Magical new book releases

If you read my review of “Dragonfly Song” by Wendy Orr you know that I adore YA fiction. My all time favorite is the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pulman. After I used to re-read the complete series around Christmas time, last weekend brought a wonderful surprise: I discovered “The Book of Dust”, a prequel to the story of my favorite heroine of all times – Lyra. To be completely honest, the book is out since a few months now. It’s kind of embarrassing, but between family life, work, running and reviewing I totally missed one of the (for me) most magical releases…

This week brought another surprise: Elizabeth Foster contacted me some weeks ago with the offer to review her first novel “Esme’s wish“. Her description of the book blew me away: “A city of sea dragons, songspells and glittering canals. A city where waters whisper of enchantment. A place sewn into the fabric of her dreams…” Yes, definitely my kind of book! 🙂 Today, the book arrived after a long flight from Australia. I can’t wait to read and review Esme’s story and will keep you posted!

Wendy Orr is a fan already: “A fresh new fantasy, of an enchanting world.” If you want to check out Elizabeth Foster’s new book before my review, visit her homepage, her publisher Odyssey Books oder goodreads!

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…all I wish for Christmas is more time to read. And new running shoes maybe 🙂 What is on your list?

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„My friend robot“ by Sunny Scribens

Childhood and education today is different from our upbringing in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But is this a bad thing? Definitely not! Society changes, and so do the requirements for preparing children for today’s world. One example is the growing importance of STEM: Today, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are essential skills for everyone. But STEM doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, even seemingly complex machines like robots are based upon basic principles every preschooler can understand and practice…

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“My friend robot” by Sunny Scribens, published by Barefoot Books, is one of the few STEM books for toddlers and preschoolers. Scribens doesn’t start with complicated programming questions or even mentions computers. On the contrary, the story begins with a situation every child can relate to: Who can us help build a tree house? Luckily, a friendly robot joins the diverse group of friends and helps using simple tools like a wedge, a wagon, screws, a ladder, hammer and pulley. Together the team follows simple steps to make their dream of a house come true. Every child helps in their own way, from carrying wood blocks to pushing a wagon. The situation grows with complexity, until the tree house finally stands. There is just one thing to do: Comfort the shy dog on his way up into the tree house…

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Scribens shows that technology and empathy aren’t exclusive to one another. To finish a project you need skills, heart and passion! Easy to repeat rhymes and an accompanying CD make the book adequate for younger children.

The for us really fascinating part of the book was the appendix: Several pages of information about programming and robotics teach children about simple machines and ignite interest in STEM. Engines, printer and computer might be hard concepts for young readers to grasp – that’s why Sunny Scribens starts with “simple machines”, basic devices to make work easier. She then goes on to everyday robotics most children know and shares he fascination of programming robots. A simple play “Scientist says” teaches children the basic principles of programming code.

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We absolutely love the colorful illustrations by Hui Skipp, an illustrator born and raised in Taiwan. The bold colors will catch every toddler’s and preschooler’s eye and perfectly fit the STEM topic. Finja loved to “read” the book with help of the easily to understand pictures: “Who will help us use this nail? My friend robot, my friend robot!”

You see: “My friend robot” is a great book to ignite your toddlers or preschoolers interest in science and technology. Have fun reading, singing and learning!

More information
„My friend robot“
published by Barefoot Books
written by Sunny Scribens
illustrated by Hui Skipp
CD sung by Norma Jean Wright

“Yokki and the Parno Gry“ by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby

I love fall! This is the time to cuddle up with a good read, to re-live favorite stories and find new ones. We enjoy reading fairy and folk tales and discovered some great retellings of old fables.

On one of these nights, we fell in love with “Yokki and the Parno Gry” by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby, published by Child’s Play. Inspired by a traditional Romanian folk tale, “Yokki and the Parno Gry“ tells the story of a travelling family.

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Yokki and his family are travelers. They take their canvas tents over the country. In the winter, they are selling what they made with their own hands, before picking fruits and vegetables and working for local farmers during harvest season. Telling stories is a big part of everyday life: In the evening, the whole family gathers around the fire to share fables and experiences. Little Yokki is telling the best tales, retelling what he heard from other people, mixing it up and adding bits of his own.

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Yokki’s creativity and talent becomes more and more important when the family goes through hard times. After a wet summer and a poor harvest, he shares the story of the Parno Gry, a powerful white horse who would fly into camp and bring them away to a foreign land with plenty to work, harvest and eat. Dreams alone don’t fill stomachs, but Yokki’s wise grandmother supports his love for storytelling. “Sometimes all we have are our dreams”, she says. “They keep us going until the next opportunity appears.”

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Indeed, after one especially cold night, Yokki’s dream seems to become reality. A huge white horse appears to take the family and all their belongings, soar high in the night sky and bring them into a land full of wonder: Cold air, fruit trees, a clear stream, wild gardens and vegetables growing in the rich soil promise a better future. To this day, Yokki’s family believe and value children’s dreams and imaginations. Especially in their darkest hours, when they need them to find inspiration and strength.

Like every folk tale, “Yokki and the Parno Gry” leaves a lot to the imagination. This makes the book perfect for readers every age: Our five-year-old loved the idea of dreams becoming reality. As a parent, I like to inspire her believe in the importance of her dreams and stories. Finja loves to spin her own fables and Yokki’s story strengthened the need make up and tell stories on her own! Older readers are invited to dive deeper into the world of Romani folk tales, maybe develop an interpretation of their own. The book also gives us a glimpse into a culture, that is not well known in the US and therefore barely understood.

