Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman by Katia Wish


Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman by Katia Wish
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Raccoon loves making snowmen. He practices all winter with his rolling, his stacking, and his decorating. He doesn’t overlook any detail and his snowmen are perfect. When his friends come by, Raccoon is certain that they will also want to build snowmen. And they will need his help. But following Raccoon’s directions aren’t that easy. Poor Rabbit can’t find the right snow (someone has used it all); Fox doesn’t have the right tools (someone isn’t sharing them); and Mouse can’t decorate her snowman (someone has taken the best items). And that someone is Raccoon. When his friends have decided they have had enough, Raccoon realizes too late the error of his ways. But is it too late? Will his friends give Raccoon one more chance to work together to build a totally different kind of perfect snowman? This ideal-for-every-time-of-the-year story celebrates the bonds of friendship and the power of forgiveness.

Who wouldn’t want to build a perfect snowman?

There are many different ways to be a good friend. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed how all of the animals in the forest related to each other, especially when they were competing for limited resources and trying to get their snowmen built on time. Not everyone took the same approach, so it was interesting to compare Raccoon’s personality to his friends who were impatient, generous, or timid. I think every reader could find someone in this tale to relate to!

It would have been nice to have more development of the final scene. It was such an important part of the storyline that I expected it to receive a little more attention than it did. Adult readers would understand it without a problem, but I’d expect to do some explaining of what it meant for the youngest age group this might appeal to. This was a minor criticism of something I thought was otherwise well written.

I adored what this story had to say about perfectionism. It communicated it’s message clearly with the audience without ever sounding preachy. Instead, it allowed Raccoon’s adventures to unfold naturally and gave everyone a chance to come up with their own conclusions about what went wrong and how Raccoon could do better in the future. While I do wish the message of the final scene had been a bit clearer, I did enjoy how much room the author otherwise left for discussion. This was something that worked for a wide range of ages and that I wouldn’t mind reading over and over again.

Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman was a heartwarming winter read that I’d recommend to adults and kids alike.

PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year by Virginia Loh-Hagan


PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year by Virginia Loh-Hagan
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When her Chinese grandmother comes to visit, a young Chinese-American girl learns of and participates in the customs and beliefs celebrating an authentic Chinese New Year.

Everyone in this family needs to pitch in to ensure a successful new year!

Some of the most memorable sections were the ones that explored the relationship between the unnamed narrator and her baby brother. They had the usual sibling rivalry that occasionally flared up when he got into her things or when she was feeling irritated, but they also genuinely loved each other. I adored watching them prepare for and then celebrate Chinese New Year. They were a wonderful example of a wholesome but realistic sibling relationship.

This was a delightful example of how to write a story for children from a wide age range. Some scenes in it were definitely geared for older or younger kids, but each one had something appealing for every age group in it. There were also multiple layers of meaning so that it could be understood in different and deeper ways as a young reader grew older. I was thrilled with how it pulled all of this off.

PoPo was a fabulous character. She was filled with opinions about how her grandchildren should behave and what they should or should not do to bring luck in the new year. I chuckled at the warnings she gave to her family members. They were always wrapped in love no matter how serious she looked in the moment or how surprised the main character was by some of them.

PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year was a cheerful and uplifting read that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Mae the Mayfly by Denise Brennan-Nelson


Mae the Mayfly by Denise Brennan-Nelson
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Mae the mayfly first hatches she learns she’ll have just a day to enjoy the world. But soon a hungry trout has her racing for cover! As she peeks from her hiding spot and notices some of nature’s most beautiful sights, she realizes she must live in the moment and experience everything the–sometimes scary–world has to offer. This tender story reminds us all–young and old–to be present and mindful in all we do.

She only has about one day to live, and she’s not about to waste a moment of it.
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Our world is filled with beautiful moments. Luckily, Mae was the sort of mayfly who soon learned how to absorb all of the beauty around her as she enjoyed the short life she was born into. She had so many opportunities to marvel at things she never could have guessed existed when she was still in her egg. It was delightful to see her reaction to life on an ordinary spring day in the forest.

