„Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“ by Stef Albert

We always had pets as part of our family and I can just imagine how author and illustrator Stef Albert felt after passing of his beloved Dachshund “Sophie Sue” … Stef Albert set pen to paper and created “The Magical Adventures of Sophie Sue” as an educational and inspirational adventure series for children and a way for Sophie Sue’s legacy to live on. “Sophie Sue travelled the world, sailed the seven seas and lived in a variety of countries. Always ready for the next adventure and loved by all who knew her, Sophie Sue touched the hearts of many.” Stef Albert’s mission: Through magical rescue missions, Sophie Sue and her animal friends teach children love towards pets and animals, awareness on endangered species, international travel, countries, flags, cultures and even a few foreign words in each story.

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Dogs and world cultures – doesn’t that sound great? We were thrilled when Stef Albert contacted us about writing a review of the first part of the Sophie Sue series! „Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“ arrived just in time for Christmas with free stickers of Sophie’s animal friends and a bookmark. To be honest: I let Finja browse through the first adventure of Sophie Sue alone before I had a peek. Funny enough our four-year-old understood most of the story without even being able to read. And she had lots of questions right away: “Are these the Rhino’s parents?” “Why are they in a cage?” “Are these bad men?”

We read the book together a few days later. The story: Sophie Sue is a friendly Wiener dog with lots of friends. And Sophie Sue has lots of magic, too: Her magic ball tells her whenever an animal around the world needs help and she’s able to turn into a special Wiener-Copter to start a rescue mission with all her friends. Today Rhino Robby from South Africa needs Sophie Sue’s help. On the way to the country on the South tip of the African continent giraffe Larry Long tells his friend about South Africa and its inhabitants, its flag and spoken languages. Within “Sophie-seconds” the copter arrives in the bush of South Africa; the animals can spot Robbie Rhino right away. Poachers have kidnapped his parents and Robbie tries to keep up with the fast driving truck who will take his parents away… Sophie and her friends arrived just in time – but will they be able to rescue the Rhinos and bring the family back together?

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“Robbie Rhino” teaches children about language, nature and culture of South Africa.

I loved that Steph Albert teaches a lot about the destination country, in this case South Africa. Basics like the flag, language or characteristics of a certain culture will stick with the young readers. In this book of the series children learn to say “Thank you” and “Goodbye” in Afrikaans. He also educates about conservation and nature protection. The important of these topics shouldn’t be underestimated in today’s world! I want our daughter to be raised with the awareness of other cultures and the need to protect nature and wild animals. And as I spend some month in Namibia during High School I loved to hear some Afrikaans words again!

Finja loved the colorful, almost cartoon-like illustrations by the author. Sophie Sue and her friends show lots of expression; the thieves seem like caricatures. She also caught on to the moral of the story pretty quick, even without me reading the whole book right away!

Sophie Sue’s magic makes rescue missions over continents possible and although a dog turning into a helicopter being a little much for me (especially after Sophie’s house falls away when she turned fist, but is whole again when the animals arrive back after they adventure) it seems to spark children’s imagination and may be one of the reasons why younger kids love Sophie Sue. I read Fantasy novels as well, so it’s absolutely understandable!

Robbie the Rhino” is just the first of eight Sophie Sue adventures. The curious Wiener will travel to India to rescue an elephant, will visit Croatia, Frankfurt and other places of the world. Most of the books will be released in 2017 and are available for pre-order on the Sophie Sue homepage. Until then young fans of can find a free holiday video about Radkus Reindeer in Russia, a short ‘Meet the Characters‘, screensaver and more online.

Radkus Reindeer in Russia by Stef Albert from Sophie Sue on Vimeo.

Stef Albert donates a large portion of proceeds from The Magical Adventures of Sophie Sue to animal and children organizations.

More information:
„Sophie Sue – Book 1: Robbie the Rhino“
written and illustrated by Stef Albert
available online

„The Snow Angel“ by Christine Leeson

Growing up I never was someone who would enjoy Christmas stories. Most of them were religiously motivated and while my family was visiting the church for Christmas and, sometimes, Easter, they never held appeal for me. Now, over thirty years later, I have a little one of my own. We are definitely not a religious family, but we celebrate Christmas as a tradition to get in contact with family and friends all over the world and take time for each other – no matter the place of living or religious background. It’s a good time to think about your goals regarding donating or volunteering for charities, too. Christmas stories are a big part of our daughter’s understanding of the value of Christmas.

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„The Snow Angel“ by Christine Leeson is one of the Christmas books that focus on the real, non-religious meaning of Christmas: Being there for each other.

Two little mice are excited as they see the snow in front of their den on Christmas morning. Soon after unwrapping their gifts, nuts and some berries, they go out to play in the snow. The glittering world around them is magical and discovering a goose flying overhead they mistake the bird for an angel. As the bird crashes to the ground, they hurry to help the goose, who lost track of their flock during last night’s snowstorm. Bringing the nuts and berries they got as Christmas presents they feed the bird, watch over him as he recovers and are intrigued as the majestical creature spreads it’s wings and vanishes with a “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas”. But the bird doesn’t go without leaving something in return: It starts snowing again, this time goose feathers – a wonderful gift for the two mice and their mom, making a wonderful soft bedding for cold winter nights.

The storyline is simple, but it captivates younger children, who identify with the two little mice and worry about the beautiful goose and learn about helping and sharing. Jane Chapman’s illustrations perfectly capture the magic of a snowy Christmas morning: The curious mouse kids, the beautiful bird and the magical winter world is represented in glittery white and soft pastel colors. Finja especially loved the glittery red on the cover.

