“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

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“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

„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

„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

„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