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January 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 1
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January 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 1
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TDmonthly's Book Expert

One Educated Bookworm's Opinion


If you want to know which books to sell in your toy store, find out what the kids have to say. Each month, children's book author Dorothea DePrisco Wang reads new titles to kids and then gives her educated opinion on positioning and sales to TDmonthly readers.

This month, she rhymes with street signs, finds out what happens when the world ends, and tracks a wayward boy as he learns to set himself straight.

Title:  Cleo’s Color Book
Author:  Stella Blackstone
Illustrator:  Caroline Mockford
Company: Barefoot Books
Age Range: 2 to 5
Retail Price: $15.99

What It Is: A hardcover picture book that teaches colors. It stars Cleo the (curious) Cat and the adventures he has in his own backyard.
 
Why You Should Carry It: If you are already carrying Cleo books, this is a fine addition. I would also recommend “Cleo’s Alphabet Book” and “Cleo’s Counting Book.” Both are charming and age appropriate.

Most concept titles come in smaller trim sizes than this, but this trim size works well. You only need to ask yourself if people will pay this price point for a concept book. However, Mockford’s stylized art is sophisticated but appealing for this age group. The text and art contain warmth, which is difficult to do in this acrylic style. It is appealing to traditional book chains, but could be a fine mass book if placed with the other concept titles (e.g., alphabet and counting). The book has a “trade feel” to it, but the content is for all markets.

What Kids Think: Kids loved this book, and 3- and 4-year-olds can read the simple text. The only comment they made was on the “orange” page. They wondered why Cleo was not in that spread as it is the only spread where the main character is not featured.

Title: The Prince’s Bedtime
Author: Joanne Oppenheim
Illustrator: Miriam Latimer
Company: Barefoot Books
Age Range: 4 to 10
Retail Price: $16.99

What It Is: A hardcover bedtime picture book that centers on a young, spoiled Prince who refuses to sleep.
 
Why You Should Carry It: This is a great, humorous read-aloud book that conveys a simple message: A book is entertainment enough.

Publishers, parents and buyers are always in search of a great bedtime read. “The Prince’s Bedtime” is an especially delightful story with a purposeful title. The illustration is a solid creative match for the text. I do believe the text could have been analyzed a bit more and that the editor should have trimmed it down and worked out the cadence. It was a touch long and awkward for the audience; the 4–year-olds sat through it more patiently than the 3-year-olds.

What Kids Think: The preschoolers that read it with me loved the opening pages: “In a faraway kingdom, a long time ago, when bedtime drew near, the Prince shouted 'No!'" The only spread they found a touch troubling or “scary” was where the Queen is lying down, taking medicine from the doctor.

Title: Saint Iggy
Author:  K.L. Going
Company: Harcourt
Age Range: 14 and up
Retail Price: $17.00

What It Is: A hardcover teen novel that has a compelling anti-drug story. It's a forceful story about a teen who, despite his circumstances, becomes a hero. 

Why You Should Carry It: K.L. Going does an exceptional job of writing for teens without talking down to them. She can deliver a strong message while conveying feelings and frustrations honestly and authentically. Kids respond to people who respect them. This author does just that. She is also the author of "Fat Kids Rule the World," 2003 Putnam.

Iggy’s father is always stoned on the couch and Iggy’s mother, an addict, has been gone for more than a month. Iggy, 16, awaits the hearing that will decide whether or not he will be permanently expelled from high school. He must decide where his best chance lies. He realizes through key events and people that his only chance for survival is to get back in school.

The story is told in the first person from Iggy’s point of view. His voice is sarcastic and angry but realistic, refreshing and insightful..

What Kids Think: Although I did not read this book to children, I did discuss this subject matter and the story with several parents who have children aged 13 to 15 years.

What struck most people is that Iggy had a plan for change. No matter what his circumstances were, he was not a victim. Parents were most impressed with Iggy’s goals:  1) make a plan, 2) get out of the projects, 3) do something with my life, 4) change everyone's mind about me, and 5) get back into school. Probably the most powerful piece of advice Iggy gets is from his principal: "Do something that contributes to the world.”

