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Monday, March 21, 2016

National Geographic Publishes Kids’ Books for Easter

In time for Easter, the National Geographic Society is coming out with two educational books for youngsters: a paperback version of a children’s book about Easter traditions first published in 2007 and a board book about farm animals.

Holidays around the World: Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer
By Deborah Heiligman with the Rev. George Handzo
National Geographic Society, paperback edition, 2016
Ages: 6-9

The history and traditions of Easter are told in a first-person plural narrative with many colorful vibrant photographs. Children learn about the religious and secular celebration of the holiday throughout the world.

Photos show Sunday services letting out in Ghana; an Easter procession on Marinduque Island in the Philippines; Christians celebrating Palm Sunday in Jerusalem; and thousands gathering for Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome.

More photos depict revelers in New Orleans for a Mardi Gras parade; children at the White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, D.C.; a dog with a pink hat and pink painted toe nails in the Easter Parade in New York City; and women decorating chocolate Easter eggs in a factory in Sydney, Australia. 
At the back of the book, children can learn more facts about Easter, how to hide messages in Easter eggs, two popular Easter hymns, and how to make Easter cookies. Several children’s books about Easter and educational Web sites are listed. A glossary tells definitions of a handful of words. A map shows all the areas in the world where photos were taken for the book. Finally, the book’s consultant, the Rev. George Handzo, gives parents and teachers more historical and cultural background about Easter.  
About the Author and Consultant:

Deborah Heiligman was a religious studies major in college. Today, she specializes in writing about complex subjects for young people, tackling everything from butterflies to the Titanic. Her award-winning books for National Geographic include “Honeybees;” “Babies: All You Need to Know;” and “High Hopes: A Photobiography of John F. Kennedy." Deborah lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Visit her at and tell her how you celebrate Easter.

The Reverend George Handzo is an associate vice president of the HealthCare Chaplaincy, a center for pastoral care, education, and research around the world. It is based in New York.

National Geographic Kids Look & Learn: Farm Animals
By Catherine D. Hughes
National Geographic Society, 2016
Ages: 2-5

Young children can learn more about some of their favorite farm animals and enjoy colorful photographs in this kid-size board book. The language is simple and age appropriate. In the last pages, the children are quizzed about what they have learned. They can point to the picture of the animal that answers each question.  

About the author:

Catherine D. Hughes is the executive editor of preschool content at National Geographic. She has written several other National Geographic books for youngsters.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Funny Book Pokes Fun at 'Normal'

Normal Norman
Written by Tara Lazar and Illustrated by S. Britt
Sterling Children’s Books, March 2016
Ages: 4+

An eager young scientist, narrating her first book, is tasked with defining the word “normal.” To do this, she describes the appearance, home and family of Norman, who is “exceedingly normal.”

Unfortunately, Norman, a purple orangutan, turns out to be anything but normal. He drives a dune buggy, feels sorry for bananas and oranges when they’re peeled, and sleeps with a stuffed animal named Mr. Scruffles.

Hilarity ensues as the little scientist becomes more and more frustrated with Norman for ruining her demonstration. Finally, she throws her clipboard up in despair and begins to cry. Norman comforts her and invites her to observe him and his friends in their natural habitat. A rhinoceros paints, a lion rides a scooter, a giraffe roller skates, and a crocodile and snake play marbles. Finally, the junior scientist decides normal is different for everyone. She quits her narration and decides to do her normal hobby, riding on the back of a rhino and playing an unusual, new-fangled horn. The head scientist writes on his clipboard, “Results: ‘Normal’ is impossible to define. Assignment complete!"

“Normal Norman” is a fun story with a good message for children. The colorful, vibrant illustrations ratchet up the humor and offer many details for readers to enjoy.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Tara Lazar lives in Basking Ridge, NJ, with her husband, two daughters, and 2,749 stuffed animals including a four-foot-tall Norman.  She’s the author of “The Monstore,” “I Thought This Was a Bear Book” (both Simon & Schuster), and “Little Red Gliding Hood” (Random House). She founded Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) on her award-winning blog at

S. Britt (a.k.a. Stephan Britt) first developed his zeal for drawing in childhood, when he drew on anything and everything that wasn’t dripping wet. He soon decided there was nothing that would make him happier than illustrating children’s books. His first picture book, “Over in the Hollow,” was a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best. He lives in Portland, OR. Visit him online at

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Beautiful Book Sings about Cuban Girl Drummer

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
Written by Margarita Engle and Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grade level: Preschool to 3

A Cuban girl dreams of “pounding tall conga drums, tapping small bongo drums and boom boom booming with long, loud sticks on big, round, silvery moon-bright timbales.” But at this time in Cuba, only boys can be drummers. This lyrical story is inspired by the story of  a Chinese-African-Cuban girl named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who in 1932 at the age of 10, performed with her older sisters in Anacaona, Cuba’s first all-girl dance band. She went on to become a world-famous musician.

The story is told with beautiful, lyrical language in the style of a poem. Drum dream girl lives on the island of music in the city of drumbeats. She goes to outdoor cafes and hears drums played by men. She closes her eyes and hears her own imaginary music. As she walks around her tropical island home, she hears music in parrot wings, woodpecker beaks, and in her own footsteps and heartbeat. At carnivals, she listens to the rattling beat of dancers on stilts and the dragon clang of costumed drummers in masks. At home, she drums on tables and chairs.

Her sisters invite her to join their all-girl band. But their father says only boys should play drums. She keeps drumming and dreaming until her father finally agrees to let her take drum lessons. She practices and practices until the teacher agrees she’s ready to play her small bongo drums at a starlit café. Everyone who hears her “dream-bright music” sings and dances, and decide that girls should be allowed to play drums.

The full-page, colorful illustrations are as full of beauty and movement as the words. Lopez’s luminous acrylic paintings bring the girl’s brave story to vivid life.

This inspirational book will be enjoyed by adults as well as children. It has won many awards including the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book and a 2016 Pura Belpre Medal for illustration, which goes to a Latino/Latina illustrator whose work celebrates the Latino cultural experience.

The book includes a historical note at the back, giving some information about the child Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who inspired the story. 

About the Author and Illustrator:

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her award-winning books include “Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal;” “The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist;” “The Wild Book;” and “The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom,” a Newberry Honor Book. She is a several-time winner of both the Americas Award and the Pura Belpre Medal. Margarita Engle lives in Northern California.

Rafael Lopez grew up in Mexico City, where he was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and color of street life. His vibrant picture books include “Tito Puente, Mambo King,” and “My Name is Celia,” both written by Monica Brown, and “Book Fiesta!” by Pat Mora. He has received the Pura Belpre and Americas awards multiple times. An acclaimed muralist, he has designed community-based mural projects nationwide. He divides his time between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif.