‘Leo’s Gift’: A Touching, Truthful, and Wise Picture Book

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“Leo’s Gift,” ostensibly a children’s book but in fact a gift to all who read it — of any age — tells the story of a very young but very gifted boy who learns, quite by accident, of the amazing talent he possesses.

Leo hears his sister practicing piano as her recital day rapidly approaches. She dutifully practices her Mozart piece, but she makes it clear that she would much rather be outside practicing basketball, a sport which she loves and at which she excels. Leo, meanwhile, is entranced by the music; he begs his sister to show him how to make such beautiful sounds. She does so. He takes his turn at the piano and almost immediately is able to perform the Mozart piece impeccably. He is a “natural.”

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‘We Don’t Eat Our Classmates’ by Ryan T. Higgins Is a Hilarious Picture Book for Pre-School-Age Readers

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In “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” talented author Ryan T. Higgins explores what it would be like if a dinosaur, specifically a very carnivorous T. Rex, attended school. Penelope the T. Rex was ready to start. Her dad had made her lunch, three hundred tuna fish sandwiches. What she was not ready for, though, was the fact that her classmates were human children.

As any self-respecting T. Rex knows, children are delicious. So Penelope ate them. Her teacher grew angry and insisted that she spit them out immediately. She did. The children were not happy. Penelope was not happy. Going to school with delicious snacks available was just more than the precocious dinosaur could stand.

But one day, in a hilarious turn-around, Penelope found out what it feels like to be the one on the dinner plate, and she didn’t care for it at all. Higgins entertains readers — young and old — with his trademark clever twist that will keep his fans loving each and every picture book he writes. Kids will love this one, and their parents will, too.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Disney-Hyperion, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Blue’: A Picture Book by Laura Vaccaro Seeger About All the Shades of Blue, Happy and Sad

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“Blue” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger follows her fabulous picture book “Green.” Unlike the previous color-themed book, “Blue” tells a story about a boy and his dog. The story begins with the color baby blue, a puppy and an infant boy whose blue rattle is cut out in the center; and that blue circle becomes the blue center of a wheel on the little red wagon the young boy is using to take his young dog for a ride.

And as the two grow up together, always in shades of blue, always with cutouts on one page that lead to the next, the scenes vary from ocean blue to sky blue to midnight blue. Always with boy and dog, inseparable.

But blue is at heart a sad color. And the sad truth about loving a dog is that its lifespan is so very short when compared to ours. And a when a young boy and a young dog grow up together, when the boy becomes a teenager, his constant companion, his shadow, his loving confidante, is at the end of his life.

But having loved a dog, truly loved a dog, few choose to remain dog-less for long, and “Blue” is a story not just of love and loss, but of the renewal of love and the rebirth of that loving connection that we feel with our dogs. All in blue. All beautiful.

Each page has a cut-out shape in an object that leads to a different object on the following page. Kids love seeing what happens when the circle cutout depicting a beach ball and a boy in a red shirt becomes a red balloon when the circle opening is now on the red of the boy’s shirt from the previous page. The cutouts and how they are created are brilliant, but so are the many and varied shades and emotions of blue.

Pick this book as a gift for anyone in your life who loves dogs, who loves color, who loves life. Buy it for yourself.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, for review purposes.

‘Giraffe Problems’ by Jory John & Illustrated by Lane Smith: A Picture Book Kids LOVE!

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Don’t just take my word for it, get a copy of “Giraffe Problems” by Jory John with chuckle-inducing illustrations by the talented Lane Smith. Read it to any child between three and thirteen. All will love it: guaranteed.

But don’t get the book only for the laughs. It’s much more than just another humorous picture book for entertaining children. The story of the giraffe with the really, really long neck, who doesn’t like his neck at all, will resonate with kids. Edward, the giraffe, laments his misfortune and wishes he had a neck like a zebra, an elephant, or a lion.

