their room. The room isn’t the only thing that undergoes a transformation though. When Virginia wakes up shes picks up a brush and transform back into the little girl she was the day before.
This book is brought to life with the contrast between the dull, dark, and gloomy illustrations of Virginia and the bright, exciting, and happy colors of her sister, Vanessa. The transformation in Virginia’s mood is also represented with a whirlwind of colors when her sister creates her fantasy. Although the book was designed for children between the ages of 4-8, it is quite easy to relate to and really represents how anybody’s inner emotions and feelings can alter their appearance on the outside. It is a fabulous resource for any parent or teacher of a child who is having a bad/off day!
*Loosely based off of Virginia Woolf and her painter sister, Virginia Bell.
Written by and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This book tells the amazing true story of Nelson Mandela’s life. Mandela, originally named Rolihlahla, was one of the only children from his village sent to school. His teacher, unable to pronounce his name, called him Nelson. As Nelson grew up he saw the oppression of people of African and Indian descent by people of European descent in his country. A cruel system of segregation called apartheid was put in place by the government. Mandela became involved in politics where he strived to help create a South Africa where all people would be equal. But speaking out was against the law and Nelson was imprisoned again and again. As time went by and people fought back, the system of apartheid was slowly undone. Nelson was released from prison and elected the new leader of South Africa in a landslide election.
This is a powerful story which will move children regardless of ethnicity or background. This is a story about fighting for what is right, even when it is hard, even when it is frightening. Kadir Nelson’s story is beautifully illustrated in full-page paintings that could easily pass for fine art in a museum. The power and emotion of the story can clearly be seen on every face. This book is best suited for children from 4-8 years, but could also be extremely useful in a classroom (or home) with older children in introducing a lesson on the history of South Africa or on segregation. No matter what age or in what setting, Nelson Mandela is a book that will teach all children that they can do anything if they are willing to fight for it.
Reviewed by Rachel Brittain
Written by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
The Magic Hat tells the story of an ordinary town that becomes extraordinary when a magic hat floats in one day. The hat twirls through the air, landing on the heads of adults who are turned into the animals they resemble by the magic hat. Just as things are really beginning to get wild in the town the magician shows up. With a wave of his wand he returns the town to normal and takes back his magic hat. The magic hat creates all the magic, after all, and a wizard can’t be without his magic.
The book is brought to life with bright colors and fun, cartoon-like illustrations which perfectly compliment the light-hearted, magical tale being told. The story is full of magic, dancing animals, and plain old fun. Kids will love the singsong quality of the story which is slightly reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss tale. While people of all ages will get a kick out of this book, 3-7 year olds will probably enjoy the rhyming style and the colorful illustrations the most. Kids and kids-at-heart will love reading this fun romp about a magic hat which has the power to turn plain old adults into their animal look-alikes.
If you enjoy this book, you should check out some other great picture books by Mem Fox like Possum Magic or Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge.
Reviewed by Rachel Brittain
Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
Mike Mulligan has a beautiful red steam shovel that he named Mary Anne. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne were the very best pair–they dug canals together, cut through mountains together, and they built the cellars for tall skyscrapers together. Mary Anne was the very best steam shovel around.
But when the newer gasoline shovels, electric shovels and diesel motor shovels came around, no one wanted old steam shovels anymore. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne didn’t have any work to do–that is until Mike Mulligan saw that the small town of Popperville was building a new town hall. So, Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne went to Popperville. When one of the men who was going to dig the new town cellar didn’t believe that Mary Anne was the best around, Mike Mulligan made a bet. If he and Mary Anne could not dig the full cellar before sundown, they would not ask for pay. After all these years, are Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne still the best team around? Can they finish all four corners of the cellar before the sun sets?
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, originally published in 1939, is certainly an “oldie,” but it is definitely a “goodie” as well. The unique friendship between Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne the steam shovel is different, engaging and inspiring. Young children can learn from the perseverance of Mike and Mary Anne as a team. They can learn from the little boy in the story and how he gathers a crowd to cheer on and encourage them in their endeavor. Finally, they can relate to the importance of finding the right resting place for a beloved friend, toy or memento. Mike Mulligan was one of my favorite books as a child, but I love it even more now! The illustrations are simple, but complement the subtle messages of the story quite well. Children of all ages can learn from Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne’s story of hard work and friendship, but I particularly encourage this book for children ages 5-8.
Don’t forget about this classic when choosing books to read to your kids!
Reviewed by Mary-Lloyd Heller
Written by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Annabelle lives in a cold, gray town. So, when she finds a magical box of colored yarn, things in the town start to change. First Annabelle knits herself and her dog a sweater. The yarn goes on though, and so she begins to knit sweaters for everyone else in the town–including her teacher, classmates, parents and doctor. Even after all that knitting, the colorful yarn continues, and so does Annabelle. She knits sweaters for pets and animals, mailboxes, birdhouses and even the buildings!
Word spreads of Annabelle and her sweaters and soon she has visitors from around the world. An archduke visits Annabelle to try to buy the magical yarn box, offering up to ten million dollars! But, Annabelle refuses, happy to be knitting and continuing to add color to the town. The archduke then steals Annabelle’s yarn instead. Will he be able to make sweaters as well? What will happen to the magical yarn?
Jon Klassen, illustrator of the 2013 Caldecott Award book, This is Not My Hat brings Mac Barnett’s colorful story to life in Extra Yarn, which was named one of the five Caldecott Honor Books of 2013. Annabelle literally brings color and life to the little town. Children ages 4 to 8 will love her curious story. They will learn from her generosity and use of color and will want to look back through each of Klassen’s illustrations, even after the story is finished. The specific and limited inclusions of color make this book all the more engaging and meaningful for its audience. Open up the book and dive into Annabelle’s colorful adventure!
