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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Children Learn about Body Art along with Numbers

Two Long Ears
Written and illustrated by Jacob A Boehne
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2016
Ages 3 to 6

In this board book, youngsters learn about body art as they count from 1 to 10. One is for one ring in the nose. Two is two long ears. Three is for three rose tattoos on the head.

“At an early age, I became intrigued by tattoos and body modification,” said Jacob A. Boehne in an author’s note. “I used to flip through ‘National Geographic’ admiring the people who were adorned with all sorts of images and jewelry.”

Boehne thought this book would be a simple way to start talking to preschoolers about cultural differences and foster diversity.

With its simple but intriguing illustrations, the book is a good conversation starter. However, it might have been a good idea to add a few facts at the end about which cultures have practiced ear stretching or found symbolic meaning in nose rings or decorated their bodies with tattoos.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Jacob A. Boehne is an early childhood educator, parent, artist, and writer who is interested in body art. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife and two children.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Children’s Book Shows Softer Side of Fairy Tale Villains

Good Night, Baddies
Written by Deborah Underwood and Illustrated by Juli Kangas
Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2016

At the end of the day, do fairy tale villains relax and unwind? This is the question asked by Deborah Underwood’s charming “Good Night Baddies.”

The story is told in a lilting rhyme and beautiful full-page illustrations of medieval scenes of colorful witches, giants, gnomes and dragons in castles and cottages.

“Sun dips down; the day has gone. Witches, wolves, and giants yawn.
Queen and dragon, troll and gnome: tired baddies head for home.”

Though they are nasty during the day, Underwood shows the villains being kind and polite to one another at night.

“Baddies sit politely dining, no one throwing food or whining.
All day long they must be vile; now, at night they chat and smile.”

The evil witch puts on pajamas; the old troll takes a long bubble bath. The big bad wolves brush their teeth; Rumpelstiltskin reads a sweet bedtime story. Dragon takes a refreshing drink.

The witches check for princesses hiding under the scared Giant’s bed. The baddies tuck each other into bed and snuggle tight, reading by candlelight.

“Underneath a starry sky, sing a baddie lullaby.
Day will bring more evil schemes,
Good night, baddies ... Sour dreams!”

This is a fun twist to what is expected. Children will be amused to find their favorite storybook villains at home showing their more human sides. The message that even the least likable people may have their good sides isn’t a bad one either.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Deborah Underwood has published many books for children including the New York Times bestsellers “The Quiet Book,” “The Loud Book,” and “Here Comes the Easter Cat.”

Juli Kangas has illustrated several picture books including “Photographer Mole” by Dennis Haseley.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle Norwegian Story Helps Children Understand Death

Life and I: A Story about Death
Written by Elisabeth Helland Larsen and Illustrated by Marine Schneider
Translated by Rosie Hedger
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016
Ages 5 – 8

With clear green eyes and a flower in her hair, Death rides a pink bicycle and visits small animals with soft fur and big animals with sharp teeth.

In this Norwegian import, “Life and I: A Story about Death,” death is portrayed as a kind and gentle black-haired girl. The words are poetic and pretty. Colorful pastel drawings create a warm, soft mood for the story.

The story is reassuring for children who may have questions about death. But a parent should read the story first before deciding whether to share it with their child.

Sometimes disturbing ideas, such as many people dying in a fire, are broached. But they are discussed in a tender way, “Shoulder to shoulder we stand in a circle. I put up lights for all to see.”

Another page brings up the death of children: “From time to time I meet those with downy soft hair and little warm hands that I hold in my own.”

And another considers, “Many people ponder all their lives what will happen when I come. Will it be chaotic or quiet, with the loss of a heartbeat and one last breath?”

The story brings up several positive ideas about death. One is that death makes way for new living things to grow. Another is that life and death live together in every body.

Life is portrayed as a red-haired twin to the black-haired Death. The two girls sit quietly together huddling over a town, or resting against tree trunks.

Finally, the narrator Death tells the reader, “If you are afraid of me or of Life, I can whisper something to you ... Love!”

Love does not die, even when it meets Death, the narrator says.

About the Author and Illustrator:

A native of Norway, Elisabeth Helland Larsen studied theater in Paris at the Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq and children's literature in Oslo at the Norsk Barnebokinstitutt. She has worked as a clown for more than 20 years in hospitals and hospices, as well as refugee camps, circuses, and theaters.

Marine Schneider has drawn since she could hold a pencil. The young Belgian illustrator just received her degree from the LUCA School of Arts. “Life and I” is her children's book debut.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Amusing Story Encourages Kids Who Are Toilet Training

The Saddest Toilet in the World
Written by Sam Apple and Illustrated by Sam Ricks
Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s publishing Division, 2016
Ages: 3-7

Parents who are struggling with toilet training their youngsters may find help from “The Saddest Toilet in the World,” a cheeky picture book about a toilet who runs away from home because Danny won’t sit on him.

