“Henry and Boo” by Megan Brewis

It’s Halloween time! And, like every year, we binge-read our favorite book auf the season: „Room on the broom“. Reading Julia Donaldson’s classic definitely changed in the last five years. While we could barely make it through all pages with a three-week-old infant in 2012, Finja memorized every page last year and now “reads” the book by herself. “Room on the broom” is a wonderful story about friendship and compassion being repaid in kindness.

“Henry and Boo”, another fall release published by Child’s Play, might be totally different from our favorite Halloween read. It picks up the friendship-topic in a similar manner: The book, written and illustrated by Megan Brewis, tells the story of dog Henry, who’s afternoon tea is interrupted by a purple rabbit sitting next to his tea pot, shouting “Boo!”.

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“Henry and Boo”, published by Child’s Play

“Boo!” seems to be the only word the unwelcome newcomer is able to pronounce, and so Henry soon tires of his new companion. But no matter how often the tries to get rid of “Boo”, “Boo” follows him everywhere and does whatever Henry does. “Boo” is not the only one, though: Attentive readers soon spot a dangerous, hungry bear stalking Henry… And just as Henry made the final decision to mail the annoying Boo far, far away, “Boo” jumps out of the mailing box, shouting his famous “Booo!” – scaring the attacking bear away and saving Henry’s life.

Mega Brewis has a wonderful illustration style: Her watercolor images with warm, stark colors are a pure eye catcher. And although I was getting a little wary of Finja shouting “Boo” over and over again, she loved the tale of an unlikely friendship. Henry and Boo’s story is written in an uncomplicated manner, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers eager to interact with a story.

One question remains though: Where did “Boo” come from? According to our five-year-old, “Boo” is a magical being. Or is he a stray rabbit, searching for a new home? No matter where “Boo” comes from: He might not have been welcomed at first, but he now makes Henry’s life a little brighter.

More information:
“Henry and Boo”
written and illustrated by: Megan Brewis
published by: Child’s Play
ISBN-13: 9781846439995

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“All about cats” by Monika Filipina

Besides reading, there is one big passion in our family: Cats. Currently, there is just one feline living with us: Fleckli is part of our family for over 12 years now. She moved in as a frightened shelter-kitten when Immo and I were still studying. She and her friend Sakura, a stray from Austria, relocated to the US with us. Unfortunately, we had to let Sakura go shortly after Finja was born… By now, Fleckli is a healthy, confident cat lady. She’s definitely the head of the household – at least in her opinion… 🙂

Cats also are my professional passion. I’m founder and former chief editor of Germany’s first independent magazine for cats, Pfotenhieb, and work for a charity pet food line. As an avid reader, my biggest dream came true when a German publisher asked me to write a few books about cat care, cat health and cat nutrition…

So, it’s no surprise, that “All About Cats” from Monika Filipina immediately caught our eye! Another reason: The beautiful, funny book cover with multiple Felines peeking at us.IMG_9065

Finja and I couldn’t wait to start reading (and reviewing) the book!

Turning the first page, you see multiple cats looking at you through windows: Feeding cats, dreaming cats, angry cats, tranquil cats, sleeping cats, lurking cats and cat families. They are relaxing, waiting for their humans to return – or aren’t they? When you live with cats you probably know that the myth of cats sleeping the whole day is just that: A myth. But what exactly are cats up to as soon as we leave the house?

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Monika Filipina has some ideas… Do cats play, maybe even Tennis? Do they read? Do they bake? Or do they just curl up and sleep – just to wake up and make a big mess? Every page teems with wild, colorful cats doing “their” thing. Cupcake anyone? At least that would explain why the kitchen looks like a tornado just went through it after the cat’s “wild five minutes”. And what did the cat do with the wool – trying to knit a cozy sweater for the cold season? Every page causes chuckles. Finja loved to tell me what cats do and what they don’t – or do they? We burst out laughing a couple of times.