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Five Nonfiction Picture Books for Kids of Many Ages — From Monsters and Animals to Historical Figures and the Flight to the Moon

“Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky” by Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpré  shares with young readers the lonely, often tormented life of Vincent Van vincentGogh. Each page begins with “Vincent can’t sleep…” and begins with his childhood when at the age of nine or ten he once walked at night six miles from his home in the Netherlands to Belgium where he was “found with torn clothes and muddy shoes.” The author includes that he was moody, “Excited. Bored. Eager. Lazy. Explosive. Shy. His many-colored moods scare the customers — and he’s forced to go.” This is a wonderful book for encouraging discussion about being different. Van Gogh was different. He’s described as “A sensitive boy. A hidden genius. A brilliant artist.” But according to the Author’s Note, he may have only sold five paintings while he was alive. Questions to discuss can include what makes someone successful? Was Van Gogh successful? Was he crazy? Why are his paintings so revered and so valuable? A beautiful book about a brilliant — and tormented — artist. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
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Great Giveaway of Picture Book ‘Fiona the Hippo’ by Richard Cowdrey

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Hey, folks! Zonderkidz is partnering with me for a fabulous giveaway!

Here’s a chance to win a copy of Richard Cowdrey’s fabulous picture book, “Fiona the Hippo,” about the plucky premature hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo. (Read my glowing review here.) In addition to the picture book, you’ll receive an adorable Fiona stuffed animal, and a Fiona sippy cup! All courtesy of partner Zonderkidz.

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“Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey of Bad Dog, Marley fame, tells the story of Fiona, the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo who captured hearts around the world with her inspiring story and plucky personality.

Born prematurely, at only 29 pounds, Fiona was not expected to live. But her spunk and determination helped her thrive and become a happy, healthy hippopotamus. With every challenge she faced, Fiona let out a snort, wiggled her ears, and said “I’ve got this.” And she did! In this delightful story, inspired by the real adventure of this heroic hippo, join Fiona and her lovable animal friends at the zoo as she is introduced to the world in this whimsical and inspiring tale of perseverance and friendship.”

During a very recent trip to Kenya, I had the opportunity to see many hippos at Masai Mara. Most were in the Masai Mara river, but we caught sight of one walking along the dirt road. She was huge and pink and grey, and we loved getting to see her!

Be sure to enter to win your own “Fiona the Hippo” book and more!

Fiona’s fabulous giveaway! 

‘Fiona the Hippo’ by Richard Cowdrey Is a Picture Book About Not Giving up (and It’s Adorable!)

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In “Fiona the Hippo,” a picture book by Richard Cowdrey, readers who didn’t know about the baby hippo who was born six weeks early will get to see how the staff at the Cincinnati Zoo cared for her and helped keep her safe. The story is lovely, and Cowdrey cleverly has Fiona say, “I’ve got this!” for each new accomplishment.

That’s a great catch-phrase for kids. Fiona’s story teaches that all new skills take practice — sometimes lots of practice — but if a child is taught determination and perseverance and says, “I’ve got this!” the chances of success are multiplied tenfold.

Fiona got it, and she was reunited with her parents. Cowdrey’s story of Fiona’s start is a picture book that kids will want to read over and over. They will know when to chime in for Fiona, “I’ve got this!” and one might hope that it becomes the new mantra for a generation.

Learn more at Fiona the Hippo. Watch her adorable video on YouTube.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Big Honcho Media for review purposes.

Six Picture Books for Older Kids: Books to Think About

Picture books aren’t just for babies. There are many thoughtful, informational picture books that are wonderful reads for children of all ages. Here are just a few.

god bless america“God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin” is a very timely nonfiction picture book by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Rob Polivka. The author is the daughter of immigrants, and this book is chock-full of references to the contributions of immigrants to our country. And the man who wrote such American classics as “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” to mention just a few, was an immigrant. In fact, Izzy Baline, more famously known as Irving Berlin, was a prolific, brilliant songwriter. Yet his family escaped from Russia where Jews were being persecuted, and they came to America with their children, their work ethic, and nothing else. When Berlin’s father died, the family was even more in need. So young Berlin went to work, kept writing songs, and eventually sold one, which led to more work. As much as this story is about Irving Berlin, it’s also very much a story about the contributions that immigrants make to our great country. Nuchi writes, “And while some people didn’t like that the voice of America belonged to an immigrant and a Jew, most people felt that a refugee was just the right person to celebrate the hope America held.” Ain’t that the truth. (Disney-Hyperion)

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