ALLY-SAURUS & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

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Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-6 )

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Even dinosaurs get starting school jitters, in fact, maybe even those who are actually little girls pretending to be dinosaurs.

“Do you think there will be other dinosaurs in my class?” asked Ally-saurus.
“I think you’re going to make a lot of new friends,” said Mother.

Introducing Ally-saurus, an enthusiastic, pig-tailed little girl with an active imagination. At first it seems that making friends will not be easy. None of Ally-saurus’ classmates chomp their snack with fierce teeth or “ROAR!” like she does. Instead they eat quietly much to Ally-saurus’ surprise. She was expecting everyone to be wild about dinos just like her.

Torrey cleverly uses black and white plus a lot of shading in his illustrations so the snippets of color that he adds stand out and really a make a statement. For example, a pink tail and ridges crayoned onto Ally-saurus throughout the book indicate that Ally is imagining herself as a Stegosaurus. Later, Robert is the first classmate to get his hint of blue color as he imagines himself to be an astronaut when he and Ally-saurus cut out nameplate designs for their cubbies. During a lesson on the weather followed by one about letters, three princesses begin voicing their opinions as gold crowns and dresses are outlined on them.

Then, at lunchtime Ally-saurus is told by these princesses that:

“These seats are saved for princesses, not dinosaurs,” said Tina.
“You’re not a real princess!” roared Ally-saurus.
“You’re not a real dinosaur,” said Tina.
“Then why am I eating dinosaur food?” asked Ally-saurus.
“That’s baloney!” said Tina, and the other princesses giggled.

Ally-saurus is left to sit alone elsewhere until she is joined by several other students, all eager to share what they enjoy pretending to be. “Soon the whole table was roaring and chomping.” It isn’t long before Ally-saurus and the kids from her lunch table are running around during recess playing make-believe and having a blast. Ally-saurus realizes too that dinos and princesses can find common ground over pretend cups of tea.

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Reprinted with permission from Ally-saurus & the First Day of School © 2015 by Richard Torrey, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Richard Torrey.

Best of all, in the school library, (my favorite place), Ally-saurus along with her classmates discover there are books about all kinds of things … including bunnies. And guess who’s got a pink bunny tail and bunny ears drawn on when she hops out of bed the next morning? Note: There’s an unassuming little bunny lamp on a night table in the last illustration. Plus, Torrey has cleverly covered the endpapers in front with dinos and at the back with bunnies, something I only noticed on the second read! That’s sure to make children want to go back again and again to look for more details.

Add Ally-saurus & the First Day of School to your back-to-school list for an ideal picture book to share with youngsters. It’ll help them realize they’re not the only ones who get nervous starting school. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about the give and take necessary to form and keep friendships.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


The Heir by Kiera Cass

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The Heir
Written by Kiera Cass
(
HarperTeen; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

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Kiera Cass has captured the hearts of readers worldwide with her #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series, and she continues to keep us captivated with her fourth book in the series, The Heir. The collection itself has become widely known as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games with a bit of Cinderella mixed in.

Books 1-3 center around Prince Maxon and his endeavor to find a wife, who will be his queen once he becomes King of Illéa (essentially the United States post war). One of the 35 contestants is America Singer, a young lady of a lower caste than most of the other girls. While the others are vying for a place in the palace as well as in Maxon’s heart, America resists because, while a life with Maxon would mean raising her family’s status, it would also mean denying her true love whom she must leave behind. America soon discovers, however, that a life with Maxon is exactly what she wants and more than she could have dreamed of, and she must fight to the end to attain it.

Book 4, The Heir, is set twenty years later and tells a similar tale through Princess Eadlyn, daughter of King Maxon and his bride, Queen America. Though Eadlyn is also resistant to the Selection from the start, like her mother had been, she begins to learn that perhaps love is possible in the most unlikely of circumstances, and maybe happily ever after is meant for her after all. Much like her parents did in the past, Eadlyn faces much political and personal turmoil during the selection process.

Cass leaves us on the edge of our seats at the cliffhanger ending of this book as we await the fifth and final volume of the series, which is due to be released in the spring of 2016. These books will draw in readers of all ages. In fact, they were recommended to me by my 14-year-old niece, an avid reader who said these were her favorites of any books she’s ever read. Though there are more than 20 years between us, I too was enchanted by this ongoing saga, so much so that I read all four novels in just three days! Though I am disappointed that I have to wait months to read its conclusion, I will be much more disappointed when it’s over.

–  Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

 

 


Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

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RUDE CAKES
Written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
(Chronicle Books: $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A treat for parents and kids!

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At first glance, the cover of Rude Cakes definitely whet my appetite, and then when I turned to the title page and read that this picture book, out just last month, was “cooked up” by Rowboat Watkins, I knew I just had to dig in.  Frankly, I’d read anything by someone called Rowboat so I’m happy Rude Cakes turned out to be a huge treat!

