2019 January

The Bible App for Kids Storybook Bible by Youversion

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In my last book review, I talked a lot about Christianity and the practice of praying. Then I invited members of different faith communities to tell me about their favorite picture books that portray their own traditions and practices. Well, this review runs along the same thread. It is a Bible which was gifted to my son before he was even born by a close family friend. It was designed for children, so obviously it’s super kid-friendly with bright illustrations and simplified Bible stories. Based on the title, I knew there must be an app that can be used along with it. True enough, and it has a great modern, sleek look just like the illustrations in the book. The app plays like a game with the opening shot like a scene out of Candy Crush. You go level by level, and the narrator can read the Bible story to your child. There are hidden items on the level, too, your little reader can investigate.

My Luke will have a ton-o-fun with this faith tool. The Bible, whatever translation you prefer, is daunting and complicated. I’m excited to jump into this right along with my son!

Bedtime Blessings by Marianne Richmond

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Prayers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, sounds, and feelings. The act of praying can feel daunting sometimes -speaking to the Creator of the universe! My parents and church family taught me that it’s simply having a conversation with your Heavenly Father. He loves you so, so much. He will treasure anything you have to say. Sometimes, words do not come to our lips. In those moments, it’s okay to pray using your heart. I do this probably more often than a “formal” speaking prayer. God knows our heart; He knows what we need and what we are feeling/going through. Emotions can be “big” and overwhelming, not just for children, but adults as well. Books like this one are perfect to use as a guide. It is a perfect story to read over and over again. Children begin to notice and appreciate the miraculous and good things we encounter in life.

The first half of the book goes over the gratefulness part of prayer. The narrator of the story eloquently uses rhyme to list all the things, people, sights, experiences, etc. we enjoy every single day. The second half is about blessings and asking for God’s help, even in the little details of the day.

I love any and every book by Marianne Richmond. I’ve done a couple of reviews for other books of hers, but I just keep coming back! Definitely one of our favorite authors here in the Merry house. *Side story - the very first book review I did for Instagram, Goodreads, Facebook, etc. all those good social medias was You Are My Merry by Marianne Richmond. I felt like that picture book was a good start for this new endeavor of mine in honor of my family’s last name and my favorite holiday (it’s a Christmas-themed book). After posting it, Marianne Richmond herself commented! I replied back, and she answered again!! Oh my goodness! Talk about an (almost) thirty-year old married mama acting like a school girl/fan girl. I told EVERYONE about that thrilling conversation, probably even days after it happened.

If you know me, then my “squirreling” away from the main point comes as no surprise to you. That’s just Janey being Janey! Please tell me about other faith-based books you enjoy! It doesn’t have to be Christian; I’d love to hear about awesome Jewish picture books! Or Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, whatever faith you follow! Tell me about books you use with your children to help them understand your religion’s traditions and practices. Living in the “Bible Belt” and growing up as a Jesus-follower, I have a heavy background in Christianity. Exposure to other religions would be thrilling! And learning via picture books, well . . . what would be more fun?

Wise Dog by Josephine Wright

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I’ve been reviewing popular and contemporary picture books, so I decided to mix it up a little with an older book off my son’s shelf. Wise Dog, published in 1966, was gifted to Luke on his first birthday from my aunt along with a big, ol’ stack of books. Most of my books come secondhand, from garage sales, clearance box, giveaways -it’s all good! A book is priceless no matter how it falls into my hands.

The story begins with a funny, but familiar, little scenario when the kittens (very childlike and naive) are discussing and deciding what to be when they grow up. Awww! What a sweet start! The author brings in the threat early, right after introducing the kittens. Those cute little kitties get into a heap of trouble as they let Monkey manipulate them into staying in his circus. Now, you’d think the title character of a children’s book is the protagonist. But, Wise Dog, is . . .neutral if anything. He lost points, in my opinion, when he took advantage of the innocent, albeit dimwitted, kittens by bartering advice for their supper of meat. Ultimately, he does give them advice on how they can escape their peculiar predicament in prison.

The text does not rhyme, but it still has a pleasant pacing and rhythm. Early readers would also appreciate all the repeated phrases and dialogue.

Lastly, but not least! This book is grounded in animals, animals, animals. What child isn’t entertained by animals behaving like humans. Heck, adults still enjoy that, too.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

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You looking for a silly and hilarious picture book? Look no further, my dears! Dragons Love Tacos will strike a chord (and your funny bone!) with everyone in the family, adult and child alike.