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Not all of the author’s suggestions might be serious. They show that cats are up to more than sleeping though! I lived and worked with cats long enough to know: No cat is like the other. Monika Filipina did a wonderful job giving each of her four-legged heroes a real personality: With just a few pencil strokes she captured proud black cats, tinkerer cats exploring any nook, long-haired beauties and calmer cat characters. Her colorful illustrations also show, that cats need more than a cozy pillow for a nap. What about a scratching post, so the angry black feline doesn’t need to rasp her claws over the bookshelf? What about hide treats through the house, so your cat can go searching for her personal pirate treasure while you are at school or work?

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“All about cats” is a fun, colorful book for preschool aged children and their parents. Child’s Play, a small independent publisher, did a great job bringing out this exciting book with extraordinary illustrations and an unconventional look at cat behavior! Open-ended questions provide lots of room for conversations. And the illustrations by the London based artist are just magical… I wish the publisher would offer art prints of these Felines:

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A guaranteed hit at story time!

More information:
“All about Cats”
written and illustrated by Monika Filipina
Grade Level: Preschool – 2
Publisher: Child’s Play International
ISBN-13: 978-1846439339

“Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr

From the first glimpse of the magnificent cover I knew that „Dragonfly Song“ would be a glorious read. A fantasy story embedded in history? A strong heroine? Sign me up!

Long story short: “Dragonfly Song” was all what I expected it to be – and, at the same time, completely different. Is that a good thing? Definitely! “Dragonfly Song” is a magnificent, magical book for teens and young adults. During a sleepless night, I couldn’t put the book down. I suffered, laughed and, yes, cried. And although I live and die with books, I don’t cry often 🙂

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But let’s start at the beginning.

Crete, Bronze Age. When Aissa is born with two additional thumbs, her mother, the oracle of Crete, casts her out. Aissa is lucky: The servant entrusted with taking her away suspects that there’s more to the girl. Instead of death, Aissa earns a second chance with a farmer’s family. When raiders kill her adoptive parents and Aissa is the lone survivor, she finds herself on her own again… In a town where the mute girl is denounced as a demon, Aissa has to find her own way to survive and escape her miserable existence. Might the yearly lottery for bull-riders, who will be send as tribute to the bull king’s island, her chance?

I expected fast action when I turned the first page of “Dragonfly Song”. Instead, I found a slow revealing, deep, thoughtful and almost philosophical tale of an abandoned girl and her fight for a better existence. “Dragonfly Song” is more than just a good read. It’s a saga, not just a retelling of the legend of the Minotaur, but a tale of fighting for one’s identity. It’s the story of a strong girl taking her life in her own hands, finding her way against all odds.

We take part in Aissa’s thoughts, dreams and hopes and live with her through highs and lows. As a mother, it pained me to see the girl suffer, living from scrapes on a good day, going hungry for bad days. The townspeople’s treatment of a child left me angry. Then I was at the verge of crying happy tears when Aissa found a special friend in the oracle’s cat and when a bed from seaweed gave her the first good night sleep in years. I might not be the author’s anticipated target audience – but I’m a really critical reader and Wendy Orr’s ability to let me hurt like this speaks for her storytelling!

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Wendy Orr slows down significantly. She incorporates rhyme, which makes “Dragonfly Song” lyrical and interesting to read. Orr’s poetry might be challenging for the average midgrade reader. The sections are not bothersome, though. Embedded in Aissa’s story, at the right time and in the right place, they intensify the feeling of “Dragonfly Song” being a saga. Orr’s writing makes the book really special and a wonderful read – even for mid-graders!

Dragonfly Song” – an outstanding book for young (and old 🙂 ) adults! Read it! Now!

More information:
“Dragonfly Song”
by Wendy Orr
Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Publisher: Pajama Press (October 27, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-1772780376

Cold, rainy fall days – here we come!

