„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

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Tearing down walls – one book and one tweet at a time

I have the feeling I spend the last two weeks on Twitter. Not for The Reading Castle or literature though, but for diversity and about the craziness of the current political situation. Everything else seems unimportant when you read about a purge of the white house’s senior staff, right wing politicians taking their place, the travel ban for citizens of certain countries and countless other unbelievable biases. And, everything seems to be reasonable when you accept an “alternative truth”. Science Fiction, anyone?

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Even more interesting is how the world reacts to it. While supporters of our new president seemed to see it justified to burn mosques and take pride in their racism and religious prejudice, the better part of Americans stood up for moral, their neighbors of every color, heritage and believe and the truth. With the day of the women’s marches my believe in this world, this country and the American people started to mend.

I want to stand against this madness. Not because I’m an immigrant myself, but because I believe in a diverse world. We teach our daughter acceptance and tolerance, kindness and thoughtfulness. Our children are watching. They might not understand yet, but they see what the political leadership is doing, that people are suffering while wrongs are justified with “alternative truths”. And they see how we are reacting. It’s more important them ever to teach them about other cultures and diversity. To stand for human rights, for refugees, women, scientists, our neighbors, kids and everyone else. I’m proud that the Reading Castle works with publishers that understand and support diverse children books. I’m sure these books will be an important part of making our children “worldcitizen”, who stand up for injustice and tear down walls.

Why I’m writing this? As an explanation. For me it’s not an alternative to keep this blog free of political opinions. What’s happening right now is just too important. But I’m spending too much time on Twitter and Facebook already, so I chose to just keep my Twitter account @readingcastle for literature only with the occasional side blow. If you are curious about my political opinion you can always follow me @lenalandwerth. If we are friends on Facebook you’ll see that it’s just not possible to stay out of the discussion right now 🙂

Thanks for your understanding!

„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

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol

I’m not a friend of gender neutral education. Because, let’s face it: Girls and boys just are different. That doesn’t mean that there is any justification for gender stereotypes though. Although boys and girls are different, learn differently and have different interest, girls play with fire trucks, too. And boys like to play kitchen. Or to dress up.

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Clive, the hero of the board book “Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol, is a boy with a vivid imagination. He likes to build castles out of sand and jump into puddles. He loves to play in his little pool and to pretend he’s a cowboy. But he also likes to dress up, play peek-a-boo and wearing his own creation during a visit in the art gallery. Clive has lots of hats – and bunny ears are just part of his inventory as a fireman hat and a wooly hat for cold days. Because “Clive likes lots and lots of hats!”

“Clive and his hats” by Jessica Spanyol is a book for children age 1 to 3. The board book convinces with sturdy pages, that are easy to grasp for early readers. We loved the colorful illustrations by the author – Finja especially likes Clive’s black Moshi cat and it’s mischieveos smile… Jessica Spanyol doesn’t just write to challenge gender stereotypes, her illustrations embrace diversity: Clive’s friends are from all parts of the world. This is one of the best parts of this book in my opinion – because is there a better way to show our children how diverse and colorful the world is? Or, as another children’s book publisher stated: “Books are for ALL children”. You want your child to find themselves or their friends in the book they read. You want them to become tolerant and aware that there is no “average” kid. Because there are girls playing with cars – and boys playing with dolls, there are children from Asia and with lighter or darker skin color than yours!

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This book is part of the “All about Clive” book series about Clive and his everyday life. Jessica Spanyol created books about “Clive and his babies”, “Clive and his art” and “Clive and his bags”. We didn’t read the other parts of the series, but the titles promise more diverse books who defy gender stereotypes. And we definitely need more diverse books to make the world a little more colorful for toddlers and preschoolers!

The “All about Clive” series was created by Child’s Play International. According to the publisher, Child’s play “is more than just a publishing program, it is a philosophy.” As children learn most about the world around them in their early years, the publisher wants to expose children to diverse, quality books “to develop an enquiring mind and a lifelong love of reading.”

More information:
“Clive and his hats”
written and illustrated by Jessica Spanyol
Age Range: 1 – 3 years
Grade Level: Preschool and up
Series: All about Clive
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Child’s Play International; Brdbk edition (July 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846438851

„Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ by Nora and Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

Are you already in Christmas mood? I have to be honest: We started packing Christmas packages for Germany about a month ago and I always felt like a pretender because I just didn’t feel the holiday vipe yet… Well, with Thanksgiving around the corner the mood is finally catching up with me – especially while browsing all the wonderful Christmas stories!

"Otto and the secret light of Christmas"
“Otto and the secret light of Christmas”

We are not a religious household, but Christmas is important for us anyway. It’s just about being together, thinking of the people you love, getting in touch with every good friends abroad and getting in a special, merry mood. Our daughter and we enjoy decorating our condo, visiting Santa at the local zoo and packing small baskets to surprise our friends at December 6th, Sant Nicolaus day.

