The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini


The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini
Publisher: Paragon Publishing
Genre: Inspirational, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

What would your response be to a group of small people, overlooking you,

to look at the masterpiece you’d lovingly made for them?

How would you feel by their admiration of your magnificent creation,

as they ignore your wonderfully creative hands?

Would you feel sad? Frustrated? Angry?

Imagine your relief when they leave your invisible side.

Picture your joy and gratitude with their replacement –

and appreciative group marvelling at your masterpiece,

undoubtedly produced by your love.

Would you feel glad,

grateful, relieved, believed,

like the Artist in this story felt?

The Artist’s Page by Debra Rufini is a wonderful children’s picture book that can be enjoyed with readers both young and old! Beautifully illustrated by Dina Kalo, this story tells of God’s love and His incredible gift. Rufini takes readers on a journey of looking at how different people might see of respond to this magnificent gift, and how sometimes they also choose to reject it.

This story is suitable, but the focus of the story might be slightly lost on younger children, and will have more meaning for those who read it more than once and over time.

I loved reading this story, and really felt it brought the story and lessons to life in a unique and beautiful way! Filled with creative imagery and enticing colors, The Artist’s Page is a pleasure to read!

Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold


Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Badger cannot wait one more minute for it to snow. When his friend Hedgehog explains that everything comes in its time, Badger is as unconvinced and impatient as ever. But Badger’s friends have a few tricks up their sleeve to try to get the snow’s attention and distract their pal in the meantime. In the end, Badger sees there’s no trick—only waiting—until at last, it’s time.

Wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

Remaining patient can be difficult for people of all ages, and it’s often even harder for kids (and hedgehogs) who haven’t had as many chances to practice it yet. There were some subtle and thought-provoking messages in this tale about how someone should act when they really want something but can’t have it. Ms. Arnold’s decision to trust her audience to understand what she was saying worked nicely for these characters and this setting. Not everything needs to be spelled out directly, and sometimes a message can be even stronger if it isn’t.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to why Hedgehog was yearning for snow so much. Other than the fact that he thought it was an essential part of winter, what did he hope to do with snow? There were so many fun answers he could have given to this question, and I would have gone with a higher rating if he’d explained his plans at some point.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the zany things Hedgehog and his friends did to encourage a snowstorm to come their way. They had some pretty creative tricks up their sleeves, and I chuckled as they cycled through them in an attempt to find something that worked.

Waiting for Snow made me smile.

That Morning by Toño Malpica


That Morning by Toño Malpica
Publisher: Windmill Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Mangrufo and Leuklaya don’t feel like themselves. Mangrufo can’t enjoy playing with toys or reading, like he usually does. Neither can Leuklaya. They hurt each other the day before, and both feel ashamed and lonely. However, neither one of them knows what to do with their feelings. It’s not until they come together once again that all feels right with the world. This book boasts a subtle monster theme within a real-world, relatable situation. Through powerful language and fantastical illustrations, That Morning is a guidebook through the difficult feelings of conflict and the power of forgiveness.

Everyone has conflicts with the people they love sometimes, but figuring out how to behave after a fight takes a completely different set of skills.

I was intrigued by how little time was spent on the only grown-up in this story. Mangrufo and Leuklaya’s relationship took center stage, and their frustration with each other was shared in ways that felt completely appropriate for their young ages. Normally, I’d expect their mother to swoop in and make things right between them fairly early on. The fact that she didn’t show up until much later gave these two characters all of the space they needed to explore their feelings and try to figure out what to do with them.

It would have been helpful to have more plot development. As important as the message was, the little ones in my life would struggle to understand it without a discussion about what happened afterwards because of how both of the monsters changed abruptly at such a late point in the storyline. I’m saying this as someone who loved the creativity of it and wished I could justify choosing a higher rating.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that compared Mangrufo and Leuklaya’s feelings. We weren’t told who started the quarrel between them the day before or what they argued about, but it was clear that they both felt guilty for their behavior and weren’t exactly sure how to talk to each other after what appeared to be a pretty big fight. There is definitely something to be said for encouraging this sort of reflective thinking in this age group. Empathy is something that can take years to fully develop, but the faintest glimmers of it could be found here.

