magnificent, tiny sparks of wonder

small wonders cover image

Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects, by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri
published in 2015 by Two Lions

My clear favorite for this week is this fascinating biography of a wonderful entomologist. This Frenchman was a keen observer who took time to wonder and look and discover.

And he was an excellent writer with a passion to lure all of us “to see the world through fresh, patient eyes — to appreciate the mystery and wonder of even the smallest creatures.” For his beautiful writing about nature, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature.

small wonders illustration giuliano ferri

Matthew Clark Smith has the background and heart of a naturalist, and communicates the beauty of Fabre’s pursuits in his captivating text. Ferri’s watercolor and pencil illustrations are radiant and lovely. Highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

darling and bursting with helpfulness

whose shoe cover image

Whose Shoe? by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
published in 2015 by Clarion Books

This brilliant author-illustrator team have concocted an immensely satisfying tale of a conscientious little mouse who finds one, lone, shoe. 

whose shoe illustration sergio ruzzier

He is determined to find its owner, who must be missing it dreadfully. When his task is accomplished, his reward is sweet indeed! Charming to the nth degree, for ages 2 and up.

a lovely ode to the annual beach vacation

see you next year cover image

See You Next Year, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Todd Stewart
published in 2015 by Owlkids Books

Coming to us from Canada, here is the quintessential family week at the beach. From the long drive to the coast, to the ever-present seagulls, beach umbrellas, and soothing rhythms of the days. Nothing changes, and that is why this little girl likes it. 

see you next year interior larsen and stewart

This year, though, she makes a new friend. Together they share the familiar, and when they leave, they know they can count on one more common thread to their beach vacations — seeing one another the next year. Great little beach read, with striking illustrations, for ages 2 and up.

a magical glimpse of nighttime

the night world cover image

The Night World, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

Award-winning author/illustrator Gerstein artistically, creatively explores nighttime in his latest book. One little boy and his cat, Sylvie, are the only ones awake and creepity-creep, out they step into the mesmerizingly-different back yard night world.

the night world interior mordicai gerstein

Chalky-black illustrations, sinuous and mysterious and fabulous,  hold so much to discover! Then, the star-studded sky slowly brightens and swooosh! — daylight spreads with color galore. Fantastic book full of wonder and discovery for ages 2 and up.

gorgeous look at the fascination and elegance of a whale

the blue whale cover image

The Blue Whale, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond
published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books

British artist Jenni Desmond has taken a marvelously creative approach to simply telling us all about blue whales.

the blue whale interior jenni desmond

Gorgeous artwork cleverly communicates an outstanding amount of interesting information about these intelligent, graceful giants. This is science that tastes like chocolate fudge ice cream. Brilliant work, for ages 5 and up. Here’s hoping she tackles more books that get published in the U.S. Thank you, Jenni and Enchanted Lion!

outstanding story bubbling with warmth and contentment

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Sunday Shopping, by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland
published in 2015 by Lee & Low Books Inc.

This exceptional story is based on Sally Derby’s childhood memories. Evie and her grandma have a Sunday night tradition that’s delightful and heartwarming, and Evie is here to tell us all about it.

sunday shopping interior derby and strickland

It involves dressing in nighties and fancy hats, gathering scissors, tape, and the Sunday newspaper, and “going shopping.” But the real ingredients of this memorable routine are love, companionship, strength, contentment, optimism — profound treasures that belong to this dear pair. Shadra Strickland’s brilliant illustration work exudes imagination and vitality. I love this offering, for ages 4 and up.

ridiculous and seaworthy

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Yak and Gnu, by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Cat Chapman
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Yak in his kayak and Gnu with his canoe, are out for a paddle.

yak and gnu interior maciver and chapman

Along the way they encounter a host of other sailors and their various craft. Goats in boats! Flotillas of gorillas! Join the nautical party and enjoy a crazy splash of humor, lilting rhyme, and the friendliest yak and gnu you’ll ever meet. Great fun for ages 2 and up.