Adam Rubin’s writing style, the tone of his language, is so casual and modern; it’s almost as if he’s just having a conversation with the reader. (Not to toot my own horn, but I actually received a similar comment from the very first blog I wrote: “your writing is easy to read- good flow to it with fun expressiveness”.) I think that element enhances the unique humor of the book. The narrator actually calls out dragon characters to ask him a question. Reminded me of when the writers of Deadpool had Wade Wilson “break down the fourth wall”. The author uses multiple tools of humor, from over-explaining, repetition, topical, and situational. One could say it is a G-version of a Monty Python comedy routine.

And the illustrator did a fabulous (and equally important) job of adding to the chuckles with awesome artwork! Bam! In your face with creativity and originality. This book is highly popular for very good reasons. It will leave both you and your children in a giggle-fit.

The Survivor Tree by Gaye Sanders

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So, “The Survivor Tree” is very different than the books I usually do. Same genre, children’s, but this picture book has a much, MUCH more solemn theme.

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot more reviews trying to keep up one of my New Year’s resolutions to review 12 picture books a month. Sometimes, I end up using a lot of the same words and phrases: “super fun”, “sweet”, “easy read”, “cute”, etc. Obviously, those are not appropriate descriptors for a book that recounts the Murrah Bombing. Finding the right words for this review is difficult to say the least.

To start, I’ll mention my favorite parts of the book. The illustrator’s artistic style is absolutely spot-on for the tone. Children can relate to colored pencil drawings, and Pamela Behrend does a lovely job! I have to highlight Gaye’s magnificent use of repetition. As the story progresses, the tree circles back to describing a day a certain way: a productive day, a day for courage, days of healing, etc. It gives the story cohesiveness and flow. Love it that writing style. I do it, too, in my own writing. Also, I was surprised the story has a first-person point of view! I don’t know what I was expecting, but with that perspective, the reader really connects and empathizes with the main character, the Survivor Tree. Brilliant writing choice, Gaye!

Now, the story touched me on a personal level in two different ways. Firstly, as an Okie I have grown up with the tragedy of the Bombing. I was only five years old when it happened, so it was a prominent part of my childhood. As kindergarten at my school was half-day, I was home with my mother. We went out to the front porch and looked east, the direction where the smoke pillars rose in the sky. I grew worried for my father who worked in Oklahoma City, but my mama assured me his office was in a different part of town. Secondly why this book means so much, well, I wrote a draft of a serious children’s book just a week or so ago. It was a bit of train-wreck according to the first round of readers. I wanted to take a crack at a picture book for young children and how to deal with bullying. I was truly excited with the way I was approaching this sensitive topic; I thought it was unique. Feedback came and replaced excitement with disappointment. But such is the writer’s journey! Disheartened, I haven’t felt up to writing on any of my WIPs (work in progress). I couldn’t wait to read “The Survivor Tree” and see how a professional wrote an eloquent, but solemn, children’s book. Hoped to get some tips to improve draft 2 of my bullying book, and I know I’ll do better thanks to Gaye’s writing.

Tell me about a serious, or even sad, book that touched you? Did it leave a mark on you in a positive way? Did it change you or help you cope?

Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by Kimberly & James Dean

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I have loved the “Pete the Cat” series since reading the first one as a teacher to my first grade class back in 2012. He is such a fun and original character! Well, there was a sale at Barnes & Noble when I picked this one up. (Of course, if you know me, I almost never pay full price for . . . well, anything! #bargainbuyer)

“Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes” has great rhyming text, bright illustrations, and a quick-paced story. Classic story structure pillars just like the first one has which have held it up as a bestseller and popular pick. This cupcake sequel, though, has a lot more characters in it! The cast is quite a zoo including a squirrel, turtle, alligator, platypus, toad, and (of course) cat. All of Pete’s friends are gathering for a party later in the day, so Pete and Gus, the platypus, are making cupcakes for the occasion. They bake and decorate 10 treats, but 2-by-2 they disappear from the windowsill where they had been cooling! Who is the culprit? Pete and Gus must follow clues and play detective to find out, and they run into a couple of wrong guesses along the way!

Fun story and adorable illustrations! I plan on adding more “Pete” books to my son’s library. Tell me, which one should I check out next? If you don’t JIVE with the Pete series, then tell me about another series. I’m all ears!

