Childrens Book Reviews

This is Belle

Review by: Michael Lambert
Published: February 14, 2019

Every parent is looking for a book to inspire their children, and this book is special in so many ways.

For starters, the entire book is presented with beautiful graphics. Graphics are a part of every childrens book, or at least they should be, but the graphics often are an after thought. These graphics actually paint the picture that the story is telling. It's easy for a child to focus on the book because of these well presented graphics. Not too "slick", not to goofy, just right to speak to your child.

To further aid in your childs development, the book is written in two languages...showing side by side. Coming from south Florida this is invaluable. But should be considered valuable by anyone interested in language skills. Exposing a child (as well as the parent) to multiple lanaguages as early as possible is a great way to help insure an open mind, for language, as well as various cultures. And obviously a primarily spanish speaking family will be thrilled to have a well written childrens book written in english and the original author!

But there is no doubt that the true value of this book is it's message. I would actually say there are two distinct messages within the book. One is showing that any child that has difficulty finding friends or mixing in should realize that they are not alone. This simple fact can put your child at ease, and allow them to feel less alone and awkward. The second message suggests that the child find things in common with others, and build relationships based on the commonality. A message that should speak to children as well as adults, but too often doesn't.

I have had the opportunity to meet this author, as well as to "fight" with her, as she is a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido, and I am a shodan (1st degree). When Isabel is not swimming, running or pursuing other physical challenges, she teaches Aikido to children and exhibits great patience training the children to be respectful and controlled, but have fun. She and her family are amazing people, and their children are a testament to her ability to speak to and inspire children.

Title:This is Belle
Paperback: 26 Pages
Author: Isabel De La Vega
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication Date: 13 April 2017
Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1524687308
ISBN-13: 978-1524687304
For ages: 5 - 12


Baz and Benz

Review by: Shaye Wardrop
Published: March 19, 2019

Baz and Benz are friends. 

But Baz wants to know exactly how much they are friends, and in what circumstances Benz would or wouldn’t like him.

So he tests him. 

What if I turned purple and had spots? 

What if I said MEEP all the time?

With every challenge from Baz, Benz assures him he would still be his friend. 

But as Baz pushes things further and further, it seems more and more likely Benz may not stick out the friendship. 

Baz and Benz is a fun and funny bone-tickling picture book by the talented author/illustrator who brought us I Just Ate My Friend. It’s filled with delightful characters, oodles of humour and funky illustrations.

McKinnon has a talent for bringing to life heart-felt AND humour-filled stories that are entertaining and engaging for kids. Baz and Benz hits all these points. 

I love that McKinnon uses pared back text that gets right to the heart of the story in the fewest number of words. It allows kids to ponder on meaning and provides space for thinking and exploring the illustrations, which are packed with brilliant visual cues for kids and are simply adorable.

If you like funny picture books with lots of heart, this one is for you!

Title: Baz and Benz
Author/Illustrator: Heidi McKinnon
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, $24.99
Publication Date: March 2019
Format: Hard Cover
ISBN: 9781760523688
For ages: 2+
Type: Picture Book

New York Melody

Review by: Leanne Barrett
Published: March 19, 2019

First we were up, up and away with Mary Poppins in London and then in Paris. Now Hélène Druvert helps readers discover New York in, New York Melody.

This series of stories belong to the category of, those delicate and unique books. The use of laser-cut illustrations, make lovers of paper cut and silhouette art swoon.

The exquisite rhyme and rhythm of the story, help the notes wriggle and jiggle and dance through the book, as they float in and out of the night air. They spill out of Carnegie Hall into the Jazz Clubs of Broadway and then burst out of the darkness into the daylight of Central Park, as a man strums his guitar and hums.

The laser-cutouts and the minimal use of colours (black, white and pale blue) are delicious as they reveal instruments and musicians as the story unfolds. But wait there is more! One page has the most shiny trumpet printed in gold gilding with one valve key showing the silhouette of the Chrysler Building.

The attention to detail is breathtaking. Readers will find a variety of instruments: harp, violins, trumpets, a piano, trombones, saxophones, drums, cymbals and the humble and portable guitar. Like music, the book will enwrap you, as you travel though the streets of New York.