Cold mornings, sunny afternoons and the first smell of Pumpkin Spice everything. I hope I’m not the only one looking forward to fall! Freshly baked cookies. Pumpkin Spice Latte. Hot tea. Rainy weekends with lots of time to read…

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After a crazy summer with selling and buying a home, moving, a huge water damage, doing all the repairs and remodel and finally traveling for two weeks due to a family matter in Germany we are ready to slow down a bit. After months and months of mulling over it I finally decided to quit my day job for a company in Europe. Even a nice home office doesn’t compensate for crazy working hours due to a nine-hour time difference… This decision was really tough for me. I worked for this company for over 11 years. My colleagues in the marketing and private label department made sure I never felt “left out”, even with 5263.48 miles distance between us. Plus: I just re-created my home office… Look at these pictures! I’m never sure if I should concentrate on my laptop, my book shelves or this beautiful sight…

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Echo Lit created some of my favorite pieces in our new home. But: We have more!

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This is for our “reading nook”. Even my husband with his love for audiobooks couldn’t resist… The quote from “The Minpins” was the beginning for Finja’s and my hunt for classic children books. We read quite a few! 🙂

I know that all this isn’t an excuse, but just an explanation why “The Reading Castle” appeared abandoned during the last weeks. But: We’ll be back! Just today I found a wonderful surprise after an exhausting day: Myrick Marketing, a company I work with regarding reviews for children’s books from many international publishing houses, send me a review copy of “Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr, published by Pajama Press. The package was complete with a signed autograph of the author, a button (my daughter immediately stole this one 😉 ), and a special bookmark! Now I definitely can’t wait for fall and more time for books anymore…

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You probably didn’t know that I read lots and lots auf YA fantasy in my free time. I especially love books with unusual, clever and independent heroines. Books I can recommend to Finja once she’s a little older…

In Dragonfly Song, Orr weaves an intriguing mythological portrayal of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, where subject nations are forced to send youths each year to dance with bulls in the god-king’s bloody ceremonies. Inspired by Crete’s frescoes showing figures leaping over the backs of bulls, and by the legend of the Minotaur, Orr spins a gripping story of danger and destiny that will appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games.
Aissa is a resourceful and resilient heroine who possesses a mysterious bond with animals. Mute since the traumatic raider attack that took the only family she ever knew, and spurned by a community that thinks she carries bad luck, Aissa takes her survival, identity, and destiny into her own hands. In a world where the gods demand perfection, Aissa — scarred, silent, and rejected — dares to fight for her own worth.

Kirkus review wrote:
“Orr tells her tale in both narrative poetry and prose for an effect that is both fanciful and urgent, drawing a rich fantasy landscape filled with people and creatures worthy of knowing. An introductory note describes Orr’s inspiration in the legend of the Minotaur, but her story is no retelling but a meditation on rejection and acceptance, on determination and self-determination. The shifts between poetry and prose build tension just as surely as the bull dances do. As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise.”

Still wondering why I can’t wait for a few cold, rainy fall days to experience Aissa’s world myself?

What’s on your reading list for fall?

“The Sports Timeline Posterbook” by “What on Earth?”

A few months fly by quickly… And suddenly you realize you have not posted in a while… Hopefully your summer was filled with lots of fun, sun and good books!

We developed a new ritual: Finja “reads” a book to me every night after we are done with our story time. At first, I was astonished how good she memorized books we didn’t read for a while. Sometimes she was able to reconstruct stories word for word! One of her favorites right now: “Leah’s mustache party” by Nadia Mike, a book we reviewed in July 2016. Can you guess why?

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We also discovered the biggest book we ever read: The “The What on Earth? Sports Timeline Posterbook”. The unassuming cover of the fold-out-book hides a 2-meter-long laminated timeline with more than 1,000 pictures of more than 100 different sports from the early Olympics to horseback riding, climbing and world records. The big format might not be handy for reading in bed, but it’s perfect to discover different sports and their history on a rainy afternoon!

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Recommended for children 7 to 14, the posterbook packs lots of knowledge for adults, too. Our preschooler immediately begun discovering the different sports and started her own “search, find and explain” game: “Mom, where is the person without a head. And why is he bleeding?” Luckily, we spend some time with explaining the different disciplines of horseback riding after that…

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The “What on Earth? Sports Timeline Posterbook” makes a stunning wall display and is perfect for (pre-)schools, playrooms and children’s rooms. The publisher “What on Earth?” offers different wall books, poster books and even sticker books about the history of nature, science, big history and Shakespeare. Unusual books and a perfect gift for curious minds every age!