I struggled to understand how the section of this picture book about mindfulness tied into the plot. They were both thought provoking and worth reading, but it took me a while to think of any substantial ways in which they were connected. If I as an adult had trouble with it, I can only imagine how much harder it would be for a small child. It would have been really helpful to have more clues about where the author was going with this.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed how Mae responded to scary experiences. For example, there was a scene early on involving a hungry trout that wanted to eat her. That isn’t something most children’s books cover, so I was curious to discover how she’d handle it. Without giving away spoilers, I thought her response was perfect for this age group. She was frightened, but her coping mechanisms were excellent. The only thing better than her immediate response was how she handled her memories of that moment later on.

Mae the Mayfly was a gentle, caring introduction to sensitive topics like fear and the circle of life.

The Little Kids’ Table by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle


The Little Kids’ Table by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Everyone knows that the little kids table is the place to be for any holiday or family gathering. They just know how to have fun! This silly, rhyming story follows a group of rambunctious cousins from table setting to dessert. A universal theme, The Little Kids Table will have kids–and parents!–howling with laughter.

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The rhymes in this picture book were so much fun to read. Not only did they make me chuckle, they captured the feeling of sitting at the kids’ table perfectly. While the characters enjoyed having their own separate table from the grownups, I think their descriptions of what it was like to eat a holiday meal with their siblings and cousins just out of earshot of the grown-ups can be appreciated by people who didn’t like that experience so much. Their enthusiasm was contagious, but they were also honest about the drawbacks of separating kids from adults as well.

There was only one scene I wished had been written differently, and it had to do with the young characters purposefully messing around with the food on the plates of other children who left their table. Due to how many kids have food allergies or are on strict diets for other medical reasons these days, I’m not personally comfortable spreading the message that it’s acceptable to pull this kind of prank. While I definitely do see the humor in that from a storytellers point of view, I’d want to make it clear to the children I love that actually adding spoonfuls of other dishes to someone else’s plate can make some people very sick.

The ending of this tale was heartwarming. All of the characters came from a huge, boisterous family, so getting everyone to sit down and eat together was no easy task. After being reminded over and over again to mind their manners and at least try some of the stinky vegetables on the menu, it was nice to see how the adults reacted once the meal was more or less finished and everyone gathered together again.

The Little Kids’ Table is the perfect thing to read right before heading off for a big holiday meal no matter which table you might end up sitting at.

Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden


Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Nonfiction, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Mr. McGinty and his dog Sophie love checking in on the monarch caterpillars and butterflies on their summer walks. But one day Mr. McGinty is shocked to find that all the milkweed in town has been mowed down! And monarch caterpillars, he explains, can’t survive without milkweed. Can Mr. McGinty come up with a plan to save the monarchs? This is a tale that is informative, a call to action, and a sweet story time pick.

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The protagonist, Mr. McGinty, was a genuinely kind person. He showed proof of this personality trait not only to the monarchs he rescued but in his interactions with his dog and everyone around him as well. I really enjoyed getting to know him and would happily read more stories about him if they’re ever written. There was so much more I wanted to know about him!

There were a couple of plot holes in this tale that I found distracting. They both involved how the main character tried to save the caterpillars after their home was destroyed. He needed a great deal of equipment and assistance from others to keep these little creatures safe, so I was surprised by how the narrator brushed all of this over. I certainly wouldn’t expect the same level of detail in the logistics of this that something written for adults would contain, but it would have been nice for him to briefly explain how it all worked.

While the plot itself was fiction, there were a lot of nonfiction elements to the storytelling that I found fascinating. Monarch butterflies are such a beautiful species. I’m glad the author took the time to explain a little bit about what they need to stay healthy and happy. That information was critical to the plot, and it was also just plain interesting to read as well.

I’d recommend Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs to anyone who loves butterflies or nature.

