“Malala’s pencil” by Malala Yousafzai

As you know, our family absolutely adores books. And so sometimes, when I only plan on buying some groceries, I can’t resist the urge to purchase another one… Usually I don’t by books at Target, but today, “Malala’s magic pencil” miraculously landed in my shopping cart. And I still am not sure if I purchased the book for our daughter or for me :).


You probably already heard about human rights advocate and the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. I had her picture book on my wish list for quite some time, but I didn’t borrow or purchase it – until today.

I read the book in the car before arriving home and then again during bedtime. I knew that this would be a unique book and a difficult topic, so I wasn’t sure how our 5-year-old would like it. And I sure wasn’t prepared for “Malala’s pencil” to be THAT extraordinary while age-appropriate for young kids at the same time!

As young girl, Malala wished for a magic pencil to draw a lock on her door or give her one more hour of sleep each night. But growing up her dreams become bigger – she hopes for a world in which boys and girls are equal and children can go to school instead of having to work to be able to feed their families. When the Taliban take over Malala’s hometown in Pakistan, Malala speaks up for what is right – even when the powerful men try to silence her…

We read a lot of multicultural books and Finja loves to read about strong girls. But “Malala’s pencil” was something different. The gentle written text is a joy to read, and it illustrates everyday life as a child in Pakistan. The artwork in pastel and gold perfectly goes with Malala’s story, including the black page saying “”My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.”

The main difference: “Malala’s pencil” gave me goosebumps. The combination of impressive artwork, a wonderfully written text and a strong topic is something you don’t find every day… And it seems our five-year-old felt the same way. She wouldn’t stop asking why anyone could think a girl should not learn and grow up to be strong… No better time for strong female role models!

More information:

Written by Malala Yousafzai

Illustrated by Kerascoet Kerascoet

Age Range: 5 – 8 years

Hardcover: 48 pages

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN-13: 978-0316319577




“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.


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

“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!

“The Princess & the White Bear King” by Tanya Robyn Batt

Somehow sunny spring days let me yearn for Northern folk tales… “The princess & the white bear king” was sitting on my shelf for quite some time and I never found the peace and quiet to enjoy it. So what better day to finally read a story set in ice and snow than a warm May day?

"The Princess & the White Bear King"

According to the author, “The princess & the white bear king” is a combines three classic tales: “East of the sun, west of the moon”, “The black bull of Norraway” and “The white bear king”. I knew the often retold tale of Eros and Psyche, which is the origin of “East of the sun, west of the moon”, so I knew to expect a classic love story. And as our four-year-old daughter was fascinated by the title cover of the white bear king – why not read it aloud?

“The princess & the white bear king” is set in a winterly fantasy world, brought to life by illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, who also illustrated “The tear thief” by Carol Ann Duffy. In “The princess & the white bear king”, the King’s youngest and most beloved daughter dreams of a golden crown, more beautiful than everything her father can give her. Following her dream, the princess has an encounter with a strange white bear, who offers her the desired crown in exchange for her freedom. The girl agrees. Living in the bear’s castle she not only finds his presents acceptable, she even falls in love with the bear king.

The Princess & the White Bear King

But as we know, fairytales never end here… When the homesick girl is allowed to visit her family, she disregards the bear’s suggestion to “not listen to your mother’s advice, for if you do, bad luck befalls us both.” Back in the castle she lights a candle when feeling something sharing her room – and spills hot wax on a handsome prince’s shirt… Doomed to now marry the Troll Queen, who bewitched him, the prince has to travel “to a land east of the sun and west of the moon” without a chance to break the enchantment.

This is when the spoiled and passive princess turns into a heroine. She follows the trail of the bear king for over three years, until finally arriving at the Troll Queen’s castle – and fights for her love…

To be honest, I absolutely disliked the princess in the first part of this new told fairytale. Honestly, which girl goes the way of possible enslavement, just to win a wonderful new crown? Losing her love is a turning point for the spoiled girl though. She turns into a keen and strong willed women, who is not only willing to fight for her love, but also compassionate enough to help those in need during her journey.

The tale itself is kind of long, so more for adult readers or children age 6 and up. Our preschool age daughter seemed to seriously enjoy the story though, although more interested in the emotions of the protagonists and the blacksmith’s children then the meaning of the love story. 🙂

All in all, “The princess & the white bear king” is a wonderful modern fairytale with a not-so-strong beginning, but an even stronger progress. Sure,  it has the classic setting: a heroic male, a wicked antagonist – and we know that in real life no one lives “happily ever after”. But that’s how fairytales end, isn’t it? Our heroine is more than a damsel in distress. I absolutely adore Nicoletta Ceccoli’s illustrations, which add great character and atmosphere to the storyline!

The book comes with a story CD narrated by Miranda Richardson.

More information:
The princess & the white bear king
Written By: Tanya Robyn Batt
Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-10: 1846862280
ISBN-13: 978-1846862281