Farm Life by The Clever Factory

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I picked up this simple board book from the dollar bins at Target. As a child, I loved to read about animals and farm life. I believe it is one of those romanticized careers we have in childhood. But, that’s okay, childhood is meant to be shiny, sweet, and uncomplicated.

This easy read only has a few pages, but they are cut out in certain shapes and staggered for grabby baby fingers. Each page shows a family member, the daily task he/she is doing on the farm, and a rhyming paragraph on the opposite side. The rhymes explain the farmyard chore, and as I’ve said in other book reviews, rhymes certainly make “read-alouds” a lot of fun!

I will touch on a slight negative, though. The story portrays a very nuclear family with a father, mother, brother, and sister. That dynamic is a bit overused in the writing world, especially picture books. Also, the last page comments on making father “a happy man”, and that leaves me with a dry, old-fashioned taste in my mouth. Not that anything is wrong with being old-fashioned! Heaven knows, I am a very down-to-earth, conservative girl. I think diversity is just on my mind, because I was reading how January 25th was Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I am developing a passion for the movement -representation matters- and every child wishes to “read their world”.

Have you read a book that opened your eyes to another culture or unique identity? I’m sure you have; every book lets the reader see through a new perspective! Tell me about it. What do you recommend? I’d love to see a thousand new lives on a thousand new worlds . . .

Bedtime for Batman by Michael Dahl

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This particular board book caught my eye immediately at Barnes and Noble. Our little family loves anything to do with superheroes, so I knew this would become a fast favorite. I pictured my husband reading it to our son, but I actually took the first opportunity to read “Bedtime with Batman” with Luke. Growing up with three older brothers made me a bit of a tomboy, BUT I know both girls and boys alike will enjoy this bedtime storybook!

Shout out to the illustrator, Ethan Beavers, who modeled the pages in the comic book paneling style. He also used the classic 90s “Batman: The Animated TV Series” design. It made the characters recognizable and inspired feelings of nostalgia.

Overall, it has very cleaver story structure. Understatement: sometimes, children don’t want to go to bed. So, the little boy pretends he is Batman and makes his bedtime routine a fun, imagination-fueled adventure! The last page even has a check-off list your own little superhero could use as he/she completes bedtime duties.

I definitely want to see if there are other books in the series! How fun would it be to have a collection of heroic characters doing everyday activities to inspire your up-and-coming champion?

Who is your favorite superhero or heroine? My husband always roots for the “regular” guy who becomes the protagonist (or even better, antihero) via his own intelligence or honed skill set. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark did not have magical powers bestowed upon them nor a freak accident hurtle them onto “the hero’s journey”. He might have a point, but I do love the ultimate boy-scout characters like Superman and Captain America. Maybe there are too many heroes to choose from, so how about universes? Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, Image, Shonen Jump? Please share back with me!


Spooky Boo, A Halloween Adventure by Lily Karr

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So. Stinkin’. Cute. Talk about making Halloween ideas and characters kid-friendly! This book is 110% baby-approved. All the monsters, witches, and ghosties are super smiley and adorable. It may be short, but there is a fun little surprise on each page. The story is interactive; the reader looks in mirrors, opens door flaps, touches sticky “goo”, and parties with the monsters at the end. The story flows nicely, too, with the reader walking through each room in a haunted house.

I believe this book was gifted to my son, but even if we had purchased it ourselves it would have been well worth it! I saw the price on the back cover, and it is very affordable interactive board book at $7. Way to go, Scholastic!

I always loved going to the Scholastic Book Fair when I was a student; one of the highlights of the school year. What are some of your favorite buys from the book fair? On that subject, I was speaking with an acquaintance in my writers’ group (she’s a successful picture book author), and she teared up when she saw a book of hers at a school book fair. Even though she regularly does school visits, she still got emotional! To see our work out in the world and appreciated, that is the greatest reward to a writer. . . . at least, that’s what I believe to be true.

Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Anna Dewdney

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Llama Llama has become a very popular children’s series. And what’s not to love? Adorable illustrations, animal characters (not so commonly-used creatures, too!), relatable childish behavior displayed by main character, and fun rhymes!

This board book was gifted to my infant son (by my cousin), and it has all the elements that make it a quick, enjoyable read. I say “quick” with a positive connotation, because my baby doesn’t sit still for very long. Storytime has got to have a lively pace, because if a page has too much text, he turns past before I’m done reading aloud. Silly boy! Someday he’ll learn to appreciate the words just as much, if not more, than the pictures.