Archive for Family

Playing from the Heart

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

A lot of themes swirl around in this touching tale of a father and son. Raj was attracted to the piano even before he could reach the pedals.

Raj noticed that he could mix the notes the way he mixed his watercolors.

His father loved the sound of his song so much that he got Raj a teacher and encouraged practice. The song changed so much that the piano eventually fell silent. Raj went to live and work in the city but returned when his father fell ill. All the father wanted was the song that Raj had lost as a boy.

Raj’s father closed his eyes and savored the lingering notes.

Beautifully and lovingly illustrated, this book almost plays the song for the reader. It speaks to the love between father and son and of music coming from the heart. First graders will love being shown that they can create unfettered.

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  • Playing from the HeartTitle: Playing from the Heart
  • Author/Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K up
  • Genre: Picture book, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7892-0

The Best Parts of Christmas

Written and Illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Remember when you enjoyed the family Christmas tree so much that you hated to see the tree leave? Even when it had lost all the needles and turned into a fire hazard? This is the premise for this fun new book. The author follows Fritz and his dog as he and his parents select a tree at a farm. Fritz is a little confused, since rule #5 of the house rules is “No branches, sticks, or twigs allowed indoors.” But he doesn’t bring it up. He is in charge of the ornaments. The usual ornaments must be places close together so they can be close to their friends. Quickly, he notices anything can be an ornament, so the tree ends up beautifully decorated. And the decorating continues with cookies, candy canes, and many gifts. Fritz loves the tree so much, he wishes for it to always stay. Of course, it can’t stay, but Fritz can decorate one branch in his room. And that way, he can remember. The illustrations add to the fun by showing the personalities of Fritz, his dog, and his parents.

First graders can practice their literacy skills while learning about holiday traditions.

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  • Best Parts of ChristmasTitle: The Best Parts of Christmas
  • Author/Illustrator: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Fiction, Holidays, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7556-1


Mango, Abuela, and Me

Written by Meg Medina
Illustrated by Angela Daminguez

Grandma moves from a far-away island to join Mia’s family so she won’t be alone anymore. But she can’t read or speak English. And Mia can’t read or speak Spanish. With their beds lined up side by side in their shared room, it is supposed to be a chance to get to know each other. Instead it is a frustrated time of quiet.

As the story continues, Abuela waits for Mia to come home from school and takes her for walks to feed the birds even though they can’t visit. Abuela is sad. She misses her island home, her birds, her husband. Mia is sad. She wants to tell about her day at school.

One afternoon as she is making an after school snack, she says the name of each ingredient in English. Abuela says its name in Spanish. Then Mia gets the idea to label every item in the living room with its English name. Mia and her Mom get a parrot at the pet store.

By the end of this touching book, they are understanding each other and even sharing a bedtime storybook.

Teachers, librarians and parents will enjoy using this read aloud to young students, while second grade readers will read it independently. It is a basic introduction to bilingual families and will give some English students a touch of Spanish.

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  • MangoTitle: Mango, Abuela, and Me
  • Author: Meg Medina
  • Illustrator: Angela Daminguez
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6900-3
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

Papa Gave Me a Stick

Written by Janice Levy
Illustrated by Simone Shin

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Always. And the stick that Antonio’s papa gives him is certainly no exception. What Antonio really wants is a guitar (guitarra), but the best his papa can do is a stick with which to play. Antonio soon encounters a dog who needs help lighting a fire – to keep warm. His stick is perfect. The grateful dog brings him a tortilla. The tortilla saves a starving bird, who gives him a string. The string is used to pull a burro’s tooth. The burro’s blanket saves a drowning cat. The cat gives Antonio a ring he’d found. The ring proves to be the lost ring of a mariachi musician, who is about to get married. The man is so grateful, he gives Antonio the guitarra he wished for.

The illustrations are wonderful and in keeping with the lightheartedness of the story.

Mexican culture and language are highlighted in this delightfully simple story. First graders and older will love learning and pronouncing the Spanish words and delight in the lovely conclusion to the story.

