Tag Archive: songs


It’s a great year for Christmas books, and I have four top choices for your holiday reading pleasure:

first christmas

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

With text from the King James version of the Bible, this picture book tells the nativity story with stateliness and words that will be familiar to many.  The great joy of the book is the silhouette illustrations by Pienkowski who has created images that glow on the page.  She combines her black silhouettes with colors that shift and seem to be lit from behind.  Her detailed cut paper art is awe-inspiring and adds just the right touch of wonder to the story of the birth of Jesus.  Recommended for all ages. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

manger

Manger selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann

On Christmas Eve at midnight the animals are given the gift of being able to speak.  The poems in this book tell what each of the animals would say during the nativity about what they witnessed and how they contributed.  Hopkins has compiled a collections of poems from a dozen poets.  The collection ranges in styles and lengths but is also cohesive and the differences in the poems creates a variety that adds freshness. 

Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details.  They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.  The poems range from very serious approaches to ones that are gently humorous but they are all done with great respect and honor the reason Christmas exists.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.

santa clauses

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Santa tells his own story of Christmas in these 25 short haiku poems that offer a glimpse into what goes into making Christmas happen.  From the joy of snow to the seasonal chores like fixing Christmas lights, readers will see their own holiday preparations in Santa’s world too.  But there are also things that are just in Santa’s world like the many letters from children, hard-working elves, reading stories to the reindeer and finally flying off to deliver presents. 

These poems are cleverly done, often showing the beauty of the winter season just as much as they are celebrating the Christmas holiday.  The mix of natural beauty with Christmas makes the book rich and a holiday treat to share.  The illustrations too show the wonder of nature on the page alongside the bustle of the holiday season.  It is the quiet snowy scenes and the small special moments that make the strongest impressions both in poem and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

12 days of christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The traditional holiday carol is told in a warm new rendition with illustrations that are traditional but also very funny.  The carol is unaltered in this picture book that shows what happens as the various gifts arrive.  Though in the first pages it seems to be a book that will stack and pile the huge number of gifts on each page, this book is more subtle about things and therefore more successful.  Instead it is a delightful mix of diversity, different cultures and the joy of the season.  It turns out this is a modern and fresh take on the carol sure to spread joy.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

goodnight songs

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators.  According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn.  They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children.  The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song.  This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!

Brown’s poems are simple and lovely.  Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style.  Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words.  She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one.  I have a handful of top favorites from the book:  “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.

The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books.  There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem.  Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow.  The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.

A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

may the stars drip down

May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure

Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country.   That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace.  This book is much the same.  The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again.  It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song. 

McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book.  Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness.  Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past.  There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.

A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.

crankee doodle

Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger

Brace yourself for a picture book that is entire silliness and proud of it!  In a riff on Yankee Doodle, this story tells readers that it was all the pony’s idea.  Yankee Doodle is bored and goes off on rants about how he doesn’t want to go to town or go shopping.  Then the pony suggests a feather for his cap, which starts another rant.  The pony finishes with a suggestion to call it macaroni.  After that rant, he explains that macaroni is another word for fancy, and that Yankee Doodle may want to call it lasagna instead.  In the end, the two of them head off to town, just like the pony wanted all along.

Angleberger writes with such a wry sense of humor here.  The rants by Yankee Doodle are a hoot to read aloud, the text heavy with indignation and exclamation points.  The sly pony seems to know just what he is doing as he lets Yankee Doodle blow off steam but gets his own way in the end.  The book ends with a historical note about the real history of the song.

The illustrations are done in gouache with a thick black line and bold colors.  The entire book pops visually and will work with larger groups of children thanks to its clarity and strong shapes. 

This one is a winner for story times.  Expect guffaws from children who know the song!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

nightsong

Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long

Chiro is a very young bat whose mother tells him that it is time for him to head out on a solo flight for the first time.  Chiro is very worried about how he will see in the dark, but his mother encourages him to “Sing, and the world will answer.” So Chiro heads out on his own.  At first, he tries to fly without singing, but it is too dark.  Then when he sings, he suddenly sees in color.  Chiro explores and sees all sorts of things through his song.  When he gets to the pond and all of its insects, their songs sound like breakfast to him.  His mother had warned him not to go too far unless his song was strong.  But Chiro is confident and heads out across the pond to see even more of the world through his song.

Berk’s writing is lyrical and lovely.  He captures subtleties and beauty in his words, offering insight about what Chiro is seeing through his echolocation.  When Chiro uses his song for the first time, Berk writes about it like this: “Tall trees called out to him, chanted the length of their long branches and the girths of their rough trunks.” As you can see, he asks children to reach higher with their language, inviting them to explore like Chiro does.

Long’s illustrations are a study in dark patterns and then bursts of color.  Chiro is an exceedingly cute little bat, flying against haunting branches of shadow.  When he sings, children will see the world come to life too, strengthened even more by Berk’s language.  This is a beautiful book, perfect for a summer pajama story time.