Other books in this series are:
Mary Poppins Up, Up and Away
Paris Up, Up and Away

Title: New York Melody
Author/Illustrator: Hélène Druvert
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, $29.99
Publication Date: 1 October 2018
Format: Hard Cover
ISBN: 9780500651735
For ages: 6+
Type: Picture Book


Review by: DimbutNice
Published: March 17, 2019

The fourth book in the educational and entertaining Lessons of a LAC series by clinical psychologist Lyn Jenkins reveals the connection between how children see their world, and how that view influences their emotions.

Lyn uses coloured glasses as a metaphor for how children see things, and how they think about what they see. 

Changing the colour of the glasses, allows their emotional state to be reflected in their colour choice. 

This encourages emotional health and stability, self awareness, and offers alternative choices about what they see and how that is interpreted. If they look through grey glasses, they see things dull and muted and themselves as unworthy.

With Kirrili Lonergan’s brilliant characters Loppy and Curly, children step into a situation that needs all the skills mentioned. It focuses on what colour glasses Loppy is seeing his art work through and the connecting emotions that surface when he uses the grey coloured ones.

This series awakens in parents, resourceful approaches to problems and angst faced by young children in their formative years. It opens doors and windows through discussion and conversations linked to the main themes addressed here.

Colour and its importance is accentuated literally and metaphorically. Children can visually identify the differences between changing the way they look at things and the way they feel, through Loppy and Curly’s interactions.

If you haven’t looked at any of the books in this series - each with a separate issue and approach to it, start from the first book, Lessons of a LAC, which addresses anxiety in children. Strangely enough, I found that they offer excellent strategies for people of all ages, not only for children. What is suggested here can easily be applied to anyone challenged by the way they view their world, and the emotional cost to them by looking through the wrong lenses.

Title: Grey-glasses-itis
Author: Lyn Jenkins
Illustrator: Kirrili Lonergan
Publisher: EK Books, $19.99
Publication Date: January 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925335958
For ages: 4 - 8
Type: Picture Book

Lights, Camera, Carmen! by Anika Denise, illustrated by Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Review by: Tanya
Published: March 19, 2019

Lights, Camera, Carmen! 
by Anika Denise, illustrated by Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Review Copy from AbramsKids
In Starring Carmen! (which, sadly, I missed when it came out in fall of 2017) Denise and Gómez introduced a vibrant "one girl sensación" who loves to perform, drawing her parents and little brother into her creative expression, exhausting as it may be, from the sets to the rehearsals to the production. In Lights, Camera, Carmen!, the action shifts from stage to screen. 
Carmen is a force of nature, with her little brother Eduardo as her happily willing assistant when she decides to enter a cereal contest showing the world how she eats her Dino-Krispies. When an attempt at a showstopper (turning the cereal into a smoothie) ends badly, she turns her positive mindset to something new. When the winner of the contest is finally announced, Carmen has to deal with disappointment and maybe even a little jealousy when Eduardo is chosen to be the face of the "How Do You Eat YOUR Dino-Krispies" campaign. With the support of her parents, she works through her emotions and even finds a new career path - agent.

There are SO MANY things I love about Carmen, Let's start with the fact that she and her family are Latinx, with Denise and Gómez integrating this seamlessly into the story without making it the story. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text with Gómez, who lives in Colombia, filling her illustrations with rich patterns and exuberant colors. Gómez, who also writes and illustrates stunning graphic novels (see below), is an amazing illustrator. Her characters, with their big eyes, pink noses and colorful hair, are cinematic and surprisingly expressive. Every page is generously packed with details and a riot of colors, from potted houseplants and refrigerator magnet, to bowls of fruit and stuffed toys. And then there is Carmen herself (and, to be fair, her parents.) Carmen is a creative force of nature and a marvelous example of execution of these ideas, from start to finish, as well as a positive response to failure. The fact that her parents both support and step back (they are not helicopter, or even snowplow, parents) is invaluable for readers to see on the page. And, last but not least, it's great to see the sibling relationship that is a working partnership, with ups and downs.

But really, at the end of the day, Carmen - and Eduardo - are just fun to hang out with. I hope there is one (or two?) more escapades in their future...
Also by Anika Denise:
More from Lorena Alvarez Gómez
And the sequel! Review coming soon...