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Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

Watkins, a former Sendak Fellow, serves up a filling mix of art and prose in under 200 words. I also adored the illustrations with a style resembling cotton candy awash in jelly bean hues, all light, airy and fanciful. Coupled with the marvelous artwork is a storyline familiar to us all and worth repeating. Manners maketh man or in this case, cake. The two-tiered, two-toned pink cake, never hesitating to push, pull and take what it likes, could use a few lessons in how to treat both its parents and its friends.

Rude cakes never listen (especially when their parents sound boring)
and they never wait their turn in line.

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Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

After much rudeness to its so-called pals, a marshmallow and a cupcake, the rude bubble-gum colored cake calls it a night … when it’s ready! Here the illustrations depict the dessert bouncing around holding its trusty cyclops stuffed toy. Note: point out to little ones that the cyclops poster above Pink Cake’s bed says EYE SEE YOU. Soon, in a dream (or did it really happen in this fantastical story?) the obnoxious confection is plucked from its bed, mistaken for a hat. into a parallel universe.

This parallel universe of sorts is a place where …

Giant Cyclopses always say thank you,
and they always say please,
and they love to share.

These thoughtful, well behaved Giant Cyclopses compliment the hat, ask to borrow the hat, all the while demonstrating the rewards of good manners. In fact, it turns out that the only way this tired and boorish gateau is going to be heard by the Giant Cyclopses, is by using one little but powerful magic word. But to  convince a bunch of cyclopses that it’s not a hat, Pink Cake must ask in a polite, not half-baked way to be returned back to bed. Because in the end, don’t good manners always take the cake?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for directions on how to make an origami eye.

If you’d like to see another perspective on this picture book, please click here to read blogger Danielle Davis’ take on Watkins’ scrumptious story.

 


Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) by Liz Pichon

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The British are coming … Again!

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff)
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
(Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

TomGatesExcellentExcuses.jpgWhile Paul Revere is probably rolling in his grave, Pichon’s American fans will be rolling over with laughter as they read the next book in the hilarious saga of British fifth grader, Tom Gates.

Those who read Pichon’s first book, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, will find that Tom, now on a two week break, is still up to his usual hijinks: finding new and improved ways of annoying his sister, Delia, devising the most ingenious excuses to get out of troublesome situations, eating his favorite snacks (caramel wafers), doodling, and hanging out with his best mate (friend), Derek.

Tom’s biggest hope is to find a drummer for his band, DOGZOMBIES and secure the band’s first gig. But in typical Tom Gates fashion, there’s a whole lot of everyday life – and his reaction to it – swirling around: a bad tooth, his prank-playing cousins, the ongoing rivalry with class smarty pants, Marcus, and the field trip from hell. Oh, and as Mr. Fullerman, his teacher, keeps reminding him, there’s still an overdue homework assignment to turn in. To give Tom a little incentive, Mr. Fullerman (who’s wise to this procrastinating day dreamer) has sent one of his prize worthy, tongue-in-cheek notes home to his parents. So now Tom’s got his parents on his back about that (and undone chores),

The DOGZOMBIES land their first gig, thanks to Tom’s zany grandfather, at the Leafy Green Old Folks Home (where many of the residents truly don’t mind loud music). Their success at Leafy Green even inspires Tom’s principal to ask the band to play at an all school assembly (Tom puts him off by claiming Delia injured his arm when she punched him).

In one of the book’s many subplots, Tom becomes suspicious about the growing number of gold stars Marcus has earned on the classroom Gold Star Award Chart. So he begins to spy on Marcus and observes him purchasing gold stars. Aha! Tom brilliantly exposes Marcus’ cheating and finally finishes his homework assignment. In the process, he earns three gold stars, putting him ahead of all his classmates.

Tom’s clever doodles are a treasure and often visually extend the narrative, supporting young readers with additional clues about the story and characters. And for those readers who don’t know “British” check the handy (and well doodled) glossary in the back.

Visit Pichon’s website for more information about the author and the series. You can also find several videos, including book trailers, “How to Draw Like Tom Gates,” and “Fun Stuff” to do. Visit The World of Tom Gates website, too. Click here for a sample chapter.

New to Tom Gates? Read my previous review of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates on the Good Reads With Ronna blog to get acquainted with this terrific series. Highly recommended for tweens, ages 8-12, who enjoy the humorous, diary-style series.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


Putting The Monkeys To Bed by Gennifer Choldenko

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PUTTING THE MONKEYS TO BED
Written by Gennifer Choldenko
Illustrated by Jack E. Davis
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

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     If you thought getting your children to go to sleep wasn’t difficult enough, try your hand at Putting The Monkeys to Bed. This new picture book by popular children’s author, Gennifer Choldenko, is a whimsical tale of nighttime shenanigans started by young Sam’s active imagination and perpetuated by a trio of plush merry-making monkeys.