jaunty crows in a peppy rhyme

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Counting Crows, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

One, Two, Three…crows in a tree!

counting crows interior appelt and dunlavey

Flap on over and join the rollicking rhythm of this snazzy flock of crows. Kathi Appelt’s rhyme is marvelously contagious, toe-tapping, sunny…all of that. Plus you get to count up to twelve…eventually. Love the jaunty red, white and black artwork here. It fits the text smashingly! Delightful, for ages 2 and up.

all aboard for Antarctica

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Sophie Scott Goes South, written and illustrated by Alison Lester
published in 2012 in Australia; first U.S. edition in 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Alison Lester is a favorite Aussie author/illustrator of ours. Probably one of our all-time favorite books is her The Journey Home.

sophie scott goes south interior alison lester

Lester went on a real journey to Antarctica, then fictionalized it in this fascinating, upbeat, travelogue by nine-year-old Sophie Scott. Find out about life on board a massive icebreaker, witness iceberg and penguin sightings, explore Antarctica in a special snowmachine, get caught in a blizzard, enjoy a King Neptune party — and much more. Photos and Lester’s charming drawings accompany Sophie’s 30 days of entries. Fantastic read for ages 7 and up. 

simply ducky

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Just Ducks, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
first U.S. edition 2012 by Candlewick Press

Here’s a title I’ve been meaning to fit in to my blog for years. It’s Nicola Davies’ vivid, child-friendly introduction to all things ducky, masterfully tailored to preschoolers.

just ducks illustration salvatore rubbino

And the amazing Salvatore Rubbino’s equally friendly, exceptionally-striking illustrations. Ducks are one of those parts of nature that so many of us have access to, making them a perfect starting point for observation and learning.

Bonkers, sci-fi read-aloud

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Cakes in Space, by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntrye
published in 2014 by Random House

A Poglite named Ploodle and ferocious frosted cupcakes! One slickery Nameless Horror and our champion of bravery, a little girl named Astra.

cakes in space illustration sarah mcintyre

Take a ride on a spaceship headed 199 years out into the universe, that accidentally becomes infested with marauding cakes and overrun with Poglites intent on salvaging spoons, spoons, spoons! Philip Reeve writes smashing, zany sci-fi for kids, some of which I’ve reviewed before (see Larklight’s review here.) This one’s pitched for even younger readers. Its pages explode with energetic comic-style illustrations. A thoroughly engaging read-aloud for ages 6 or 7 and up; sturdy, independent readers ages 8-10.

Summery, ice-cream confection


Ice Cream Summer, written and illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 2015 by Scholastic Press

Just to warn you: prepare to buy your kids ice cream cones after reading this book!

ice cream summer interior peter sis

Every page is saturated with ice cream cone fantasies. Enjoy reading this clever letter to Grandpa, while learning fascinating tidbits of ice cream history. Dripping with deliciousness for ages 4 and up.

A creative wail of jazz

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Bird & Diz, by Gary Golio, art by Ed Young
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Four artists at work here: Charlie “Bird” Parker on his sax and Dizzy “Diz” Gillespie on his trumpet toss rhythmic notes “back and forth like jugglers.”

bird & diz interior golio and young

Gary Golio paints a picture of their collaboration with zesty words. Ed Young portrays sound through color and line. The whole fantastic story spills onto one, long, accordion-pleated, jazz-saturated page. A burst of creativity for ages 4 and up.

Encouragement for new brothers and sisters

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The New Small Person, written and illustrated by Lauren Child
published in the UK in 2014; first U.S. edition in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Elmore Green is about to discover the downside of having a new, small, person enter his household. Like, this little person actually licking his jelly-beans, including the orange ones, and not getting in trouble because he is “only small.”

the new small person interior lauren child

Soon enough, though, Elmore finds the flip side of the coin. Turns out, that little person’s pretty great. Lauren Child’s contagious warm humor shines, for ages 3 and up.