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Review by: Tanya
Published: March 18, 2019

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Published by AbramsKids Books
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation is a stunning, marvelously researched, written and illustrated book about an important but little known event in the history of America, California, Latinx-Americans, education and civil rights. Seven years before the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools in the entire country, Mendez v. Westminster School District was the first case to determine that school segregation itself is unconstitutional and violates the 14th Amendment. Tonatiuh's Author's Note unpacks the layers of the Mendez case, telling readers that key roles were played by both Thurgood Marshall and Earl Warren in the Mendez case. Marshall sent friend-of-the-court briefs to the judge in the case and Warren, who, at the time was the governor who signed into law the desegregation of ALL schools in California, later became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and presided over the Brown case, ruling in Brown's favor. And, while the courage of the Mendez family made segregation in schools illegal in the United States, Tonatiuh writes that, "unfortunately, a great deal of inequality - and a kind of unofficial segregation - still exists in today." A study just released by EdBuild, a non-profit organization focused on bringing common sense and fairness to the ways states fund public schools, finds that nonwhite school districts get $23 billion LESS than white districts despite serving the same number of students. And this is not just about living in poverty, as the study found that, while poor-white school districts receive $150 less per student than the national average, they are still receiving $1,500 MORE than poor-nonwhite school districts. California is among the top offenders, with predominantly nonwhite school districts (accounting for 65% of California's students) receiving 20% less funding on average than predominantly white school districts.
Tonatiuh frames the story of this important case, setting it three years after the Mendez v. Westminster School District, reminding us that prejudice, xenophobia and many forms of segregation are ever present and the fight for equality must not stop. When we first meet Sylvia, she is attending the school she was once barred from. Demoralized by the name calling, pointing and whispering, Sylvia does not want to return.  She is reminded by her mother that her family fought so that she could attend a good school and have equal opportunities. Finding new strength, Sylvia returns and eventually makes friends from all different backgrounds. 
Flashing back to 1944, readers learn that the Mendez family moved from Santa Ana to nearby Westminster where Gonzalo Mendez would be leasing a farm, finally his own boss. Interestingly, this farm is owned by the Munemitsu's, a Japanese family that has been sent to Poston Internment Camp, 250 miles away in Arizona. Winifred Conkling's excellent novel, Sylvia & Aki, condenses the life altering experiences of the daughters of each family into a highly readable book (with great back matter) that all children, especially Californians, should read. When Sylvia's aunt takes her, her brothers and her cousins to Westminster elementary school to register the children, they are told that Alice and Virginia, with their, "light skin and long auburn hair," and last name Viadurri, can attend. Sylvia and her brothers, with their, "brown skin and black hair," and last name Mendez, must attend "the Mexican school," despite the fact that they were born in America, speak perfect English and are the children of U.S. citizens. Unlike the well appointed, well cared for Westminster, Hoover Elementary, "the Mexican school," was a clapboard shack surrounded by a cow pasture. The children were forced to eat lunch outdoors, swarmed by flies and surrounded by an electric fence to keep the cows in.

Unwilling to accept this, Gonzalo Mendez began a fight that played out over several years and two court cases. The Mendez family, along with four other families, including Thomas Estrada, a WWII veteran who returned home to find that his children were not allowed to attend school with white children, filed their law suit on March 2, 1945. Tonatiuh devotes six pages to the first trial,  which Sylvia and her family attended, using actual dialog from court transcripts in his text. There, she had to listen to the the superintendent of the Garden Grove school district discuss the social behavior of children sent to the Mexican school, saying, "They need to learn cleanliness of mind manner, and dress. They are not learning at home. They have problems with lice, impetigo, and tuberculosis. They have generally dirty hands, face, neck and ears." After the "inferiority" of their personal hygiene, he went on to list the inferiority of their, "scholastic ability . . . economic outlook, in their clothing, and in their ability to take part in activities of the school," as reasons for segregation. 