A dark delight of a bat’s life, this book is lush in both language and imagery.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

jo macdonald had a garden

Jo MacDonald Had a Garden by Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant

Celebrate gardening with this cheery picture book that features Old MacDonald’s granddaughter, Jo MacDonald.  The verses here are set to the same music as the original, except this time it’s all about planting a garden rather than the animals on a farm.  In the garden there is some sun, some soil, a worm, seeds, water, animals, plants, and then food!  Watching the illustrations, children will see the garden take shape and then watch the plants grow until they are ready to be harvested. 

Quattlebaum has cleverly written verses that can be acted out by preschoolers as the book is shared.  At times, the children in the illustrations show the movements that could be done, and at other times they would be easily figured out by a savvy teacher or librarian.  I can see lots of children this spring enjoying planting imaginary gardens all together. 

Bryant’s illustrations have a wonderful sense of detail to them.  Each page has animals to glimpse in the garden, including a cardinal and a butterfly that are on almost every page.  This is a book that children will enjoy looking at and exploring.

Get your voice warmed up and be ready to wiggle like a worm with this new version of Old MacDonald!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Dawn Publications.

penny and her song

Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes

Joining the beloved Chrysanthemum, Lilly, Owen and Wemberly is a new mouse character from the incredible Kevin Henkes.  This mouse is named Penny and she has a song to sing.  Unfortunately when she gets home, the babies are sleeping and she’s not allowed to share her song with her mother or father.  Later, she tries to share the song during dinner, but her parents ask her to wait until they are done eating to sing.  Finally, after dinner, Penny shares her song.  Her parents sing it too, they dress up in costumes, and the babies have a surprise reaction too!

Done in short chapters, this is more a beginning reader than a picture book.  Penny is a delight of a character, who when told she has to wait does not complain but tries to find new solutions that will let her sing without breaking the rules.  The final scenes with her parents happily joining in singing demonstrates the love that comes with rules and structure without any harshness being needed.  The illustrations are done in Henkes’ signature style, which is sure to delight all. 

A happy welcome to Penny as she joins this beloved mouse family.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

what animals really like

What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson

Mr. Herbert Timberteeth is happy to present his new song that he composed, “What Animals Like Most.”  He will also be conducting it, just open the red curtains and… There are groups of animals on stage who flatly deliver, “We are lions, and we like to prowl.  We are wolves, and we like to howl.  We are pigeons, and we like to coo.  We are cows and we like to…”  Turn the page to have the chaos begin as the cows change the obvious rhyme into something else entirely.  Best of all, you can tell from the animals’ faces that they are up to something.  They are the only ones on stage grinning.  The same is true of the next grouping.  Children will get the joke immediately when the first rhyme is missed. Finally, Herbert, now bedraggled, allows them to sing the new and non-rhyming version of the song.  He hates it, but the audience has a very different reaction.

Robinson has tapped into a kind of humor that children enjoy.  The unexpected happening when you think you have the structure pegged.  Children will be relaxed and ready for the rhyme to come next.  In fact, they will probably announce that first rhyme before you get the page turned.  Their reaction will be that much better if they do!  The unexpectedness of this entire book is a great treat.

The illustrations are also fun.  Keep an eye out for all of the small touches.  My favorite is where the show is lit by glowworms, and if you look closely one of them has fallen asleep and is no longer lit.  But there are many to enjoy, making this a book that can be read again and again.

This is a definite read-aloud pick for any preschool story time.  It would make a great final book that is sure to keep wiggly children interested and listening.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

one love

One Love by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Marley has adapted her father Bob Marley’s famous song into this picture book.  The book follows the same arc as the song, but is simplified considerably.  Fans of the song will definitely try to sing along with the words since they are so iconic.  Children who don’t know the song will discover a vibrant picture book where the words give the emotion, but the pictures tell the story.  It’s the story of a community coming together to turn a vacant lot into a park, One Love Park.

This simple picture book owes much to the original song.  It’s where the book gets its heart.  The words are pulled directly from the song and in picture book form read aloud well.  Just like the song, the emphasis is on community, love, and creating a new world together.

Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add so much joy to this book.  They are full of color and movement, the multicultural cast of characters are vibrant and glowing.  Readers can also keep an eye out for visual references to Bob Marley.

Simple, lovely and powerful, this book is definitely worth celebrating.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Here’s the book trailer:

71030123

If You’re a Monster and You Know It by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley

A great pick for a preschool Halloween party, this book will have kids wiggling and giggling to the silly monster movements.  Set to the same song as If You’re Happy and You Know It, children will immediately be able to sing right along.  Children will be growling, snapping their claws, stomping their paws, and twitching their tails along with the monsters in the book.  Those monsters are done in neon-bright colors against a black background, creating a very dynamic book for children to enjoy.  I recommend finishing up with some black paper and bright colored scraps and letting the children create their own monsters to take home.

Completely child friendly, this book will have even the most reluctant listeners paying attention and playing along.  Happily, the song takes more enthusiasm than skill, so everyone can join in and not have to worry.  The Emberleys have created a book that fills a niche in story times, a monster book that is non-scary but not babyish.  What a treat!

Appropriate for ages 2-4.  Make sure to have this one in your trick-or-treat bag for fall!

You can listen to the song here.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

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