Of NYC Subways and the Empire State Building

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, by Nadja Spiegelman, illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sánchez
published in 2015 by TOON Graphics

Come along on a field-trip to the Empire State Building. The teacher promises we’ll learn about the NYC subway system along the way. Pablo and Alicia learn more than they bargain for when they take the wrong train. Will they ever catch up with their classmates?

lost in nyc spiegelman and sanchez

An intriguing mix of information is presented in this stylish, graphic format. I was blown away with the approach to illustration Sánchez took. Brilliant. Extra pages of information are crammed with info. Ages 8 and up.

Just look into my eyes….

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Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France, by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Read this little gem and you will discover the origins of the word “mesmerized.” Fascinating!

mesmerized interior rockliff and bruno

The colorful, charged-up pages will sweep you into this glimpse of 1700s France, Ben Franklin’s scientific world, a tricky fellow named Dr. Mesmer, and a little something we call the placebo effect. The friendliest dose of science you’ll get all summer. Ages 7 and up.

Because what the world needs now is love, sweet love…

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One Family, by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gómez
published in 2015 by Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux

Who makes up your family? Ours includes two parents, four children, and an uncle. Some households include grandparents. Some are a mixture of races and ethnicities.

one family illustration george shannon

All the diverse families in this book love one another. That’s the best kind of family. A cheery catalogue of families and a bit of counting to boot flood the pages of this sunny, warmhearted book for ages 2 and up.

Tour a bayou, but prepare for rain…


Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story, by Caroline Starr Rose, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Feel the beads of moisture cling to your face. Smell the salty tang of seawater. Watch mossy curtains silently sway in the breeze.

over in the wetlands interior rose and dunlavey

Then hunker down in a gale-force wind. Hear the thunderous surf. Spy egrets sheltering among cattails. This gorgeous, sensory visit to a Louisiana bayou in a hurricane grips us with strange beauty, powerful storms, and fascinating wildlife. Great for ages 3 and up. Appears on shelves July 14th.

History as seen by a tree…

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As an Oak Tree Grows, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas
published in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers

Watch a Native child plant an acorn on a hill overlooking an Atlantic bay. What world surrounds that tiny sprout? How does the world change around it as it grows?

as an oak tree grows illustration g. brian karas

Witness the passing of time, the immense changes in the countryside, and the growth of the mighty oak. What purposes does it fill over the course of its long life? Beautiful, meaningful, intriguing, for ages 4 and up.

What makes someone a true winner?

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Number One Sam, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
published in 2014 by Disney Hyperion

Sam the dog is number one. He’s a spunky, zippy driver that always comes in first place…until the unthinkable happens: his friend Maggie wins. 

number one sam interior greg pizzoli

Sam is determined to beat Maggie in the next race, but something momentous happens, forcing Sam to choose between being one sort of winner, and another. Greg Pizzoli’s bold, winning illustrations rocket this simple story to a truly winning spot! Ages 2 and up. 

Because it’s pool time!

swimming-swimming cover image

Swimming, Swimming, lyrics from an old song, illustrated by Gary Clement
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books

Big, bold, sunny-day illustrations carry us along an energetic run-through of this classic children’s song.

swimming swimming illustration gary clements

If you don’t know the actions and the take-away-a-line-at-a-time part, I believe you can find them at groundwoodbooks.com/swimalong. Your kids will be singing it all summer long. Ages 2 and up.

Brand new and jazzy for beginning readers

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What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig, written and illustrated by Emma J. Virján
published in 2015 by Harper

If your child can read the title, he’s proficient enough to read this snappy new story featuring…a pig in a wig.

what this story needs is a pig in a wig illustration virjan

Sonic-boom colors. Mo Willem-esque illustrations. Friendly, happy story. A watery winner!