Judge Paul McCormick took almost a year to give his decision before ruling in favor of the Mendez family. The Westminster school board's appeal was immediate and a second trial went to the state court in San Francisco. This time, the Mendez family received support from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Japanese American Citizens League, the American Jewish Congress and many other organizations. On April 15, 1947, the Court of Appeals in San Franciscos ruled in favor of the Mendez family again. In June of that same year, governor Earl Warren signed the law that said that all children were allowed to go to school together, regardless of ethnicity, race or language.
Tonatiuh, who interviewed Sylvia Mendez for his book, includes a glossary, photographs and a fantastic bibliography. Besides a stamp celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Mendez victory, the Felícitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School opened in 2009. Quite impressively, Mendez High School boasts a 90% graduation rate, a 90% college going rate and a 20:1 student to teacher ratio. And, in 2011, Sylvia Mendez, who went to college and became a registered nurse, working for thirty-three years at a medical center in Los Angeles, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, by President Obama.

Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling, 160 pp, RL 4

Review by: Tanya
Published: March 18, 2019

Sylvia & Aki
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
While researching Mendez v. Westminster School Board, the first case (seven years ahead of Brown v. Board of Education) to determine that school segregation itself is unconstitutional and violates the 14th Amendment, and reading  Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, the superb non-fiction picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh, I learned that  the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII played an important role in this story. The Mendez family's move to Westminster was occasioned by the leasing of a farm owned by the Munemitsus, a Japanese American family. Masako Munemitsu and her twin daughters, Aki and Kazuko, were sent to Poston Internment Camp. Aki's father, Seima Munemitsu, declared a prisoner of war, was incarcerated in Santa Fe, New Mexico, separated from his family for three years. Brothers Tad and Seilo It is amazing to me to think that, during WWII, two girls, both of whom experienced devastating forms of segregation and prejudice, crossed paths. Having interviewed both women in 2005, Conkling takes the incredible childhood experiences of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu and weaves them into a short novel that is highly accessible and deeply interesting.

Starting with Sylvia in 1941, Conkling alternates chapters and points of view. Moving to the Munemitsu farm in Westminster from nearby Santa Ana, Sylvia quickly realizes that she is now living in the room of a girl around her own age when she discovers a school picture and a beautiful Japanese doll tucked away in the closet. Naming her Keiko, Sylvia places her next to her Mexican doll, Carmencita. At the same time, the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and Aki is experiencing a growing distrust for and hatred of Japanese Americans in her community. Soon, the Munemitsus are being relocated and imprisoned, their family separated. As Aki is recovering from measles and her brother is struggling to fill out the Application for Leave Clearance form, a means to measure the loyalty of (young male) Japanese Americans interred in camps while also registering them for the military. Listening as her brother fumes, "I'm imprisoned in this camp, being denied my rights as a U.S. citizen, and at the same time I'm being asked to deny my loyalty to any other group. What am I supposed to do?" Aki feels sad for her brother and, "torn in two herself. No longer fully American, yet not Japanese, either. Not quite a prisoner, not quite free. She felt lost in the desert, wandering between a past that was gone and a future that stretched before her, barren as the land surrounding them."

As Aki and her family struggle, Sylvia's father, Gonzalo Mendez, takes on the Westminster school district when he learns that his children will have to attend Hoover Elementary, "the Mexican school," that is rundown and at the edge of a cow pasture, surrounded by electric fences and swarmed by flies. As the fight escalates and Gonzalo spends more time away from the farm, Felícitas, Sylvia's mother, takes on the work load. Mendez v. Westminster School District went to court in 1945, with (as I learned from Tonatiuh's book) Thurgood Marshall providing friend-of-the-court-briefs and governor, at the time Earl Warren, signing the law that said that all children were allowed to go to school together in 1947 after the Mendez family won the appeal against them. Earl Warren went on to become a Supreme Court Justice and the chief justice presiding over Brown v. Board of Education.
Conkling wraps up Sylvia & Aki in a way that will be very satisfying to young (and old) readers. While the girls meet earlier in the story when Sylvia accompanies her father on the 250 mile drive to deliver their rent payment to the Munemitsus, they are reunited for a time when they drive the Munemitsus home after being released from Poston, both families living together on the farm for a time. The book ends with an epilogue, visiting Sylvia in 1955 as she is graduating from high school. As the class valedictorian speaks to the audience about an important  ruling by the supreme court one year earlier, granting, "unparalleled opportunity for students of every race and color," Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Sylvia reflects on her father's fight for his family and how he helped make Brown happen.