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  • Papa Gave Me a StickTitle: Papa Gave Me a Stick
  • Author: Janice Levy
  • Illustrator: Simone Shin
  • Published: Star Bright Books, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Fiction, Helping others, Language, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-1595723420
  • Extras: Glossary, Mariachi instruments

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story

Written by Natasha Rafi
Illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

Complete with a recipe for parathas, this story about an eight-year-old enjoying the best parts of Ramadan is a great introduction to the people and culture surrounding Islam. The whimsical illustrations help make this a kid-friendly story.

Little Raza can’t wait to have parathas, a sort of pancake or flatbread, for sehri, the morning meal eaten before the daily fast begins. He climbs to the roof and plays a trick on his grandmother’s cook, Amina, who is already hard at work in the dark morning hours. He knows that if he calls down the chimney, she can hear him. He frightens her into thinking she is talking to a jinni, a fiery creature mentioned in the Quran. Raza is quite pleased with himself until Amina gets Grandmother involved. The jig is up. Raza must help Amina until the end of Ramadan.

First graders will want this read aloud the first time so they can master the terms introduced and learn about the traditions of Muslims and their religion. After that, they will be able to read this again and again. Rafi explains all the traditions surrounding Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan festival.

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  • JinniTitle: The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story
  • Author: Natasha Rafi
  • Illustrator: Abdul Malik Channa
  • Published: Pamir LLC, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: Pre-K to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, culture, family
  • ISBN: 9780988864900



Lovey Bunny

Written and illustrated by Kristine A. Lombardi 

Lovey Bunny is full of love for just about everything. Her family, reading a good book, a bright sunny day – all of it makes Lovey Bunny super happy. She also enjoys arts and crafts and playing dress up. One day, she sees a sparkly dress hanging in Mama’s closet. Wanting to be just like her mama, she tries it on without asking and preens in the mirror. She feels so glamorous and grown up! Lovey bunny gets carried away and wears the dress outside, so she can wave to all her “admirers” on her scooter. But when she gets home she realizes she has dirtied and ripped the dress. Mama’s upset – she was supposed to wear it to a party that night. Lovey’s upset. Will she still be Mama’s Lovey Bunny? She takes matters into her own hands and patches up the dress the best she can with her arts and crafts skills. Mama forgives her and, instead of going out that evening, she wears the patched-up dress and cooks dinner for the family.

First graders will grasp the message of forgiveness, although parent readers may raise eyebrows at the unrealistic ending (a world where there are no consequences). The book’s strength lies in the illustrations. Lombardi uses an appealing pink and brown color scheme for her gouache and ink drawings and has created a main character that exudes sweetness and loads of personality.

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  • Lovey BunnyTitle: Lovey Bunny
  • Author/Illustrator: Kristine A. Lombardi
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1485-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Mother’s Day

I’m Gonna Climb a Mountain in My Patent Leather Shoes

Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Lynne Avril

Determination and attitude rule the day for the heroine of this cute little rhyming book. Sadie loves her clothes almost as much as she loves camping with her family. The title gives a good feel for the theme of the book. On the way to the campsite, her sparkly new suitcase takes up too much space to suit her brother. Later, she says she’s “helping pitch our pup tent in my fancy ruffled pants.” She does many other activities in favorite clothes. The colorful and sparkling illustrations go right along with Sadie’s seemingly boundless energy, holding the reader’s attention. Bigfoot, magic wands of gold, silver crowns. They’re all here. What more could the reader want?

Fun rhymes highlight the many literacy skills enhanced by the text. First graders should be able to tackle the text on their own. Or just get the story from the pictures. This also a fun read aloud.