For fans and non-fans of creepy-crawlies

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Some Bugs, written by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
published in 2014 by Beach Lane Books

Let’s face it: summer is a buggy time. 

some bugs interior diterlizzi and wenzel

This upbeat catalogue of bugs is just the ticket to make them seem intriguing instead of irritating. Minimal words. Bold-as-brass pictures. Colorful and catchy…plus you learn the names of lots of exciting insects. Ages 2 and up.

A curious blast of poetry

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Beastly Verse, various poets, illustrated by JooHee Yoon
published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books

 Yoon’s cheerful, playful illustrations completely dominate these pages, some of which fold out to accommodate her weirdly-wonderful, capacious creatures.

This is a Spangled Pandemonium

This is a Spangled Pandemonium

Unconventional art, paired with classic animal-poems from the likes of Lewis Carroll, William Blake, and Christina Rossetti. A smashing success to share with ages 3 to 100.

Tea and crumpets, anyone?

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London Calls!, by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
published in 2014 by Tate Publishing

Dash along with Pearl and Granny Rose on a whirlwind tour of London.

london calls interior dawnay and barrow

The rhyming text merrily skips along, zigging and zagging among charming illustrations of everything from the London Eye to the Tube to Kensington Gardens. If you love London, I promise you will like this little book. Ages 4 and up.

Completely clever way-more-than-an-alphabet book

take away the a cover image

Take Away the A: An Alphabeast of a Book!, written by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
published in 2014 by Enchanted Lion Books

What happens when letters up and go missing?

Well, without the D, the dice are ice!

take away the a interior2 escoffier and digiacomo

Without the C, a chair has hair!

take away the a interior escoffier and digiacomo

26 extremely clever pages, especially fun for newish readers.

Calling Sherlock!

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Where’s the Pair?: A Spotting Book, written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
published in 2015 by Big Picture Press

Can you spot which two are precisely a pair?

where's the pair illustration britta teckentrup

That’s the game on every page of this tricky, tantalizing book. These puzzlers are not for amateur sleuths! Try them with ages 5 and up, with maybe a bit of help to get started.

Classic Scandinavian lore

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The Terrible Troll-Bird, written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
originally published in 1976; reissued by The New York Review  Children’s Collection in 2007

I could write a whole post on this one. 

the terrible troll bird illustration d'aulaire

The glorious troll-ish landscape of Scandinavian folklore, combined with the d’Aulaires magic touch at retelling and illustrating. Find out how Ola, Lina, Sina and Trina cope with the immense Troll Bird! Ages 6 and up.

Because it’s simply the best to sleep in a tent 

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Eddie’s Tent and How to Go Camping, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
published in 2015 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Coming from one of my favorite UK author/illustrators, this charming story about a family camping trip.

eddie's tent illustration sarah garland

Tents. Hot Chocolate. Starry Skies. Snug Sleeping Bags. Roasted chocolate-stuffed bananas. Really, does it get any better?! Rev up for your camping trip or start dreaming of one when you read this gem. Ages 3 and up.

Of Bicycles and Neighborliness

the red bicycle cover image

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle, written by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin
published in 2015 by Citizen Kid/Kids Can Press

Another winner coming out of the Canadian Citizen Kid line. This time, we see how the donation of a bicycle changes the lives of people across the world.

the red bicycle interior jude isabella and simone shin

Follow the bike as it changes hands and see the kind of good you can do when you act like a good neighbor to people you never even meet. A lengthy account for ages 5 or 6 and up, that could be read in installments if necessary.


Today, I finished reading a novel, translated from Norwegian, that stole my heart.

Along the way I laughed, I gasped, I felt my heart break, and I fell in love with a couple of foolhardy children, a glorious grandfather, and a grandma as loving and sheltering as the very hills.