That Morning was a creative tale.

The Night Before New Year’s by Natasha Wing


The Night Before New Year’s by Natasha Wing
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Another title in Natasha Wing’s bestselling Night Before series! It’s the night before New Year’s, and the whole family is determined to stay up until midnight! Everyone’s stocked up on sparkly streamers and festive party hats, but after a night filled with card games and too many cupcakes, the little ones are getting sleepy. . . Can they make it until the clock strikes twelve?

Some parties are worth staying up late for.

New Year’s Eve tends to be an adult-oriented holiday, so I was curious to see how certain traditions from it would be reimagined for preschoolers. Ms. Wing did a wonderful job of explaining what grown-ups do to ring in the new year and how kids can join in on the festivities by drinking sparkling juice or playing with noisemakers. One of my favorite scenes happened early on when the entire family went to a party supply store to buy festive hats, horns, and other stuff for their party. It was such an exciting moment for the main character as he continued to figure out this holiday.

It would have been nice to have a little more plot development. For example, I would have liked to know if this family follows any of the superstitions about what one should or shouldn’t do on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day like ensuring their home was clean and their fridge was filled with food to bring them good luck for the next year. There was a lot of space to include little things like this, and I would have gone with a full five-star rating if they had been.

I adored the warm relationships between the parents and kids in this picture book. Both of the parents were tuned into the needs of their children and did everything they could to ensure their entire family had a wonderful New Year’s Eve celebration at home together. The kids’ excitement for this tradition was adorable and contagious. They were just barely old enough to understand why it’s a special day, so their occasional misunderstandings of what one usually does to ring in the new year were as amusing for readers as they were for their patient parents.

The Night Before New Year’s was a sweet and heartwarming read.

The Mystery Hat by Rune Brandt Bennicke and Jakob Hjort Jensen


The Mystery Hat by Rune Brandt Bennicke and Jakob Hjort Jensen
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Crow, Pig, and Beaver are taking a nice stroll in the woods when they come across a red hat sitting in a puddle. Whose hat is it? What mysterious circumstances could have brought it to this very puddle? Crow thinks that Bear lost the hat when he fell into a giant hole. Perhaps Bear is holding his breath underground, waiting to be saved! Beaver thinks he’s got a better idea. Maybe Turtle, who was wearing the hat, was snatched up and made into yummy turtle soup by a crazed snowman! Can Pig come up with a logical explanation so that the friends can be rid of all these hogwash ideas?

Imaginations run wild in this hilarious picture book from Rune Brandt Bennicke and Jakob Hjort Jensen. The Mystery Hat is sure to get a chuckle from all during the cold winter months.

Who wouldn’t want to solve a mystery in a peaceful winter forest?

It was amusing to see how Pig’s calm and rational personality reacted to the creative and sometimes dramatic things his friends said. He was nothing like them in many ways, and yet their friendships were strong and kind ones. This was one of the things that first drew me into the storyline given how warmly the narrator described every character no matter who they were or how they behaved. I was curious to see how characters with such wildly different personalities would get along.

There was a scene involving a snowman who wanted to add one of these characters’ friends to a pot of soup he was making that I thought was a little too scary for the younger portion of this audience. Some kids might find it amusing, but I would have been frightened by that idea as a preschooler. This is one of those situations where grown-ups should know their audience well and be prepared to tailor that plot twist to something gentler if needed. As much as I liked the storyline in general, I would need to think carefully before reading this to younger kids who are sensitive to things like mistreating animals.

I enjoyed seeing how Pig used logic and reason to figure out what really happened to the missing hat. He was a smart animal who clearly took his time to consider all of the explanations before offering his own opinion about what happened. Critical thinking also isn’t something I’ve seen addressed in many picture books, but it’s an important skill for everyone to learn.

The Mystery Hat made me smile.