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“Yokki and the Parno Gry“ was written in cooperation of Richard O’Neill, a Romani storyteller raised in North England, and Katharine Quarmby, an award-winning journalist and writer. Richard O’Neill knows about the traveler’s life of his forefathers: Born into a large family in small a mining community in the North East of England he travelled with the seasons all over the country. According to his own words, he is “taking his storytelling skills around the country, winter will find him in Manchester, the rest of the year telling tales and performing anywhere from Cumbria to Cornwall, Skegness to Southport.” Best known for storytelling, Richard is also the author of a number of children’s books, and award-winning plays for adult audiences, a number of which have been broadcast on national radio.

We can thank Marieke Nelissen for the eye-catching drawings in this book: Made with ink and watercolors they are full of expression, but not distracting. Marieke Nelissen’s images are the perfect illustration for a folk tale about the power of imagination.

“Yokki and the Parno Gry” is the perfect read for a rainy weekend or a stormy night. Enjoy!

More information:

“Yokki and the Parno Gry”
written by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby
illustrated by Marieke Nelissen
Publisher: Child’s Play International
ISBN-13: 978-1846439278

“Henry and Boo” by Megan Brewis

It’s Halloween time! And, like every year, we binge-read our favorite book of 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”, a new 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 though: The book, written and illustrated by Megan Brewis, tells the story of an unlikely friendship. It all starts when dog Henry’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.

Megan 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

“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

„Gus’s garage“ by Leo Timmers

There are some books we don’t read once or twice, but three of four times – per evening. „Gus’s garage” by Leo Timmers is one of them.

Guss-Garage-cover-LROne of the reasons: Main character Gus is instantly likeable. The friends pig stores lots of curious things in his garage. Curious children will discover metal bins, an old fridge, a goldfish glass, a bathtub, some old piping, an old grandpa chair. What will he use them for? The next page brings the answer: Rhino Rico is complaining about the too small seat of his scooter. Gus has the answer: “Let’s see. I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job!” Soon a happy Rhino leaves Gus’s garage on a completely remodeled scooter, sitting comfortable on his newly designed grandpa-chair-seat.

Will Gus find a way to help his other customers? Giraffe Gina is freezing her long neck off in the chilly air, while penguin Mrs. P “needs refrigeration”. Walrus Walter on the other hand is suffering what is, in his opinion, a too dry car… When the last customer of the day, rabbit Henry, is speeding away in his newly tuned up car, there is nothing more to do for Gus. Except: Inventing something for his own comfort…

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Leo Timmer’s story about going out of your way to help others features friendly Gus, who creates unique gismos to help his customers. Gus uses old garbage to invent something new, tailored to his friends’ needs. The colorful pictures by the author show how the pile of square parts in front of Gus’s garage slowly shrinks with each customer. Curious children will re-discover the abandoned parts in the newly renovated cars of Gus’s friends! The rhyming text is catching and Finja loved to read it with me: “Let’s see. I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job!” Although the book is recommended for children age 5 to 7, it is a fun read for younger children, too.

Leo Timmers is one of Belgium’s most popular children books authors and we are glad Gecko Press brought „Gus’s garage“ to the US!

More information:
“Gus’s garage”
written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Gecko Press
ISBN-13: 978-1776570928

„The Beeman“ by Laurie Krebs

Did you know that I was an official Barefoot Book Ambassador in 2016? As someone who constantly has her nose in a book, promoting literacy and working with the great Barefoot community was the perfect fit! Well, that being said – I quickly discovered that direct marketing isn’t for me. A year later I still love Barefoot books and miss the discounts I got as an Ambassador. That doesn’t change that I’m not a seller, so I keep on reading and reviewing.

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Imagine my delight when I was offered review copies of the newest Barefoot books by one of the literacy agencies I’m working with! Sure, I said yes – and quickly re-discovered my love for Barefoot Books. Is there something better than unconventional, diverse children’s literature? Finja chose the first two books to read and review. One of them: “The Beeman” by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Valeria Cis. “The Beeman” is one of the wonderful non-fiction books that teaches children about the real world and score with delightful pictures, an attention-grabbing storyline and rhymes.

Do you know where our honey comes from? Bees not only provide us with honey, their work as pollinator is important for our environment – but bees are critically endangered. “The Beeman” teaches little ones about bees, a bee man’s everyday life and why bees are neither scary nor dangerous, but important for our environment.

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The story: Grandpa, the bee-man, teaches his young grandson the basics of beekeeping. His relationships to his bees is one of friendship and respect. They are family. We discover the boxes where bees live and sleep – the “beehive”. We learn about different kinds of bees and their duties: What are worker bees for, how do you recognize drone bees and why is the queen so important for a bee colony? Did you know that the house bees dry up the nectar brought by worker bees to make honey? How will the bees survive in winter and how does the honey get from the honey comb into the bottle? Author Laurie Krebs wrote her rhyming story easy to understand, several pages of endnotes full of essential facts about bees and beekeeping are perfect for children and parents that have more questions. The recipe for “Grandma’s Apple and Honey Muffins” is a tasty activity for hungry readers.

I re-discovered my love for non-fiction when Finja started to ask questions about our world. “The Beeman” is one of the books I love for my preschool-aged daughter: Easy to understand and awakening curiosity. She’s able to discover “The Beeman” by herself, even if she’s not able to read yet. The illustrations by Valeria Cis are colorful and grasp her attention, but they are also true to fact. The publisher recommends “The Beeman” for age 5 to 9, in my opinion the book is already perfect for preschool aged children.

A wonderful book for curious children (and parents)!

“The Beeman”
Written By: Laurie Krebs
Illustrated By: Valeria Cis
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-13: 978-1846862601