It’s a debut novel, written 10 years ago and published in English for the first time this year. I highly recommend it for ages 8 and up.

adventures with waffles cover imageAdventures with Waffles, by Maria Parr, translated by Guy Puzey
originally published 2003; first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Along a glistening fjord, among steep fields that climb into sky-skimming hills and wooded mountainsides, a handful of farms are scattered about. One  belongs to nine-year-old Trille Yttergård, his parents, brother, sisters, and Grandpa. Next door, in their small house live his best friend, Lena, and her mom.091021-01-norway-fjords-traveler-destinations_big

Lena is Trille’s best friend, that is. But Trille is uncertain whether he is Lena’s best friend. It would be nice to know that. It gives a person such a steady, good feeling to know such a thing for certain.

One thing everyone in the area knows, is what a pair of hooligans Lena and Trille are. These two can get into mischief and mayhem faster than lightning strikes, and inevitably their shenanigans wind up with one of them getting hurt. Often badly. Or sprayed with cow muck. You never know what it will be.

midsummer-fire-nikolai-astrupThe idyllic setting with ferries motoring across the fjord, sugar-topped waffles cooked up by the best Auntie-Grandma in the world, Midsummer bonfires, and sheep roundups in the high pastures, careens with one disaster after another in episodes that made me laugh out loud. A lot. Lena is a spitfire, and Trille is easily raked into every noodle-headed plan she comes up with.

At the next moment, though, author Maria Parr swings us

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around, plunging us into such deep waters we are left reeling. The gasping pain of a loved one’s unexpected death; the ache and boulder-in-your-stomach sensation of grief and loneliness; the futile anger over sweeping changes in life that can’t be stopped — Parr stunningly conveys these strong emotions. She does this by creating characters we fiercely love, and letting them feel and voice their emotions in keen, yet age-appropriate ways, within the comforting arms of a warm family and community. Absolutely brilliant.

sjark-2As Lena participates in Trille’s large, warmhearted family, there’s one thing she sets her heart on: a dad of her own. She and Trille have difficulty at times articulating just what it is that dad’s are for; nonetheless, she is determined to get one. To her mom’s consternation, Lena’s methods in this venture are as unpredictable as everything else she does. One of the tenderest, most bittersweet moments in the story is when Trille understands with his whole being just what it is that a dad is for. It’s just not something that can be put into words.

Friendship. Family. Community. Belonging. Themes common to098f7a2856afc72c5b645f1eae712b23 lots of great literature, delivered here with charm and zest, concussions and fish breakfasts. There’s enough danger and pain and loss that despite the zaniness of many episodes, you might take care with younger, sensitive listeners or readers. For most, it would be a superb read-aloud or independent read, for ages 8 and up.

One of my new favorites.

Again today, I’ve got ten marvelous books, my favorites from what I read this week. Loads of goodness here…

A treasure of a treasury from my all-time favorite:

a year of stories and things to do cover image

A Year of Stories and Things to Do, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
published in Great Britain in 2014 by The Bodley Head

Shirley Hughes is a treasure, pure and simple. Her books are golden favorites in our family.

This collection exudes all that we love about Shirley in one hefty, beautiful volume.

from Alfie Wins a Prize

from Alfie Wins a Prize

A selection of her stories correlate with the seasons. Alfie’s Feet, with all his sploshing about, comes in April; Alfie Goes Camping lands in August. There are a few stories I’ve not seen before starring Jonadab and Bobbo, which were a special treat. Several poems are also included.

a year of stories and things to do by shirley hughes inteior

Each month begins with a little chat from Shirley, and ends with two pages of her creative suggestions for seasonal outdoor activities, games, crafts, recipes — old-fashioned, non-electronic, juicy stuff for children ages 3 and up.

Almost 300 gorgeous pages. A lovely gift for a lucky someone!

Jazzy toddler fare from Byron Barton:

my bike cover image

My Bike, written and illustrated by Byron Barton
published in 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Byron Barton is a genius author/illustrator for the animal-cracker crowd, and here is his newest title.

my bike illustration byron barton

Stoplight-bright colors, bold designs, and a clever journey on a bike with a jolly surprise ending.

Perfection for little squirts, 18 months and up.