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  • Climb a MountainTitle: I’m Gonna Climb a Mountain in My Patent Leather Shoes
  • Authors: Marilyn Singer
  • Illustrator: Lynne Avril
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Genre: Fiction, humor, family
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-0336-2


Written and illustrated by John Rocco

Caldecott honoree John Rocco does detailed and realistic illustrations for this new and fun book about a real event in the author’s life. Given the rough and long winter of 2013-2014, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes Mother Nature has ideas of her own. February 1978 saw forty inches of snow in New England in two days, a record event for the area. Rocco and his family “survived.” As a frequent survivor of Iowa winters, I can tell you he hits the nail on the head with the emotions and with the magnitude of the conditions. At first, it’s fun trying to wade through huge drifts. You can make snow caves in some areas. But the sled won’t go through the worst parts, and the family runs out of milk and other supplies. The snowplows appear five days after the snow stopped, but not before John straps tennis racquets to his ten-year-old feet and walks to the grocery store for supplies. He brings a whimsical touch in many illustrations. John staring out the window at the falling snow with a penguin lampshade, a poster of snowy Mount Everest, and an Arctic Survival guide at his side speaks volumes. And the numerous side trips on the way to the store are typical ten-year-old antics.

First grades will love the theme and the idea of a whole week of snow days. They can handle much of the text on their own. Literacy skills and comprehension will be enhanced. Gentle reminders from adults may be in order, though. Tennis racquets only make good snowshoes in an emergency. And don’t take off for the store in a blizzard without an adult’s permission. For teachers, this book makes a good jumping off place for learning about winter around the world and extreme weather of all kinds.

The author’s website,, brings the reader to Rocco’s world, including his Caldecott Honor title, Blackout, and numerous Rick Riordan books. The publisher’s website,, has wonderful teacher guides.

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  • BlizzardTitle: Blizzard
  • Author: John Rocco
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Memoir, winter, helping out
  • ISBN: 978-142317865-1
  • Release date: October 28, 2014


Fine Life for a Country Mouse

Written and illustrated by Susan Detwiler

Really? Another Aesop re-telling? Yes, and it’s worth every second spent with it. The illustrations are beautiful and memorable. The text is simple, yet informative. Tillie is a country mouse who lives in a tree trunk and makes everything she needs. After her city cousin, Oliver, visits, Tillie decides to check out the posh world he describes to her. Of course, Tillie decides the country life is for her, while Oliver sticks with the city life. The author is careful not to anthropomorphize the characters too much. The food, furniture, and other items the mice use would actually be available to mice. The clothing maybe not as much. But the mouse paws look like mouse paws. Details in the illustrations add to the modern feel of this ancient tale. A modern car nearly runs over the mice. The trucks, a train, the lay out of the street, and even the straight rows of corn are obviously modern.

This book is part of Penguin’s “Core Concepts” program. First graders and up will have a chance to practice literacy skills. This would be a great read aloud. The illustrations are richly detailed and lend themselves to actively spotting the lady bug and looking for other sneaky details. In the meantime, the reader is learning to appreciate what they have and that others may want to live differently. Even within a family, not everyone has to want the same things.

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  • Fine LifeAuthor/Illustrator: Susan Detwiler
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Random House Company, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48154-8
  • Genre: Fable, Diversity, Family

OH NO, Little Dragon!

Written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck

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Who wouldn’t love a little dragon? Especially one who gets sooty just phooshing around. Jim Averbeck continues to delight with this gem about a dirty little dragon whose mother makes him wash off his soot. While in the tub, he can’t resist setting his toy boat on fire, causing a tremendous flood. The water puts out his spark. He sets out on a quest to relight the spark in his dragon heart. Rubbing his tummy doesn’t work. Warm clothing doesn’t work. Even chili peppers don’t work. Only his mother’s love can re-ignite the spark in his heart.

“because YOU are the spark in MY heart.”

The illustrations are simple yet priceless. Little Dragon is proud of his phooshing. He is annoyed at having to take a bath. He is mortified when he discovers he’s lost his spark. He is pleased to get his spark back. He is apprehensive when he gets sooty again. And his solution is unexpectedly fun.

The author’s website,, contains a tremendous amount of information about the author and his books. The publisher also highlights the author at

  • Oh No Little DragonTitle: OH NO, Little Dragon!
  • Author/Illustrator: Jim Averbeck
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, humor, family, love
  • ISBN: 978-1-4169-9545-6


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