More information:
The Sports Timeline Posterbook
by What on Earth?
ISBN: 978-0-9954820-7-4

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„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Which child doesn’t like the zoo? Finja loves visiting her favorite animals – and she always knows which to visit first. The jaguar always is number one – and then come the goats, the bungees or the lemurs, depending on her mood. The tree kangaroo always has to be part of our tour, too. I’m always in awe of the teachers who are handling a whole group of children without one of them wandering of!

„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love.
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love.

That’s not a Hippopotamus“ by Juliette MacIver is a story about a school class visiting a wildlife park. “Don’s Safari” declares to have “every creature in the land, roaming wild, safe and free”. Looking at the list of animals the children soon realize that one animal is missing: The Hippopotamus. Don is sure the wild park is home to a hippo – and so the search begins. The hippo is really good at staying hidden among the other animals, and so the resolution to “fetch him in no time at all” end in lots of confusion. The self-declared hippo-hunters catch a giraffe, an elephant and even a skunk, but the hippopotamus stays just out of reach – always in the picture, newer spotted by the class. Only the shy Liam seems to be able to uncover the mammal’s disguise…

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„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is fun to read and easy to love. A book for rainy days, snowy days, sunny days and whenever you or your child need some excitement in your life. The humor of the story is irresistible, the rhyme makes reading aloud extremely entertaining and Finja loved to scream “That’s NOT a hippopotamus!” after every mix-up. The illustrations by Sarah Davis are colorful and show real emotions. You can easily spot the anxious child in the diverse class, the more outgoing one, the loud one, the quiet one and the child that always is more careful than is classmates… Last but not least: Who doesn’t love a “search and find”-theme? Reading „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ can become a game: Who can spot the hippo first – you or your child? I have to be honest: Finja is way better at this than I am! 😉

„That’s not a Hippopotamus“ is a fun picture book for kids in pre- and elementary-school. Our daughter wanted to read it again and again and again and again (…) and will take it to preschool tomorrow. That’s definitely a ribbon of excellence from this little reader!

The book was published by “Gecko Press”, an independent publisher from New Zeeland. According to Gecko Press, the publishers aims to encourage children to love to read, because “one good book can spark a lifetime of reading”. Books like „That’s not a Hippopotamus“ definitely make it easy for kids to find their love for literature!

More information:
„That’s not a Hippopotamus“
written by Juliette MacIver
illustrated Sarah Davis
Publisher: Gecko Press (August 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-1927271964

“Getting ready”, illustrated by Cocoretto

Sometimes it feels like getting an almost-five-year old ready in the morning takes more time and patience than simply putting clothes on a newborn… Selecting “the right dress” and discussing about wearing or not wearing a rain jacket takes ages each morning!

The board book “Getting ready”, published by Child’s Play, was perfect for Finja’s current phase! It might be recommended for younger children, but is a wonderful book for independent little readers who want to discover a book without mom’s or dad’s help. Finja loved it so much that she decided to review it herself 🙂

Child’s Play is an independent publisher specialized in whole child development, focused play, life skills and values. “Getting ready” indeed is a fun little book for all ages! The author/illustrator team behind “Cocoretto” created a wonderful board book. Finja especially loved the tactile elements, which enabled her to discover and read it herself.

More information:
“Getting ready”, illustrated by Cocoretto
Age Range: 2 – 5 years
Series: Tactile Books
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438868

“A year in our new garden” by Gerda Muller

After my last postings and the longer downtime you might have realized that we just moved. Our new home does not only have more rooms than the previous townhome (including an office!), but also a big yard. Almost an acre, to be honest – an acre, that has to be mowed and cared for, but also promises lots of fun for Finja and us. Finja jumped in right away: Armed with kid-sized garden utensils she started to seed, plant and organize right away. She loves to feed the squirrels and already set up an insect hotel with rooms for hibernating lady bugs, butterflies and bees. And sure, we got tons of kids gardening books as presents from family and purchased some ourselves.