Just in time for Father’s Day:

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Audrey’s Tree House, by Jenny Hughes, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley
published in Australia in 2014; first published in the U.S. in 2015 by Scholastic Press

Plucky young Audrey thinks she’s outgrown the family home so she’s on the look-out for a new place to accommodate her very grown-up self. A tree house should do the trick.

audrey's tree house jenny hughes and jonathan bentley

Good-natured Dad builds quite the elaborate place, all according to Audrey’s specifications, curling banisters, suspended bathtub and all. But after everything is in place, doubts begin to niggle their way in.

A warmhearted, tender tale for daughters and dads, ages 4 and up.

Generations of family love:

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Mama Seeton’s Whistle, by Jerry Spinelli, art by LeUyen Pham
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

I had an uncle whose come-to-dinner whistle could be heard all across the neighborhoods of their small Minnesota mining town, summoning my cousins from games of baseball and kick-the-can.

mama seeton's whistle illustration leuyen pham

Jerry Spinelli had a neighbor with the same talent, the basis for this delightful story. Watch Mama Seeton’s children grow up, venture into the world, have children of their own, but never forget their mama’s keen whistle.

LeUyen Pham’s charming illustrations blanket this story in warmth. Outstanding collaboration, for ages 5 and up.

A book about…Underwear?!?!

vegetables in underwear cover image

Vegetables in Underwear, written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
published in 2015 by Abrams Appleseed

If there’s one thing guaranteed to be scandalously funny to preschoolers…it’s underwear.

For those graduating to undies, it’s also quite a source of pride and excitement! That’s the crowd who will giggle and grin over this small catalog of underwear. Modeled by…vegetables.

vegetables in underwear illustration jared chapman

Because if underwear is not funny enough on its own…just let a potato or a turnip try some on and see how hysterical that is!

Crazy, Kool-aid bright, ridiculousness. But not for babies. Because babies don’t wear underwear! (Sorry, Babies.) Snicker over this one with your newly-out-of-diapers child.

Vintage charm for doll-lovers:

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A Doll for Marie, by Louise Fatio, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
originally published in 1957; republished by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015

This vintage charmer for little girls and their dolls has been reprinted this year.

In an antique shop in Paris, a beautiful doll languishes. She longs to be owned by a little girl who will take her to tea parties and read to her. And Marie longs to be that little girl, but she is too poor to buy her.

a doll for marie illustration roger duvoisin

These two are eventually united, but the pathway is full of alarming twists! Duvoisin’s beloved illustrations bring 1950s Paris to life. And — there’s a miniature edition of this book tucked inside, just right for reading to your doll! Pure sugar and spice for little girls ages 4 and older.

Toddler cheeriness from the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt guy!:

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The Bus is For Us!, by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Gillian Tyler
first U.S. edition 2015 by Candlewick Press

 Here is another blast of catchy cheer from UK writer/poet Michael Rosen.

These children have lots of ideas about ways to get from here to there. Some are ordinary; some extraordinary.

the bus is for us michael rosen and gillian tyler

But the best? The best is the bus, because the bus is for us! Sing out together about the delights of riding a double-decker bus crammed with friends. Gillian Tyler’s lovely artwork shines here. Brilliant for ages 18 months and up.

So clever and tricksy!

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Wild About Shapes, created by Jérémie Fischer
published in 2014 by Flying Eye Books

Watch this…

wild about shapes interior2 jeremie fischer

…transform to this,

wild about shapes interior jeremie fischer

with the flip of a colored, acetate page. It’s like magic! Can you guess what animal will emerge before you flip the page? The riddles will give you a clue.

Mesmerizing fun for ages 3 and up.

Sugary and delicious American history:

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Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution, by Mara Rockliff, pictures by Vincent X. Kirsch
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I’ve read a fair bit about the American Revolution, but I’ve never heard this story about Christopher Ludwick.

And his bountiful bakery.

And his tantalizing gingerbread.

gingerbread for liberty illustration vincent x. kirsch

And how he helped the Yankees win the war.