Excellent back matter starts with a note about the Munemitsu family and their legacy. While Japanese Americans lost an estimated $200 million when they were forced into camps, Aki's father continued to believe in the American Dream. Returning to his farm, he helped other Japanese American families get back on their feet, giving them a place to live, helping them save money and start over. The Orange County Department of Education has a fantastic podcast, Deeper Learning, that devotes one episode to Sylvia Mendez and Mendez v. Westminster School District of Orange County and another to Aki and her family's resilience after relocation. It was in this interview that I learned more about Mr. Monroe, the Munemitsu's banker from Garden Grove. Mr. Monroe helped them become property owners, putting the land in the name of twelve-year-old Tad, an American citizen who could read and write in English. He then helped the Munemitsus keep their land when they were forced to relocate, arranging to lease it to the Mendez family. Further reading and a bibliography round out this important book.

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, 356 pp, RL Middle Grade

Review by: Tanya
Published: March 15, 2019

Review Copy from FirstSecond Books
With subtly and care, Panetta and Ganucheau have channeled that time in life when you aren't a kid and you aren't an adult and everything is confusing and frustrating and impossible with the creation of main character Ari Kyrkos. Recent high school graduate and son of Greek bakery owners in a small coastal town in Maryland, Ari plans to move with friends to the city and find gigs for their band. But he has to find someone to take his job at the bakery first. Back in town to deal with his recently deceased grandmother's house, Hector, who just finished his first year of culinary arts school, is missing his friends in Birmingham. He copes by baking traditional Samoan treats.
When Hector applies for the bakery job, it seems like Ari can finally pursue his dreams and get away from the bakery he hates. But, things with his friends and bandmates aren't quite as solid as he imagined, and, as he trains Hector in the family recipes, he almost enjoys his work in the bakery again. Very slowly, a romance blooms between Hector and Ari, with Ari acting like a petulant, jealous child when Hector's friends visit, or when Hector makes a visit back to Birmingham. As Ari finally begins to accept the status of his friendships with old high school friends and trust in Hector, he grows into himself. Until a tragedy hits the bakery. How Ari copes with this, over time, shows growth of character and maturing that is so rewarding to see in a work of fiction, and so valuable for young readers. Ganucheau's illustrations are fantastic. Her palette of cool blues captures the coastal town in winter and summer and her two page spreads depicting baking are fantastic. Back matter includes recipes and bonus art.
It's not easy figuring out how to be an adult, and Bloom gives readers a  valuable glimpse into those struggles.

Noodlehead Nightmares, Noodleheads See the Future & Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, 48 pp, RL 1.5

Review by: Tanya
Published: March 14, 2019

 Noodlehead Nightmares, Noodleheads See the Future & Noodleheads Find Something Fishy
by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss
Published by Holiday House
Purchased from Bound to Stay Bound (for my school library)
After I finished reading my first Noodlehead book, I discovered a fascinating Author's Note at the end of the book where I learned that tales of fools are traditionally called "noodles," or "noodleheads," and they have been told for as long as people have told stories. Some even date back more than two millennia! Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, who together are known as Beauty and the Beast Storytellers brings a wealth of knowledge to these stories, citing motifs used in the stories from The Storyteller's Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children by Margaret Read MacDonald. While this is interesting to me and adds a layer of depth to the stories, kids who read these books will love Arnold's marvelously cartoony, retro illustrations and the goofy things that Mac and Mac, the Noodleheads, get themselves into and out of.
Noodleheads Find Something Fishy is my favorite among the three, especially the ending. Each book starts with the Noodlehads introducing themselves, then two pages that set up the story. With their literal grasp of the world, Mac and Mac remind me of Amelia Bedelia, and having two of them doubles the fun. And, of course, two anthropomorphized pasta tubes walking around is pretty hilarious, too. When Mom packs Mac and Mac each a snack, gives each of them a coin, then boots them out the door, they decide to catch fish and prove to their mom that they can learn something new. Meatball is a character who appears in every story and takes advantage of Mac and Mac's gullibility, which usually means tricking them out of something. Mac and Mac see Meatball at the lake where he offers them his toy boat to use for fishing, convincing them that if they put some food in it and take a nap it will grow while they sleep! One thing after an other, from the "boat sticks" (oars) to a sneaky fish with a way with words, make for a very funny fishing trip that sends Mac and Mac home empty handed, but with a lesson learned. 

While the potential for meanness is there, it never materializes for these good natured goofballs who always seem to come out on top!