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While unpacking the moving boxes I also discovered a wonderful book in my review copy box – „A year in our new garden“ seems to be written especially for Finja! So we finally read the book tonight after watering the recently planted herbs.

A year in our new garden” by Gerda Muller was published by Floris Books. Floris books is the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland, producing international picture books, activity books and the Kelpies and Picture Kelpies ranges of Scottish children’s books. You might remember our review of „Thistle games“, „Harris the hero“, „Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ and „Little fairy makes a wish“. “A year in our new garden” was first published in 1988 under the German title “Ein Garten für die Kinder aus der Stadt” – “A yard for the children from the city”.

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The story: Anna and Benjamin just moved into a new home with their family. Although in the middle of a busy town, the house featured a beautiful, big garden. Although the garden is “a mess”, the family has plans to make the place beautiful: Their mom wants a patio, Benjamin wishes for little plot with lots of flowers and a pond, Anna dreams of a vegetable patch. Soon the family starts mowing, seeding, pulling weeds and planting. With some helpful hints from neighbors and friends Anna and Benjamin’s yard starts to grow and flourish. The family has a busy, interesting and motivating year in the new garden!

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“A year in our new garden” is not just a goodnight story. It offers children and adults the opportunity to learn about plans, gardening and the different kinds of flowers and gives practical tips how to sow seeds, planting flowers in the right season, crafting with chestnuts and acorns and spotting wildlife. And did you know that you can make a crown from leaves? The book is the perfect companion for children who love to discover nature year around. I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t be ready for gardening after reading the delightful story!

Finja already loves “A year in our new garden”, recognized lots of plants, can’t wait for collecting acorns in fall and has plans for a little pond, too. It seems Gerda Muller’s book is just the right fit for her! In general I would recommend the book for preschool- and elementary aged children. With lots of things happening on every page Gerda Muller’s book is great for toddlers, too!

The timeless illustrations of “A year in our new garden” are just like the book designs I remember from my childhood. They are gentle, but full of detail – different from today’s picture books, but in a good way!

More information:
A year in our new garden
Written by Gerda Muller
Publisher: Floris Books
ISBN-13: 978-1782502593

“Will you help Doug find his dog” by Jane Caston

I really must apologize for being offline for such a long time. Our move into a bigger home didn’t go as planned and we are still battling with a huge water damage. But: The books are safe and I can’t wait to get started on some new reviews!

The last three weeks were a little crazy for Finja. Reading helped her to keep her schedule and calm down after another exciting (and loud – think about fans, de-humidifier and air filter…) day. Look at this picture – do I need to tell more?

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One of the books she’s totally into is “Will you help Doug find his dog?” from one of my favorite publishers, Barefoot Books. “Will you help Doug find his dog” is a little different from the Barefoot books I selected so far. It’s not about diversity, it’s not about cultural literacy, but it’s about sharing the love of reading with your child and offering them a book they can discover by themselves.

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The story: Doug is devastated, he lost his dog… Luckily, Doug can count on the help of the young reader enjoying his story at this very moment. Together with Doug kids can sort through all the different dogs on the pages of the lovingly illustrated volume. Is Doug’s dog scruffy? Can you give all spotted dogs a pat? And tickle all small dogs? Finally, there is Doug’s dog!

“Will you help Doug find his dog” combines the idea of a search-and-find-book with interactive, sensory books like “Tickle my ears”. Lots of things are happening on the colorful pages, sorting and counting keeps children entertained and helps them to rediscover the story every time they pull “Will you help Doug find his dog” out of the bookshelf.

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The book from Jane Caston was illustrated by Carmen Saldana and is one of the books that keeps kids smiling and motivates them to “read” a book all by themselves. The publisher recommends “Will you help Doug find his dog?” for children between 1 and 5 years of age. Helping Doug find his dog is a fun way for preschoolers to practice early math skills, sort and spot similarities and differences! With lot of action on every page it’s a page turner for younger children as well.