Read this exceptional, upbeat account to get ready for Independence Day. Comes with a recipe for gingerbread so you can make some mouthwatering confections of your own! Ideal for ages 5 and older.

It’s full-on summer. Time once again for me to change-up my blogging for a few months so I can soak up all this green-ness and daylight…and enjoy time with a couple of my children home from college.

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

This summer I’m planning to share my absolute top, favorite, cream of the crop picks from the stacks of books I look at each week.  No themed lists. Just whatever I find astonishingly good.

I could write an entire post on every one of this week’s picture books. I loved them all. I think you will, too!

Especially for big and little sisters:

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Tell Me What to Dream About, written and illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

An exceptionally-imaginative older sister tries to come up with ideas for her little sister to dream about so she can go to sleep.

tell me what to dream about illustration giselle potter

This big sister has Seriously Awesome Ideas for dreamland, such as the “furry world” pictured above, yet has a dickens of a time coming up with something that suits her younger sibling. Gloriously imaginative and colorful! Ages 3 and up.

Humor for dog-lovers:

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The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf

A clever dog offers an extraordinarily convoluted tale to explain the disappearance of his little girl’s sandwich.

the bear ate your sandwich illustration julia sarconne-roach

It’s all down to a bear, you see, who was lured from his den by the smell of some ripe strawberries…and off we go. Funny, with a most charming bear and dog. Ages 3 and up. 

Exquisite and Wordless for Children and Their Grown-ups:

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Sidewalk Flowers, conceived by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books

This gorgeous, wordless book follows a little girl and her father as they walk through the city to their home.sidewalk flowers interior jonarno lawson and sydney smith

As she trots along, she sees snippets of beauty scattered through the concrete landscape which all the adults around her overlook, and she sweetly, generously shares that beauty with a variety of others. Incredible book. Hopefully it will garner some awards. Ages 6 and up.

Stylish Diversity to Ponder:

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The World in a Second, by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho, translated by Lyn Miller-Lachman
originally published in Portugal in 2008; first American edition published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books

Jaw-dropping gorgeous design/illustration in this fascinating book about all the things that might be happening at the same second all over the world.

the world in a second illustration bernardo p carvalhoIncludes a world map showing all the places referenced. Fantastic and thought-provoking. Ages 5 and up.

Sweet Scandinavian Delight for Wee Ones:

where is pim cover image

Where is Pim? by Lena and Olof Landström, translated by Julia Marshall
originally published in Sweden in 2013; first American edition published in 2015 by Gecko Press

This is the darling sequel to Pim and Pom which I reviewed here. Pim is the little pink bunny. He is Pom’s special lovey. And egads! He goes missing!

where is pim interior lena and olof landstrom

Simple and dear for the very youngest — 18 months and older.

Poignant, Thought-Provoking, with Family Love at the Core:

yard sale cover image

Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

If you’ve held a yard sale, you know how tough it can be for kids to part with their stuff, no matter how much dust has gathered on it since they last realized it existed.

For the child in this story, Callie, it’s a different matter. Her family has to drastically downsize due to money troubles, and nearly everything familiar is being sold.

yard sale interior eve bunting and lauren castillo

That’s a heavy premise for a picture book, and this one’s got some raw emotions in it. Still, there’s a warm recognition of family sticking together come what may. Plus, Lauren Castillo’s illustrations are as heartwarming and lovely as always, providing the needed embrace of comfort.

If I were reading this with a child, I would definitely help them distinguish between the average yard sale which is sheerly a decluttering of excess stuff, and a situation as heart-heavy as this one. Ages 5 and up.

A Dream of a Tale for Introverts:

pool cover image

Pool, a wordless book by JiHyeon Lee
originally published in South Korea in 2013; first published in the U.S. in 2015 by Chronicle Books

This soft-as-a whisper story tenderly and imaginatively leads us through a chance meeting of two quiet children.