A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson


A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Every year Tortoise sleeps through winter. He assumes he isn’t missing much. However, his friends are determined to prove otherwise! Will Tortoise sleep through another winter, or will his friends convince him to stay awake and experience the frosty fun of winter? Best-selling author Katy Hudson’s charming picture book, now in a board book format, will convince even the biggest winter grouch that winter can be magical if you have friends by your side.

Hibernation isn’t supposed to be this difficult.

Tortoise was such a patient little guy. No matter how many times he was woken up or prevented from falling asleep, he calmly explained his needs yet again to the friends who were being noisy. That can be a tricky thing for people of all ages to master, so it was nice to see such a good example of how to do it here.

While many of the interruptions were creative and adorable, I found myself wishing that this picture book would have included a discussion about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries even if you don’t necessarily understand them. Tortoise made it clear that he needed to sleep through the winter and didn’t want to be disturbed, but his friends refused to listen to him. It’s one thing when this occasionally happens between friends or relatives who feel guilty and learn from their mistakes. Deliberate and repetitive refusals to respect boundaries are quite another. This was something I’d read to the little ones in my life after discussing what healthy relationships look like and why it’s wrong to try to push past people’s limits. If not for that caveat, I would have loved to go for a higher rating as the plot itself was a great deal of fun to read.

I did enjoy all of the sound effects included in this story. They made the dialogue come alive in my imagination and were a great deal of fun to say out loud. It was also interesting to see how including words like tap or thud added a layer of humor to something that was otherwise pretty serious.

A Loud Winter’s Nap was a humorous look at winter life in the forest.

Little Yellow Bus by Erin Guendelsberger


Little Yellow Bus by Erin Guendelsberger
Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Ride along in this heartwarming picture book about bravery and facing your fears, a wonderful Christmas gift!

The Little Yellow Bus had prepared for this day for a long time and how great it would be to pick up children and drive them to their school building―all by himself! Yellow wanted to feel excited, but instead, he was filled with first day worries. With a little help and encouragement from Mom and Dad, Little Yellow takes a deep breath, starts his engine, and decides that it’s time to prove to himself that he can be brave.

Little Yellow Bus is the heartwarming reminder that sometimes even the days when we are scared and anxious can become the most wonderful adventure, if we only believe in ourselves. Filled with beautiful full-color illustrations and an inspiring message for kids, this timeless story about courage is one you will want to come back to again and again.

Worrying doesn’t solve anything, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stop doing.

Even though the word anxiety was never used, this was such a detailed and accurate description of that condition. I found myself nodding along as Yellow described all of his symptoms and explained to the readers why he was so afraid to begin driving children to school. His fears were all realistic ones which made his predicament even more relatable.

I did find myself wishing that Yellow’s parents had been more supportive of him when he shared his fears with them. They were quick to tell him that everything was going to be okay without listening to the unspoken messages he was trying to share with them. This is still something I’d read to the little ones in my life, but I’d do so after talking to them about how anxiety can warp the way you think and how I’d always be there for them to help them tangle out legitimate concerns from ones that might be a little overblown.

With that being said, this was still a heartwarming look at a common mental health problem. I appreciated its good intentions and enjoyed the fact that Yellow’s first day as a school bus was nothing like what he worried it might be. The message in it is a timeless one that works for all age groups.

Little Yellow Bus was a thought-provoking read.

Little Mole Finds Hope by Glenys Nellist


Little Mole Finds Hope by Glenys Nellist
Publisher: Beaming Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Little Mole is feeling sad in his dark, underground home, his mother shows him how to look for hope. He finds that signs of spring are everywhere, from the daffodil bulbs under the soil to the tiny buds on the branches above. Hope can be found–even in the darkest places.

In Little Mole Finds Hope, best-selling children’s author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Sally Garland tell an endearing story sure to lift the spirits of people emerging from the cold of winter or a challenging season of life and inspire them to look for signs that spring will come again.

A little kindness can go a long way.

Little Mole was such a sweet and relatable main character. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed how sad he was on that chilly winter afternoon and how far away spring felt to him. Not only was this a good representation of the difficult days everyone goes through at times, it would also be a great jumping off point to describe specific illnesses like seasonal or non-seasonal depression to kids who might be experiencing them or know someone who is. I appreciated the versatility here as it meant that a wider range of people could find something to connect to as Little Mole learned his lesson.