The story is set in New York City and the active, comic-strip like illustrations show the toilet finding a familiar-looking exhibit at a modern art museum, being photographed with a family in Times Square, playing chess with an elderly man in a park, and riding in a horse carriage at Central Park. 
The morning after the toilet takes off Danny decides he is ready to begin sitting on the toilet. He and his parents discover the toilet is missing and he and his mom go through the city looking for him. They look everywhere, but can’t find the toilet.

On the way home, Danny spots the toilet on the subway. He tells him he’s ready to sit on him. The toilet needs some assurances, but finally decides to come home.  True to his word, Danny sits on the toilet and the toilet is happy and so is Danny. The story ends as the family rides a roller coaster to celebrate.

“The Saddest Toilet in the World” is well written and the colorful, active illustrations perfectly complement the story. Recommended.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Sam Apple teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and is the author of “American Parent” and “Schlepping Through the Alps.”  His work has appeared in “The New York Times Magazine,” “Financial Times Magazine,” and, among many other publications. A native Texan, Apple now lives in Philadelphia with his wife Jennifer and their three children, Isaac, Lila and Nina. 

Sam Ricks is the illustrator of several books for young readers including Simon & Schuster’s Data Set series. Sam earned his BA from Brigham Young University and his MA from the University of Baltimore. He is a founding member of Cotopaxi: Gear for Good. He lives with his wife and five children in Salt Lake City, Utah. Visit Sam at  


Monday, June 6, 2016

Biography of Early Female Sports Reporter Is Inspiring

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber
Written by Sue Macy and Illustrated by C.F. Payne
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
Ages: 5-8

“Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber” is a wonderful picture book biography: well written, engaging and inspiring in its subject. It is the story of Mary Garber, one of the first American female sports reporters.

Mary grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s, first in New Jersey and then in Winston-Salem, N.C. Even though she was a tiny girl, she always loved sports: playing football with the boys, going to football games with her dad and sister, and following boxing, baseball and football in the newspaper.

She graduated from Hollins College, a women’s school in Roanoke, Va., with a degree in philosophy. Then she struggled to find a job as a newspaper reporter, and finally took a post as a society reporter for the Twin City Sentinel, a paper in Winston-Salem. Reporting on the fashionable dresses rich people wore to social events didn’t interest her though.

Mary got her break during World War II when many young men joined the armed forces, leaving women to take over jobs on the home front.  After the Sentinel’s last sportswriter joined the navy in 1944, the editor assigned Mary to cover sports.
 She continued to write about sports for the Twin City Sentinel, and then its sister paper the Winston-Salem Journal after the Sentinel went out of business in 1985, until she was 86 in 2002, though she officially retired in 1986.

As one of the first woman sports reporters, Mary faced many obstacles, especially in the beginning. In the 1940s, women weren’t allowed to sit in the press box at college games. She had to sit with the coaches’ wives until her editor complained. As a woman, she also wasn’t allowed in the locker room.

When the male reporters interviewed players as they changed into their street clothes, she had to wait outside. It was hard for her to get quotes from the players because they were eager to get home after they left the locker room.

She wrote about Jackie Robinson, who played for the Dodgers as the first black player in major league baseball since the 1880s. Robinson became a role model for her. She felt inspired by how he maintained a quiet dignity despite taunts and jeers from people who couldn’t accept a black man in the major leagues.

Mary’s color blindness came out in her decision to begin covering games at Winston-Salem’s all black schools. At that time, many schools in the South were segregated, with white children attending all-white schools and black children attending all-black schools. When Mary began writing for the sports pages, the Sentinel rarely covered games at the black schools. Mary changed that.

Mary won many awards for her reporting and was voted into sportswriters’ halls of fame. But she said the greatest compliment she ever got happened when she was covering the Soap Box Derby in Winston-Salem. A friend of hers overheard a conversation between two eight- and ten-year-old African-American boys.  The older boy pointed to Mary and said, “Do you see that lady down there on the field?” The other boy nodded.

“That’s Miss Mary Garber. And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.”

As strong as this book is editorially, it is equally powerful visually. The mixed media illustrations by C.F. Payne compliment the story perfectly.  They fill the pages with character and movement, and are well composed for dramatic effect.

With its clear writing, nice use of quotations, and inspiring story, coupled with outstanding artwork, this picture book biography is strongly recommended.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Sue Macy enjoys writing about sports for children. Her latest picture book, “Roller Derby Rivals,” was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and was called “a slam bang offering” by Betsy Bird, who writes the blog, “A Fuse 8 Production,” for School Library Journal. Her previous picture book, “Basketball Belles,” was a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2011. Before turning to full-time writing, Sue was an editor and editorial director at Scholastic. She lives in Englewood, N.J., and her website is

C.F. Payne is the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestseller “Mousetronaut” by Mark Kelly and “Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He has received great acclaim for his work, including awards from the Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles. C.F. is a professor of distinction in the illustration department at Columbus College of Art and Design. He lives with his family in Lebanon, Ohio, and his website is