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Interior artwork from Putting The Monkeys to Bed by Gennifer Choldenko with illustrations by Jack E. Davis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ©2015.

     As is often the case with so many little ones, going to bed can be a chore when there’s still so much to think about:

Do pirates sleep with their eye patches on?

Do fish go to bed in their bathing suits?

Where do baseball players sleep at night?

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Interior artwork from Putting The Monkeys to Bed by Gennifer Choldenko with illustrations by Jack E. Davis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ©2015.

… and so much fun still to be had. But when the day begins to catch up with him, and Sam is ready to call it a night, it seems the simians can’t switch off. Even calm inducing in and out breathing turns into ping pong singing for the primate pals eager to play the night away. Davis’s light-hearted illustrations capture the antics of the monkeys as they try everything in their power to keep Sam awake, my favorite being the one where the monkeys mimic the ubiquitous Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil statues. Eventually though, the monkeys succumb to some serious snuggling and a bedtime story read in a whisper by the weary Sam as “Arms cuddle close. Covers nestle round. Heavy heads sink into soft pillows.”

     Parents, if you and your kids are still awake after this wonderful wind down, check out the humorous author’s note at the end with answers to Sam’s questions posed above. I also recommend going back through each spread to enjoy all the details Davis has included. Then, if yawns and heavy eyelids are still not evident, you can always try singing a lullaby, but somehow I think that won’t be necessary. Look for satisfied smiles all around as little ones drift off to dreamland when you share Choldenko’s Putting The Monkeys to Bed tonight.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Firebird by Misty Copeland

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FIREBIRD
Written by Misty Copeland
Illustrated by Christopher Myers
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Firebird won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, received the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor, and was an NPR Best Book of 2014.

 

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In Firebird; American Ballet Theater ballerina, Misty Copeland, shows a young girl how to dance like the firebird. Copeland, author of Life in Motion, has written a spare but powerful picture book about a young African American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Daunted by the process, the young girl compares her ” gray as rain” self to the “swift as sunlight” Copeland, believing that she could never be as good as her idol. Realizing that the girl lacks confidence and is overwhelmed by what lays ahead, Copeland offers encouragement and support in a lyrical conversation between mentor and protégé:

“darling child, don’t you know

you’re just where I started …

your beginning’s just begun …”

Copeland assures the young girl that, despite the challenges and hard work (“…I  had a thousand leaps and falls …”), her ability will grow. One day someone will need her support:

“then they will look to you in wonder

and say …

the space between you and me is longer than forever

and I will show them that forever is not so far away”

Lovely ballet similes and metaphors are woven into a narrative as powerful, yet as graceful as the dancer’s art:

“ …Like me you’ll grow steady in grace

spread an arabesque of wings

and climb …”

And while the narrative is a conversation is between a beginning dancer and an experienced ballerina, Copeland’s message of determination and realizing your dream is an important and inspiring message for all of us.

Using bold and striking mixed media illustrations, award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers enhances the soaring and inspirational text by dramatically capturing the movement of the dance and Copeland’s amazing ability to stretch her body in extraordinary positions. Likewise, his illustrations also depict the tender and affirming relationship between Copeland and her protégé. Myers, the son of the late children’s author Walter Dean Myers, has received multiple awards for his illustrations. Visit Reading Rockets for a selected list of his books and a video interview.

The Afterword contains a poignant message from Copeland about her childhood struggles and how ballet “saved” her. Nevertheless, as an African American, she did not see herself in this almost exclusively white world. With hope, hard work, and support she made it and has turned to supporting other young dreamers like herself to enter the world of Classical ballet.

Copeland has just been appointed the first African American principal ballerina of American Ballet Theater. Visit Misty at her website and see her reading Firebird at the April 6, 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll. A search on YouTube will display many videos featuring interviews and performances. Click on the link to read an excerpt of Life in Motion and see a short video of Copeland discussing her determination to succeed. Earlier this week it was also announced that for two weeks this August, Copeland will star on Broadway in the musical “On the Town.”

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


Summer Holiday Hiatus

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WE’RE TAKING A BRIEF BREAK,
BUT BRINGING ALONG BOOKS!

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The reviewers at Good Reads With Ronna are busy taking children to libraries, camp, and summer school. They’re also visiting the sights and sounds of L.A. with friends, as well as making trips to beaches, pool and parks. Wherever they go, however, they will be reading to keep you up-to-date on the latest and greatest books for kids. Please join us back here in early July for more reading-related coverage of books by your favorite authors and many others you’ve not yet discovered. 

HAPPY READING! 

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