In Germany, where there is no Santa but a “Christkind” (Christ child) I always had the feeling Christmas had a more religious touch. This goes for decorations as well as for Christmas books for kids, which mainly show angels and most times refer to the birth of Jesus. Or I’m just too old and was growing up in another area… Anyway, I really enjoy books that point out the importance of Christmas without bible references. And as someone who loves Northern Europe I finally found one of my favorite Christmas stories!

A journey into Finish folklore: Otto meats the Snow Lonttis
A journey into Finish folklore: Otto meats the Snow Lonttis

Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ was written and illustrated by the Finish mother-daughter team Nora and Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. The hero of the story, elfin Otto, finds himself on a long travel to find the “light of Christmas” to brighten the dark Finish winter days. His motivation: A postcards, proclaiming the “Light of Christmas” and wishing light in the midst of winter. Otto heads north, hiking dark forests, snowshoeing through deep snow, skiing down hills and riding on a reindeer`s back. The journey he started alone brings many new friends and adventures: Otto meets an apple-loving badger named Badger, encounters the king of the forest, warms up in a Sauna with Klupu, strong trolls living on the plains of Lappland and shares a tea with Snow Lonttis. Most of these creatures originate from Northern Europe folklore – together with the stunning illustrations of snowy plains, Northern villages and dark forests the reader is thrown deep in the Finnish landscape. Can there be a setting more Christmas-sy?

"The colours twirled high and spun in great circles up to the stars, where they transformed unto flames of even more astonishing hues."
“The colours twirled high and spun in great circles up to the stars, where they transformed into flames of even more astonishing hues.”

Finally, Otto’s journey nears an end: A campfire under the North Star where he joins an old man, which Otto addresses as “Father Yule”, one of the pre-Christian name of the Norse god Odin. “I have been called that”, laughs the old man. Otto has been looking for Christmas – but has he found it?

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I’m sure what we have found: A magical Christmas story to share with children every age. „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” is a story about the real meaning of Christmas aside religious meaning and a tale that can be enjoyed by children and adults every culture and background. It would make the perfect read aloud for a preschool or elementary school! Reading „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” aloud is absolutely charming, the authors use a wonderful, poetic language. Hearing the story of Otto and his new friends you can almost feel the snow crunching under your shoes and hear the wind howling in the tree tops. I was craving Otto’s favorite drink, blueberry tea, after the last chapter! Speaking about chapters: Although the tale around Otto is absolutely wonderful it might be a little extensive for younger children to read in one sitting. Luckily the authors dedicated one separate chapter for every encounter. This makes „Otto and the secret light of Christmas” not only more accessible for younger readers, but also turns this book into a perfect companion for the holiday season. The 14 chapters could make a literary advent calendar of one of a kind!

We really loved the „Otto and the secret light of Christmas“ and I’m sure we’ll read it many many times this Christmas season and in the years to come! The book makes it easy for me to explain our meaning of Christmas with the words of “Father Yule”:

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There is just one more thing to say: Enjoy!

Otto and the secret light of Christmas
written by Nora
illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin
translated by Jill Timbers
Hardcover: 108 pages
Publisher: Floris Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1782503231

“Harris the hero” by Lynne Rickards and Gabby Grant

Do you love Puffins? We do! Puffins can be found all over the Northwest and Finja is always excited to discover this wonderful birds during our visits at the Washington and Oregon coast. Puffins can also be found in Scottland, where the publisher “Floris Books” with the imprint “PictureKelpies”, a series specialized in picture books about Scottland and Scottish culture, is located.

“Harris the hero” by Lynne Rickards and Gabby Grant
“Harris the hero” by Lynne Rickards and Gabby Grant

“Harris the hero” is one of three books about the puffin Harris and his family and friends. Harris lives on an island full of other puffins, but he’s feeling lonely, longing for a friend or a spouse of his own. Soon Harris sets out to travel the world – but instead of ships, hot air balloons and rockets he finds a little seal that needs his help. Harris doesn’t hesitate to help the seal baby, finds new friends on the way – and more. The series continues with “Skye the Puffling” – review coming soon. 🙂

Author Lynne Rickards tells the humorous story of a brave bird, who sets out to find a new life and through helping others helps himself. Written in rhyme “Harris the hero” is fun to read, even for people like me who aren’t found of poems and verse. We especially loved the colorful, expressive pictures full of life, who appeal to parents and children likewise. Lynne Rickards and Gabby Grant make the concept of helping others fun and palpable for preschoolers and elementary school age children!