The multiple layers of meaning in this tale made it one of those rare picture books that I’d be just as eager to recommend to older kids and adults as I would to the preschoolers and early elementary students it was originally written for. I love it when writers speak to so many different audiences at once while still remaining true to their characters and plot. This isn’t easy to pull off, but it has convinced me to keep an eye out for everything else Ms. Nellis has already written or will write in the future.

I was also impressed by Little Mole’s warm relationship with his mother. She affirmed his sadness while also encouraging him to take a second look at the assumptions he was making about the world around him. Scary thoughts don’t always tell the truth, after all, and there is something to be said for challenging them when there’s evidence that contradicts them. Her love and compassion for him made me wish for a sequel all about her. I adored her!

Little Mole Finds Hope was perfect.

First Steps, First Snow by Harriet Hodgson


First Steps, First Snow by Harriet Hodgson
Publisher: BQB Publishing
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Animals and nature add wonder to daily life. First Steps, First Snow connects young readers to nature, nocturnal animals, and fosters mindfulness.

Whether it’s changing seasons, changing scenes, or observing wildlife, nature adds wonder to our lives. First Steps, First Snow (based on a true story) describes a magical walk in the woods on a winter night.

The poem guides readers on the walk and encourages the observation of nature. Watercolor illustrations show nocturnal animals that live in forests.

At the end, the two children and the animals are all snug and sound asleep—a perfect bedtime story for readers of all ages.

Anything can happen after a snowstorm.

The quiet, peaceful storyline fit the theme perfectly. There’s nothing like being the first person to walk through the snow after a snowstorm. It’s something that almost everyone who lives in a climate that is cold enough for snow to fall will have personal experience with. The details might change a little depending on whether someone is in a forest, a backyard, or walking just down a street, but the relaxing nature of it remains the same everywhere. It made me yearn for winter.

One of the biggest strengths of this picture book was how open-ended it was. The characters never revealed their names or how they knew each other, so those details could easily be added in or changed according to reader preference. I love finding tales that allow for that sort of creativity and audience participation. Not everything needs to be figured out by the author ahead of time in cases like this one.

I smiled as I read the ending. It left room for a sequel if one is ever written, but it also wrapped up the current plot satisfactorily while once again leaving lots of space for readers of all ages to fill in the gaps if they wished to. The way it was written also made sense for anyone who prefers not to participate in stories in this way. Either way, it was the end of a happy day out in the woods which was exactly what it needed to be.

First Steps, First Snow was a heartwarming read.

A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen


A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen
Publisher: Magination Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Worries can feel like a BIG problem to a LITTLE kid!

A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers assures kids that having some worries is normal — everyone has them, even adults!

The rhyming narration helps little kids to identify a worry and where it might come from, as well as provides them with helpful tools to reduce and cope with worries.

Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers that expands on the cognitive-behavioral science behind the strategies and tools presented in the book, with more information on how you can help your little worrier to stay calm.

Not every thought should be listened to.

There was so much empathy in this story. That was exactly what I was hoping to find as it can be embarrassing for some kids (as well as some adults!) to talk about their mental health struggles if they don’t know how others will react to their concerns. Knowing that people will be kind and understanding about it is an important first step for many who are deciding whether they feel comfortable mentioning the scary thoughts that roll around in their heads.

I did find myself wishing that more time had been spent exploring what it feels like to be anxious. The symptoms the narrator mentioned were good ones, but there were a few others like headaches, stomachaches, and trouble settling down for bedtime that I thought were also important to include. Not every kid will experience them of course, but they’re common and troublesome enough that I think it’s a good idea for little worriers to know why they feel that way.

My favorite portions of this picture book were the ones that shared simple and effective ways to cope with worries. They were all easy things to remember that can help people of all ages who have anxiety. Honestly, I wish this book had existed when I was a kid because of how well it explained why some folks worry too much and what they can do to help themselves feel better.

A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers was a wonderfully reassuring read.