For a preview of Annabelle’s adventure and Klassen’s illustrations, click on the link below for the book trailer:
Reviewed by Mary-Lloyd Heller
Written by Toni Buzzeo, Illustrated by David Small
Elliot is a very proper boy who isn’t very excited about visiting an aquarium filled with noisy children and boring fish. Then he discovers the penguins dressed in tuxedoes just like him. When Elliot asks his father’s permission to have a penguin of his own, his father hands him twenty dollars for a stuffed animal, but that’s not exactly what Elliot has in mind. Elliot slips one of the aquarium’s penguins into his backpack, and heads home. A playful story of friendship and shenanigans begins as Elliot turns the house into a winter wonderland for his new friend, Magellan. Everything will be perfect as long as his father doesn’t notice the penguin sleeping in the freezer, but Elliot’s father may be keeping a little secret of his own….
This Caldecott Honor book is filled with friendship and fun. The beautiful illustrations are created in dark ink with pops of bright color that really bring out the details of the story. Children will love how Elliot and Magellan match in their black and white tuxedoes, and how speech bubbles are incorporated into the text. And everyone will beg to hear the story again after the hilarious surprise ending. This book is recommended to children 5-8yrs, but with a story this good, children of all ages will enjoy it!
Reviewed by Rachel Brittain
Written By Alexis O’Neil , Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beth
Mean Jean runs the playground and no one dares challenge the hierarchy. Every student at Mean Jean’s school has silently accepted the fact that if Jean has not given the go ahead then every ball, jump rope, toy and piece of playground equipment is off limits. In fact,
Written By Alexis O’Neil , Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beth
“Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung.
Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked.
Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced.
If kids ever crossed her, she’d push ’em and smoosh ’em
lollapaloosh ’em, hammer ’em, slammer ’em
kitz and kajammer ’em.”
One day, however, a new student arrives and dares challenge the system put in place by Mean Jean while ultimately befriends the playground bully, softening her heart and freeing the playground.
A story on bullying, courage and friendship, The Recess Queen is timely and appropriate for today’s generation of students. O’Neil puts a humorous spin on a hard topic while shedding light on an issue that has haunted many generations of students. O’Neil’s crafty, rhythmic writing combined with Huliska-Beth’s colorful and action packed illustrations create a story that is sure to bring enjoyment to its readers while also forcing students to recognize and perhaps even talk about this difficult subject. This story is recommended for ages 3-7 but, of course, the cut off is negotiable. Happy reading!
Reviewed by Carmen Caruthers
This picture book is simply a timeless masterpiece.
A Caldecott award winner in 1987, Schoennher’s painted illustrations are rich with deep, blue hues and sparkling white snow that you can practically hear crunch under the footsteps of the father and child. The art is both exquisite and realistic, characterized by detailed and colorful depictions of the pair in their snowysetting. Schoennherr’s woods are not ominous but welcoming, as the child tries and succeeds to be brave on the outskirts of a dark forest. The bright colors of the child and Pa contrast beautifully with the pristine white of the snow. Moreover, the words of the story are perfectly placed on the pages, providing the most conducive reading experience for a child who won’t want to stop turning the pages. The book is full of splendid similes such as: “The trees stood still as giant statues” which beckon children to imagine what it is like to go owling. Indeed, Schoenherr’s majestic illustration of the Great Horned Owl is powerful and mighty, and serves to remind children of the great force of nature. Parents will enjoy the powerful simplicity of the prose in conjunction with the gorgeous illustrations, and children will want to return to the book again and again as they grow older. Finally, Owl Moon is a “positive family story” according to author Jane Yolen. It depicts a father and child embarking on a special journey together.
Recommended for ages 5 (with parent) to infinity
Reviewed by Katherine Klockenkemper
This story is about a young monkey named Curious George who goes out on an adventure to try to find the man with the yellow hat, the man who had brought him over here from Africa. He manages to escape from the zoo and takes a fun bus ride through the bumbling city before hopping off the bus and hungrily finding his way inside an Italian restaurant. He makes a mess of himself and is put to work by the chef of the restaurant. The chef later asks him if he would like to be hired for a job by one of his friends. The story continues and George goes through adventure after adventure, making mistakes and getting into trouble, until the man with the yellow hat eventually finds him and takes him home.
A cute story with bustling photos, young children are sure to find this an engaging book and will be labeling everything they know in the pictures, from zoo animals to motor vehicles. It is a fun story to read because the child just doesn’t know what kind of mess Curious George is going to get into next, and how he is going to get himself out of his mess.
Reviewed by Julia Hrobon
Written By Doreen Cronin
Pictures by Betsy Lewin
If you enjoy clever, laugh out loud humor and sassy, outspoken animals then this book is for you. Farmer Brown is the proud owner of several cows, hens and even a few ducks until one day his cows go on strike. With the aid of a handy old typewriter, these well versed cows begin to make their demands. Of all things, Farmer Brown’s cows insist on a few electric blankets for the barn- or else. Needless to say, Farmer Brown is furious as he can no longer get milk or even eggs once the farm’s hens join the cause and go on strike. In response, Farmer Brown makes a few of his own demands and entrusts Duck to spread the word. In the end Farmer Brown only opens up a can of worms. Immediately Duck and his fellow birds draft a request for a diving board after the cows pass on the typewriter upon receipt of their much longed for electric blankets!
A Caldecott Honor book, Click Clack Moo is filled with bright, expressive watercolor illustrations to enjoy as you turn each page. In addition to the beautiful illustrations, children will enjoy the rhyming dispersed throughout as well as the “sound” of the farm animals typing. This book is great for children as young as three years old as well as children as old as 103!
Reviewd by Carmen Caruthers