There is just one thing that disturbed me: The mice exclusively talked about the sick goose as “angel”. As an adult, I can see that Christine Leeson might have tried to incorporate a metaphor, seeing the bird as “fallen angel” and reinforce the message of helping each other – especially if it’s someone in need or someone you might not have helped otherwise. Preschool aged children might not see this message. Our daughter was more confused by it and corrected me every time I read the world “angel”: “No, mom, this is a goose. A bird. No angel.”

Other than that, “The Snow Angel” is a charming story about Christmas, family, helping those in need – and favors being returned at some point in time.

More information:
„The Snow Angel“
written by Christine Leeson
illustrated by Jane Chapman
Age Range: 4 – 7 years
Publisher: Tiger Tales
ISBN-13: 978-1589254947

„Baking with dad“ by Aurora Cacciapuoti

Most kids bake with mom. But baking with dad can be even more fun! Aurora Cacciapuoti captured the messy and funny adventure in her picture book “Baking with dad”.

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“Baking with dad” 

The title of “Baking with dad” captured our four-year-old right away: A girl with crazy red hair, looking just like her friend Mara, balancing cooking bowls while doing a crazy dance with her dad. She just had to love it! And then opening the book and seeing all these tasty ingredients for a baking adventure – and some not so tasty one…

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Aurora Cacciapuoti’s illustrations are colorful and funny and one of the reasons we loved this book from the first page. But let’s get back to the story. The heroine of this book, a little redhead, is excited to do some baking with her dad. After choosing the ingredients carefully (we come back to the inside of the book cover with tasty and yucky ingredients) they get right to work. Juggling eggs and accidentally cracking one on the family cat’s head is as much part of the adventure as literarily throwing the sugar in the bowl and doing a rhythmic mixing, shaking and whisking-dance. Soon both dad and daughter are covered in flour, as is their cat. Selecting the right fruits for their creation becomes a hula-dance. And then the magic begins… The girl and her dad wait patiently for their handiwork to bake in the oven. And as always, decorating is most of the fun.

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The result of all the work: A wonderful, eccentric and wonderful birthday cake for a surprise party. Who can resist a seven-layered creation with lollipops, fruits, candles and everything else that makes a birthday cake special? This pie is just as vivid as Aurora Cacciapuoti’s illustrations. You can just sense the excitement the heroine and her dad baking a special birthday cake for a special birthday surprise!

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I also loved that “Baking with dad” takes a break from typical gender roles. This book is targeted to preschool-aged children – a phase, where prejudices start to form in little heads. Is mom the one cooking and dad the one repairing the car and staying out of the kitchen? Not in this family. Aurora Cacciapuoti never shows us the mom of the little girl and with the recipient of the wonderful cake being a man we don’t know for sure if she wants to broach the issue of same-sex relationships. But even if it isn’t: For us it was a good chance to talk about families with two dads or two moms just being as happy as we are. The last page of the book shows a colorful party scene with families of all ethnicities, a dad carrying a baby, kids playing and everybody having tons of fun. Just like it should be!

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With recent political events, it’s more important than ever to raise our children to be tolerant. But even if you ignore the significance of the book for a liberal way of life it’s a vibrant story of an adventure with dad and all the fun you can have with the ordinary task of baking! Finja giggled the whole time and especially loved the goofy family’s cat being part of the story. Long story short: “Baking with dad” is a great, diverse book for every bookshelf and ever library!

More information:
„Baking with dad“
written and illustrated by Aurora Cacciapuoti
Age Range: 4 – 7 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Publisher: Child’s Play International
Hardcover: 32 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1846437557

„Tickle my ears“ by Jörg Mühle

Did I ever mention that our daughter is more the active kind of girl? I’m sure I did. She loves interactive books she can “read” herself and take part in – like shouting out “This is not a hippopotamus!!!” while reading her newest Gecko Press read. As a mother, I love interactive books, too. Nothing makes me happier if books really engage Finja and she starts to be an independent reader even before she can actually read…

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On our visit to Germany two years ago we discovered “Nur noch kurz die Ohren kraulen” by German author Jörg Mühle. The sweet book about a cute little bunny and his bedtime routine soon became one of our favorite books. Because, let’s be honest – there are not a lot of really good bedtime books out there that are clever, interactive and calming. Plus: Bunnies just are cute… So I wasn’t surprised when Jörg Mühle’s book was soon brought to the English book market by Gecko Press! The name: “Tickle my ears”.

The little rabbit is a bit like our Finja: It’s getting late and bunny is tired, but he still wants his usual bedtime ritual: After he changed in his nighties he wants his pillow to be fluffy and needs a gentle tickle behind his ears. Jörg Mühle has a way to engage children: They have to clap their hands to convince the little bunny to change in his pajamas. They tickle his ears and stroke his back to calm him, pull the covers high, give him a gentle goodnight kiss and finally turn off the lights. Parents can integrate rabbit’s bedtime routine in their own: They can rub their child’s back and kiss their kid goodnight just as their kid “tucks” little rabbit in.

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The artwork by the author is just wonderful. Little rabbit is so sweet and cute, you just want to cuddle him, tickle his ears – and give him a sweet goodnight kiss.

We read “Tickle my ears” side by side with the German version “Nur noch kurz die Ohren kraulen”.  I was glad to see that the English version is the exact translation of the German book. Finja loved both – no surprise here! And as “Tickle my ears” is one of the few books that really calm her down at bedtime we love it, too!

More information:
“Tickle my ears”
written and illustrated by Jörg Mühle
Board book: 20 pages
Publisher: Gecko Press; Brdbk edition (August 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1776570766
ISBN-13: 978-1776570768