Little Sock by Kia Heise


Little Sock by Kia Heise
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Sock is tired of his routine. Day after day, it’s the same old thing. He gets worn, he gets dirty, and he gets washed. Nothing ever changes. The other socks in the drawer don’t seem to mind but Little Sock wants something different. He has heard of a place, Sock City, where everything is new and exciting, so one night he makes his escape from his drawer. Will Little Sock reach his destination? And what will he find there?

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This was one of the most creative children’s stories I’ve read so far this year. The thought of missing socks ending up in Sock City made me smile. I don’t want to give away too many details about later plot twists, but the author clearly spent a lot of time developing a reason why socks sometimes go missing when they’re washed or dried. Her reasoning for what happens to them was as it was logical according to the rules of this universe as it was imaginative.

What was missing in this tale was conflict. The characters were fascinating and the world-building made me wish for a sequel, but I didn’t feel the same way about the storyline itself. While I definitely wouldn’t expect to read anything too in-depth or potentially scary for this age group, it would have been helpful if Little Sock had dealt with more obstacles on his journey to Sock City and back home again.

The main character was such a brave little dude. His self-confidence was strong, and he always kept his head held high. I admired that about him and thought it made him a good role model for young readers. He was the sort of character who could teach more timid or frighten children a thing or two about going on an adventure and looking for the bright side of life.

Little Sock is a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered what might have happened to a favorite sock that disappeared on laundry day.

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James


Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James
Tales of Young Americans
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

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Travelling halfway across the world alone would be a little scary for anyone. This is even more true for someone who is a child.

I can’t imagine sending a kid on this sort of journey by himself, especially since Lee didn’t speak any English when he arrived in the United States. Comparing the way children were treated in the 1920s to how most of them are looked after today was eye-opening. No adults looked after this character while he was headed to America or for his turn to go through customs and immigration. He had to figure just about all out by himself. The world has changed quite a bit over the past 90 years, and this was an intriguing look at one of the many shifts that have taken place since then.

It would have been nice to have a little more attention paid to the train and boat Lee rode on his way to America. Those seemed like they would have been the most memorable parts of his trip to his new home, so I was surprised by how quickly the narrator skimmed over those sections. This is a minor criticism of a tale I liked quite a bit in general, though.

Lee was such a brave character. No matter what happened to him during his travels, he always remained calm and tried to remember the instructions his grandparents had given him before he left China. I was impressed by how good his memory was for those things and how closely he followed all of their rules. He was a great role model for his readers.

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America kept me reading until the end. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in history.

Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian


Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (33 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Day OneI swam around my bowl. Day Two I swam around my bowl. Twice. And so it goes in this tell-all tale from a goldfish. With his bowl to himself and his simple routine, Goldfish loves his life..until one day… When assorted intruders including a hyperactive bubbler, a grime-eating snail, a pair of amorous guppies, and a really crabby crab invade his personal space and bowl, Goldfish is put out, to say the least. He wants none of it, preferring his former peace and quiet and solitude. But time away from his new companions gives him a chance to rethink the pros and cons of a solitary life. And discover what he’s been missing.

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I loved the fact that Goldfish was such a strong and confident introvert. There aren’t many children’s stories that feature main characters who have this personality trait, so I always perk up when I come across authors who write about this kind of stuff. It was interesting to see how Goldfish handled suddenly sharing his home with so many strangers and what happened when he’d reached the limit of how much socialization he could handle. As someone who has a similar personality to his, I thought this scene was written really well.

There was a plot hole in this book that was never really addressed. It had to do with why Goldfish’s human was putting so much stuff into that tiny fish bowl in the first place. While I could make guesses about the owner’s motivations for doing this, it sure would have been nice to have the characters mention it long enough to know if my assumptions were correct.

The ending was perfect. Not only did it suit Goldfish’s natural temperament, it came up with a solution that worked for everyone who was currently living in the fishbowl with him. There was a point in the plot when I was a little worried that this character was going to be scolded or teased for needing personal space, but that concern turned out to be totally unfounded. He was treated with every bit of the respect I was hoping he’d receive.

I’d recommend Memoirs of a Goldfish to introverts from every species and background.