Title: Life As We Knew It
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Company: Harcourt
Age Range: 12 and Up
Retail Price: $17.00

What It Is:  A hardcover novel about a meteor that is headed on a collision path with the moon. The story is told in the form of a journal from the point of view of 16- year-old Miranda, whose life changes instantly.

Why You Should Carry It: Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of more than 70 books for children, and also penned the best-selling young adult novel “The Year Without Michael.”

“Life As We Knew It” is a page turner about how Miranda must make many difficult choices after the world witnesses a lunar impact that moves the moon closer in orbit, catastrophically changing the Earth’s climate. Suddenly, Miranda watches the world she knows fall apart. The grocery store is out of food, her school is closed, and there is no reliable means of electricity. Natural disasters — tsunamis and earthquakes — are happening all over the world. Miranda and her family must learn to stay together and help one another. It is a frightening but powerful read.

What Kids Think:
This book was very long and involved, so it was not possible to read with children or to have any of them review it at this time.

Title: Charlotte in Paris
Author: Annie Bryant
Company: Beacon Street Girls
Age Range: 8 to 13
Retail Price: $7.99

What It Is: A paperback novel for tween girls. This story in the Beacon Street Girls series centers around one girl, Charlotte, who visits her friend Sophie in Paris.

Why You Should Carry It: “Charlotte in Paris” is a fast, pleasurable read. It has the charm that a parent would want to see in a new tween girl series. It includes details that young girls want to read about, such as fun fashion, close friendships, email exchanges, details in the setting, character detail and a light discussion of boys.

In the book, Charlotte Ramsey jets off to visit Sophie for a week in Paris and looks for her friend’s long-lost cat, Orangina. Charlotte is a kind, appreciative and smart girl. All of the girls in the book appear to be good girls and could be very good role models for young girls interested in the series.

However, the situations are a touch more sophisticated than is appropriate for the average 8 to 10-year-old. Charlotte and Sophie are able to go places and do things that most 10-year-olds don’t have the means to do, and the focus on adventure positions responsibility in second place.  Neither school nor community contribution is the focus, either, but maybe that does not ring true for the entire series.

Lastly, the artwork for the cover and for the series could use some adjustments. The cartoon characters are sophisticated but also lack warmth that I believe girls in this age range would respond to.

What Kids Think:  I had some moms of 8 to 10 year olds read a chapter or two. Many said, “I’d never send my kid to Paris.” Most thought that their girls would like the books and the mothers were comfortable with the content. They thought some of the detail, especially about fashion, was adorable.

Title: Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha
Author: Whitney Stewart
Illustrator: Sally Rippin
Foreword Author: The Dalai Lama
Company: Heian International Inc.
Age Range: 8 to 10
Retail Price: $16.95

What It Is: A simplified tale of how the boy Siddhartha Gautama left his royal upbringing and wealth to become the Buddha. It also includes suggestions for meditating from The Dalai Lama.

Why You Should Carry It: This is an empowering picture book for children and parents to discover together. The story of Prince Siddhartha and his choice to leave his wife, Yashodhara, and their newborn son to find a teacher of meditation and become the Buddha delivers a simple message: Children can develop compassion and empathy for others. This is a thought-provoking, inspirational read.

What Kids Think: A few teachers commented on this book; all found it inspiring and would not hesitate to read it to their classes. I also showed it to a few parents, who thought it was a notable read. Some parents commented that the black pages gave the book a “dark” feel, but that was overcome by the powerful message.

Title: Holidays Around the World: Celebrating Diwali With Sweets, Lights and Fireworks
Author:  Deborah Heiligman
Company: National Geographic Society
Age Range: 4 to 8
Retail Price: $15.95

What It Is: A photographic hardcover picture book about the joyous Hindu holiday of Diwali.

Why You Should Carry It: If you are carrying the “Holidays Around the World” series, this is a nice addition. The photographs are beautiful in this particular book and it is also very informative. It’s a wonderful series for teachers and homeschoolers.

In this book, children learn that Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and of light over darkness. Diwali is a joyful holiday celebrated with fireworks, sweets and gifts. This book also includes Diwali recipes and a helpful glossary.

What Kids Think:
Children who reviewed this book found the photographs very interesting. There are close-ups of other children and fireworks and food. The children related this holiday to their “Christmas” and were fascinated by the fireworks. I also showed the book to a handful of teachers, who found it “refreshing.”

