The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds

After 22 years of reading Christmas books to my kids, it is rare that I find a holiday book that is worthy of sharing here. But, when Peter H. Reynolds, author of the Creatrilogy of picture books that explore creativity and inspiration, creates a Christmas book, you know it will be worth buying and reading year after year. It is a good thing to have at least one or two picture books that help kids recognize the rampant consumerism of this season, and The Smallest Gift of Christmas is a reminder in the gentlest, most subtle of ways, which is exactly what I look for in a book with a message. The message of The Gift of Christmas is one that is easy to forget this time of year - being with people you love is the best gift, no matter what time of year. Reynolds wraps this message (which has been clobbered in so many other Christmas books) in a story that is sure to entertain young listeners and readers and presents it in a tiny trim size along with a photo-frame ornament.

The Gift of Christmas begins, "Roland was eager for Christmas Day." The accompanying illustration shows stockings hung over the fireplace, Roland's reaching all the way down to the floor. When Roland races downstairs on Christmas morning only to see the "smallest gift he had ever seen," he wonders, "had he waited all year for this tiny gift?" Roland closes his eyes and wishes his hardest for a bigger gift - and he gets it. Over the course of a few pages, his greed grows, as does the size of his gift. Finally, he heads off to search the universe for the biggest gift. When he looks into his telescope and sees earth shrinking to a tiny dot that will soon disappear, he realizes that what he really wants is to be back on earth and home with his family. As is rocket lands gently in his snowy front yard, Roland realizes that the "smallest speck was his biggest gift."

Short, simple and sweet. The Smallest Gift of Christmas is one that kids need to (and will want to) hear more than once.

Source: Review Copy

The Sock Monkey Trilogy by Cece Bell

If you know anything about kid's books, kid's book awards and graphic novels, then the name Cece Bell should not be new to you. I had the pleasure of getting to know her work before she wowed the world with the 2015 Newbery Honor book, El Deafo, and am so happy to get to spend more time with her books now, especially her creation, Sock Monkey and all his friends. Bell has a sensibility that is a bit left of everyday and a wonderful way of somehow making every story, very subtly and sweetly, about acceptance, friendship, bravery and love. Originally published almost 10 years ago, Candlewick wisely, happily, has reissued Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie and Sock Monkey Rides Again.

Sock Monkey is a famous toy actor. He is also kind of a stand in for toddlers. In Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey gets some good news and some bad news. He has been nominated* for "Best Supporting Toy in a Motion Picture" and has been invited to attend the Oswald Awards Ceremony at the Big Theater. The asterisk notes that "Nominees MUST be clean." Just thinking about taking a bath makes Sock Monkey, "dizzy with fear." Happily, his best friends, Miss Bunn, Froggie and Blue Pig are free to help him out. Miss Bunn takes him to bathe with mild soap and a few other monkeys in a hot springs atop a snowy mountain. Froggie helps him rinse in the clear, cool water of a pond and Blue Pig gets Sock Monkey to the desert where he can bask "all day in the sizzling sunshine." Clean and calm, Sock Monkey heads to the awards where he faces disappointments and surprises and a lot of great word play from Bell.
While I love all three books, I think that Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie just might be my favorite. Sock Monkey is going to the Big Celebrity Dance and is super excited - until he discovers he doesn't have a partner! His three best friends are traveling, but they send home gifts that come together to make - another monkey! Sock Buddy can make cupcakes AND turns out to be the perfect dance partner! They impress everyone at the dance and, best of all, when Sock Monkey's friends meet Sock Buddy, they feel like they've known him forever. What I especially love about Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie is the fact that Sock Monkey and Sock Buddy both seem to be guys. Bell  makes the less conventional choice and it makes the book all the more completely lovable.

Sock Monkey Rides Again finds our famous toy actor in another difficult situation. This time, it's not the prospect of having to bathe that is throwing him off, it's the fact that he will have to kiss the leading lady! In order to star as Red Reardon in "Hubbub at the Happy Canyon Hoedown," Sock Monkey will also have to learn to yodel, ride a horse, lasso a cow and get some cool duds. As always, Sock Monkey's friends are there to help out. But, when it comes time to kiss Lulu Nevada, he just can't do it and Lulu is left in tears. No matter how he tries to console her, he realizes there is really only one thing he can do, and he does it. And the director gets his shot!

I have been reading Sock Money Takes a Bath, Sock Monkey Boogie-Woogie and Sock Monkey Rides Again over and over to my students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and they all love Sock Monkey. Also, all three books always seem to spark some kind of discussion, whether it's about how to make a sock monkey, or looking at pictures of the monkeys in the hot springs. 

The original inspirations for the cast of the Sock Monkey books!

More books by Cece Bell


Source: Review Copy


Mini Grey presents SPACE DOG

The mind of Mini Grey is a wondrous, playful thing and I am thankful that she is both a gifted author and illustrator who can convey that on the pages of a picture book again and again. Here newest picture book, Space Dog, is chock full of story - visual and text - from endpaper to endpaper, which begins with a map of the Cake Space Quadrant.

Space Dog begins, "It's the year 3043 and, for as long as anyone on Home Planet can remember, Space Dogs, Astro Cats, and Moustronauts have been sworn enemies." Space Dog has long been "sorting out planetary problems" in the Dairy Quadrant. As Space Dog tackles things in the Breakfast Cluster like a milk-drought on Cornflake 5 and a milk surplus on Bottleopolis, he finds that he is just a little bit lonely when he returns to his ship, the SS Kennel

Space Dog isn't alone for long, though. After Astrocat needs rescuing and comes aboard the SS Kennel, Space Dog begins to see some good in his cake-baking-Dogopoly-playing shipmate. The two even tackle a "critical situation on Fry Up 42! Then, the head off to rescue Moustronaut from the dribbling mandibles of a cheese-collecting Queen ant. Grey ends Space Dog beautifully, with the three newly sworn friends "playing Dogopoly before dinner. Nobody is completely sure of the exact rules . . . but that doesn't seem to matter."

More Mini Grey!

Source: Review Copy