“Will you help Doug find his dog?”
written by Jane Caston
illustrated by Carmen Saldana
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-13: 978-1782853206

„The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand

Sometimes life just happens – and your blog is deserted for weeks… But no matter how stressful life is, grabbing a good book always is always like a short vacation. I really enjoy our evening story time. Transferring some if Finja’s books into their temporary home aka “moving boxes” almost hurt, although I know we’ll unpack them again in just a week. 🙂

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To make up for the smaller selection of books available outside of our countless book boxes we read some new ones. Finja now reached the age where she loves fairytales and especially everything about Disney. Because, let’s be honest: Which girl doesn’t? To achieve a balance, I try to incorporate some unusual fairytales from all over the world in our daily reading routine. Sometimes really good tales are hard to come by, especially when you are searching for strong female role models. Luckily, there are some stories with strong female protagonists – Finja was fascinated by the real-life-stories of “Goodnight stories for rebel girls” by Elena Favilly.

But heroines are not always born strong, brave and kind – sometimes they have to grow into their roles. During the last days, I fell in love with the modern version of a Russian fairytale. „The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand was published by one of my favorite publishers, Barefoot Books.

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The magically illustrated volume tells the story of Natasha. Natasha has a wonderful childhood in the Blue Forest, spending her time picking apples, baking bread and making sweet jam with her mom. Life changes when Natasha’s mother dies during an especially cold winter. Natasha’s dad buries himself in work to forget about his wife’s death. To make up for it, he spoils Natasha with everything she wishes for. Only the tastiest food is good enough for her. She enjoys only the finest fabric and the best stories. At age sixteen, the blessed girl is beautiful, but moody. She wants more and more – and especially: A bigger, better house with more rooms. But her father refuses to leave the cottage he shared with his wife. Natasha gets consumed by her own fury. When an old woman with a blue bird offers her a wish in exchange for a tasty fruit in her basket, Natasha desires a palace. But “not just any old palace, though, a magical one. One where I can invent all kinds of different rooms whenever I like.” Natasha’s wish is granted, but it doesn’t turn out as she likes… Natasha will not be able to leave her magical palace. For some time, the girl entertains herself with inventing new rooms. She wanders the wonderful palace and is at easy with the life of a princess.

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But after some time, Natasha gets bored with inventing new rooms. She misses her dad, the orchard the grew up in – and finds back to a simpler life again. “There would be no more dressing-up sessions; no more walks through her splendid rooms; no more magnificent feasts.” The magical palace shrinks to the size of a cottage. When Natasha discovers she’s able to leave the palace as a blue bird at night, she spends her days baking bread, leaving the loaves on the doorsteps of the poorest cottages. Will Natasha’s kindness be repaid? Will she be able to return to her father?

What I loved about “The Blue Bird’s Palace” is Natasha’s development from a selfish, spoiled girl to a thoughtful and kind woman. The story can be a reminder for us parents not to spoil our kids too much – but it can also be a story of growing-up and achieve happiness with being at ease with ourselves. I didn’t expect Finja to follow the modern interpretation of a Russian folk tradition. The tale is longer than most fairytales, there are not fairy godmothers or sparkles involved. But Finja listened carefully, asked questions about Natasha, her moodiness and her development to a kind young woman. Actually, she just snatched the book away while I was reviewing it, quickly retiring into her room to browse through the pages!

Barefoot Books recommends “The Blue Bird’s Palace” for age 5 to 10, but the book offers a complex story and is a wonderful gift for adult readers, too.

There is just one word left for the illustrations by Carole Henaff: Beautiful! The acrylic artwork seems to be inspired by The Arabian Nights and other classics, uniting the classical fairytale illustration with a radiant, more modern approach.

“The Blue Bird’s Palace” is a wonderful tale for children and adults every age – from “twonagers” to teenagers to adults 🙂

“The Blue Bird’s Palace”
written by Orianne Lallemand
illustrated by Carole Henaff
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846868856