Title: Holidays Around the World: Celebrating Thanksgiving With Turkey, Family and Counting Blessings
Author:  Deborah Heiligman
Company: National Geographic
Age Range: 4 to 8
Retail Price: $15.95

What It Is:
A photographic hardcover picture book about Thanksgiving.

Why You Should Carry It: If you are carrying this line of National Geographic titles (the “Holidays Around the World” series), this is a nice addition. It’s a wonderful series for teachers, since Thanksgiving is a large part of the curriculum in this age range. It’s also a nice reference book for parents and homeschoolers.

What Kids Think:
Children and parents who reviewed this book found the facts about Thanksgiving informative. They liked the inclusion of a Native American Thanksgiving Prayer as well as the timeline of American Thanksgiving.

Title: Chinese Fables Remembered
Author: Miwa Kurita
Company: Heian International Inc.
Retail Price: $16.95

What It Is:
A hardcover book focusing on the retelling of two Chinese fables.

Why You Should Carry It:
This is a good multicultural book for the educational market and homeschoolers. It was originally published in Japan.

Adults retell the tales of their childhood. Passing along folktales and talking about the past is a subject children discuss in school as early as first grade. Storytelling starts in circle time at the preschool level and continues through grade school. Through exchanges of folktales, children can learn about other places and cultures.

The book design needs work; there are areas the designer and illustrator could have worked together better to create a richer effect. The content is short and covers two tales: “The Brothers and the Birds” and “The Two Rooster Friends.”

What Kids Think: Teachers and parents who reviewed this book liked it but felt there could have been more content for the price.

Title: Hello, Hello
Author:  Fumiko Takeshita
Illustrator:  Jun Takabatake
Company: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Age Range: 2 to 5
Retail Price: $4.95

What It Is:
A paperback book for young children about the workings of a telephone and human communication.

Why You Should Carry It:
I thought to myself, “Do I want my 3-year-old more interested in the phone?” In addition to teaching children about the evolution of communication, “Hello, Hello” can also serve as a way to teach children that email and computers are not the only way to talk to someone! It’s refreshing, really, to remember the days when people wrote letters or had a long chat, instead sitting silently at the computer with no human contact. I think this book will spark interesting family discussions!

What Kids Think:
Kids liked the book because of the humorous illustrations. They liked to repeat the word “Hello” in different languages with the animals at the end of the book.

Title: 30-Minute-a-Day Learning System: Preschool
Company: Brighter Minds Media
Age Range: 2 to 5
Retail Price: $15.95

What It Is:
A 396-page activity book for preschoolers with 50 daily lessons, assessment pages, reinforcement activities and achievement certificates.

Why You Should Carry It:
Huge workbooks with tons of activities are all the rage.
I did many of these activities and appreciated, as a former teacher and now parent, that the book was organized well. Each chapter focuses on a different letter or number and helps make math more concrete for preschoolers. I only wish it came in a spiral binder of some sort so that I could photocopy the pages and do the activities over and over again.

What Kids Think:
We did these activities at home and all were a success. We found the activities easy to understand and visually appealing.

Title: Once Upon a Banana
Author:  Jennifer Armstrong
Illustrator:  David Small
Company: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
Age Range: 4 to 8
Retail Price: $16.95

What It Is:
A hardcover picture book about a street performer’s pet monkey and the chain of chaos that’s started when the monkey throws a banana peel.

Why You Should Carry It:
In this creative, textless book, Caldecott Medal winner David Small and award-winning author Jennifer Armstrong team up to bring a delightful story told through rhyming street signs. I think perhaps it’s most appreciated by kids 5 and up.

What Kids Think:
I read this to children aged 3 to 5. It took some time for me to go through each scene with the younger children. The attention span for this age range was a challenge. The busy illustrations took some time to review and discuss, but everyone enjoyed it.



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Dorothea DePrisco WangWriter's Bio: Dorothea DePrisco Wang is the author of more than 40 books for children. Dorothea has 14 years of experience in the publishing industry, beginning her career with Scholastic Inc. She later became executive vice president and publisher of Intervisual Books Inc., where she created and executed 300 titles. She is best known for her titles published by Piggy Toes Press, such as “Eight Silly Monkeys” and “Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar?” Read more articles by this author

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