Pool illustration JiHyeon LeeThey’re at a public swimming pool, nearly overwhelmed by the brash, noisy, rambunctious crowds of kids, when with a dive and a swish, these two strangers meet and explore an imaginative, watery world together. Elegant and meaningful, especially for the quieter ones in this raucous world. Ages 5 and up.

Eccentric and Delightful:

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Crabtree, by Jon & Tucker Nichols
published in 2013 by McSweeney’s McMullens

Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth.  Uh-oh. He’s searching through all his belongings to find them, and it’s quite a task.

crabtree illustration jon and tucker nicholsMarvelously absurd. Drily humorous. It’s a total lark to comb through these groupings of Crabtree’s possessions, from his Hat & Helmet collection to his Small Yapping Dogs collection. It’s all here, laid out and labeled. Ages 7 and up.

Subversive Humor Guaranteed to Make Kids Smile:

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Meet the Dullards, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
published in 2015 by Balzer & Bray

Mr. & Mrs Dullard run an exceedingly gray, bland ship, which is just how they think things should be. Books, outdoor play, even chunky applesauce, are all verboten.

the dullards illustration daniel salmieriLaugh together at the boring-est parents ever, and watch the Dullard children conspire to grab some excitement. Over-the-top silliness for ages 5 and up.

Do Try This At Home:

the secret life of squirrels cover image

The Secret Life of Squirrels, written and photographed by Nancy Rose
published in 2014 by Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Company

The photographs in this book are not photoshopped!

the secret life of squirrels photo by nancy roseThey’re taken by Canadian photographer Nancy Rose, who builds tiny sets for these fuzzy fellows, adds some peanuts to lure them in, and then stands at the ready to snap the charming, unbelievable photos. These will tickle the fancy of you and your kids and maybe beckon you into some wildlife photography. Q&A with Nancy is included. Ages 4 and up.


Summer Reading Contests!

For bookworms — they’re a fun way to reward an activity that doesn’t often result in prizes.

For reluctant readers — they provide some jazzy incentives to keep up those reading muscles over the summer break.

20090529__book-ilo_400Locally, the Twin Cities metro area libraries all participate in Bookawocky, I believe. Write reviews, attend library events, earn badges, and win prizes. See your library for details, or check out the site at…

Scholastic is sponsoring Power Up and Read which includes the chance to win prizes and help set a new world record. Visit their extremely exciting site here:

Pizza Hut’s Book It program is many years old now. The summer reading program is a bit different than the school-year program. Kids are entered into a sweepstakes drawing themed around Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Find the details here:

The Library of Congress is sponsoring a contest called Letters summer-reading by santiago ucedaAbout Literature. The opening description from their site says, “Letters About Literature is a reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12. Students are asked to read a book, poem or speech and write to that author (living or dead) about how the book affected them personally. Letters are judged on state and national levels.” Go to their site to learn more:

Half Price Books has their act together with their Feed Your Brain summer program. Differing requirements suit kids ages 8th grade and down, or 9th grade and up. Earn Bookworm Bucks by following the guidelines you can find here:

SRP_World_Eng_Poster_croprevOnce again, Barnes and Noble has a fun summer contest. It’s theme is Imagination’s Destination this year. Read 8 books to earn a free book from their selections by grade level. Check out the rules and what you can choose from at their site:

Books a Million is a bookstore we don’t have in Minnesota. They’re running a summer reading program with a fairly heavy fantasy theme, predominantly for middle-grade readers it looks like. Worth looking at if your child likes fantasy novels and wants a Camp Half Blood tote bag:

Sylvan’s Book Adventure is for kids grades K-8. Read books, take quizzes, earn prizes. Check out the program here:

Chuck E Cheese always rewards reading with their Reading make-a-splash-2010-summer-reading-brochure_1Calendars which you can find at their site. Earn tokens for their in-store games and rides. Here’s where you get the calendars: http://www.chuckecheese.com/activities/rewards-calendars

If you know of any reading contests in your area, feel free to comment and let others know about them. If not — you could always create your own!


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