More information:
“Harris the hero”
written by Lynne Rickards
illustrated by Gabby Grant
Publisher: Floris Books
Series: Picture Kelpies
ISBN-13: 978-0863159527

Please enjoy our review of “Thistle Games” by the same publisher!

„Lessons for the wolf“ by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

What do you admire, which characteristics don’t you like at all, who do you want to be when you are grown up? Growing up means not only finding yourself, but also creating yourself to a certain degree. We are the ones deciding who we are – to a certain level. Because you can never escape who you are, even if you try to pretend on a superficial level.

"Lessons for the Wolf" is another Inuit tale published by Inhabit Media
“Lessons for the Wolf” is another Inuit tale published by Inhabit Media

With “Lessons for the wolf“, Inhabit Media brings another Artic legend to life and captures young readers with the fascinating world of Inuit mythology. Here, they meet a wolf who spends his days admiring all the other animals of the tundra. He is filled with love for the tundra, wants to be part of it – wants to be more than “just a wolf”. Making a plan he collects a pair of caribou antlers, steals owl feathers and scrounges up wolverine hair.

But when the magic of the Land finally grants his wish and he becomes a mixture of all the animals he admired, this wolf finds out that what he admires may not be what he really wants in the end… Near starving, weak and lonely he learns an important message: “you cannot admire beauty by becoming it.”

"You cannot admire beauty by becoming it"
“You cannot admire beauty by becoming it”

With a quite complex message “Lessons for the wolf” is a mystic tale for Kindergarten- and elementary-school-aged children. Our almost-four-year-old loved the story and was fascinated by the emotions of the main character, but didn’t quite get the message right – according to her this story was about “dressing up” and she couldn’t understand why it didn’t make the wolf happy. She loved this Northern legend anyway, as did I! “Lessons for the wolf” is a wonderful way to introduce children to a culture they wouldn’t get in contact with otherwise.

Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company with a head office located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, has been working to encourage Arctic residents to share their stories and their knowledge. Almost every book Inhabit Media publishes is also available in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun. “One of our aims is to ensure that Arctic voices are heard and that they have the opportunity to contribute to Canadian literature. Since our inception, Inhabit Media has been working with elders and storytellers to ensure that the rich story-telling culture of the Inuit is preserved and passed on. As well, we have been working with elders, hunters, and knowledgeable residence to ensure that the rich traditional knowledge about the environment is not lost.”

More information:
Lessons for the wolf
Written by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Publisher: Inhabit Media
Illustrated by Alan Cook
ISBN: 978-1-77227-005-1
Hardcover

Please enjoy our review of “Leah’s mustache party” by the same publisher!

“Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns” by Mike Nicholson and Jo Litchfield

We traveled to Germany in April, so we are staying home this summer. Have to enjoy the time when you are not dependent on school break! Finja had some half day camps at her regular preschool and the climbing gym to give me some time to work (I’m always filling in for some colleagues in the summer) – other than that we enjoyed time to climb, bike and read. Finja is growing too heavy for the jogging stroller, so not as much running as we planned…

But back to our current reading curriculum. Some of you know that I was a Barefoot ambassador for a few months – I love their multicultural books and the motto of their summer reading program: “Read the world”. Although I’m not working for Barefoot anymore and we didn’t sign up for any formal “summer reading program” you might guess that we read a lot – and we love bilingual and diverse books! No better way to spark curiosity and an understanding for other cultures at an early age.

Welcome to the Thistle Games, Scotland's best highland game!

For two days in a row we visited Scotland now – even if it was “just” a mind travel. I have to be honest that even though I’m from Europe I never traveled to Great Britain. So this was new for me, too. We got some great review copies from PictureKelpies, a range of Scottish children’s picture books, all of which have Scottish authors or illustrators, are set in Scotland or have Scottish themes. In perfect sync to the Olympic games we even took part in the “Thistle Games, Scotland’s best Highlands game!”

Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns” by Mike Nicholson and Jo Litchfield describes the life around the “Thistle Games”, a fictional series of traditional Scottish games and competitions while introducing some of these funny Scottish words. To be honest, I had to use lots of search engines to find out that the “Thistle Games” are indeed a fictional event, but I’m sure there are lots of similar happenings all over Scotland…

“Thistle Games” is a fun little book for everyone who is interested in life in Scotland, Scottish culture and traditions, sports and learning new words. Dwam or Lugs anyone? I’m not a big friend of rhymes and the Scottish words made it a little difficult to read out loud at the first time. Our sports fan Finja wanted to read this book again and again, so I think we finally figured it out!

So – are you reading the world this summer?

Thistle Games

More information:
Thistle Games – A brawn Scots story for bairns
written by Mike Nicholson
illustrated by Jo Litchfield
Series: Picture Kelpies
Publisher: Floris Books
ISBN-13: 978-1782502548

I also loved the activity sheet for readers and teachers!