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Stumpkin: A Halloween Delight

Okay, I slacked off on Halloween book reviews. In my defense, this wasn’t out of a lack of love for the holiday. We just didn’t have any Halloween books on hand! Then we were gifted Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins. This is just a very very cute book.

ID: Image is the cover of Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins laid over a pastel background. The cover of this book has a black background and the illustration of the top half of Stumpkin, a stemless orange pumpkin with small black eyes.

The book is simple enough. We meet Stumpkin and a few other pumpkins on display before Halloween. The problem arrises when we realize that, of the pumpkins at hand, only Stumpkin doesn’t have a stem.

The illustrations are adorable and the black cat is my toddler’s favorite character. (He hasn’t said as much but the enthusiastic meows make me believe that’s true.)

It is absolutely a Halloween book and not a pumpkin book. I’m sure we’ll read it year round but for older readers, it’s a book that lives best in October. But that’s okay to me. I love some seasonal books in the rotation, and as winter approaches I’m sure I’ll be leaning into the snowy books we can find.

Read this book! Buy this book! It is one of our favorites that my toddler knows by name.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 5/5

Kid Stars: 5/5


TRUCKS: Exactly What It Says

TRUCKS is written by Sarah Powell and illustrated by Dan Green and Nicola Friggens. It is a book designed to be absolutely adored by toddlers. It works. Our copy is taped together in more places than I can count. Our toddler is a truck lover, and this book is a huge hit.

ID: The cover of the book “TRUCKS” over a pastel background. The cover of this book is a yellow tractor trailer taking up the bulk of the page, with the top and right border being covered by tabs of different kinds of trucks.

This lift the flap book is also a board book. There’s not much else to say about it. It’s just an obvious hit. There’s not much to it for adults but that’s the beauty of lift the flap books, the book becomes a toy that’s fun to explore independently.

I’d say this is a gift this book with my usual caveat. It’s okay to ask parents if they already have a book on their shelves. It doesn’t spoil the surprise for the recipient, and it saves the parent from a “can I regift this?’ scenario.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 3/5

Kid Stars: 5/5

The Most Beautiful Thing: A Most Beautiful Book

“The Most Beautiful Thing” written by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Khoa Le is an incredibly generous, meaningful story about a Hmong refugee family. Our narrator, Kalia, and her grandmother are the two protagonists. We hear so much through Kalia, as she listens to her grandmother with so many stories and only one tooth.

ID: The cover of “The Most Beautiful Thing” by Kao Kalia Yang placed on top of a pastel backdrop. The cover of this book is an illustration by Khoa Le of Kalia, the young narrator, kneeling beside her grandmother. The two are surrounded by flora and a dark night sky.

The book has so much to offer. The illustrations are intricate and gorgeous. The narrator closes the book with a meaningful resolution. At points, the book leans text heavy for its format, but the story earns every word in its telling. And my favorite part of the book is something else entirely.

Kalia explains that she and the other grandchildren are lucky enough to be able to help take care of her grandmother. She describes the intimacies of this care, feeling her grandmother’s rough skin as she clips her toe nails. This detail is so important. It feels so universal to so many families and yet, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it represented like this before. Certainly not in media for children.

At the front of the book there’s a glossary with a few of the Hmong names and words in the book. The story is best suited for an older picture book demographic, probably 6-8 years old, but the vivid colors and illustrations pull younger readers in well.

This book is an easy and immediate 5/5. While the youngest readers may not fall into the story as easily, it’s worth having on you bookshelves at any age.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 5/5

Kid Stars: 5/5

Sonya’s Chickens: Loss, Family and Chickens

“Sonya’s Chickens” by Phoebe Wahl is a book that manages to cover loss and grief in a beautiful and short story.

ID: The cover of “Sonya’s Chickens” by Phoebe Wahl is placed over a pastel backdrop. The cover of the book is a scene of greenery and flora, in the middle of which Sonya is surrounded by three chickens.

The book begins with Sonya receiving three chickens from her parents. Sonya and her family live on a small farm, and Sonya has just begun to take care of three small chicks. The story follows as she manages the responsibilities of caring for live animals, and the story turns when a fox manages to steal a chicken in the dead of night. Wahl doesn’t minimize the big grief of Sonya’s loss, but instead writes through it. Sonya’s father explains why foxes behave the way they do and while Sonya is still upset, she seems to accept the state of things.

A couple of the pages in this book approach a wordiness that some young readers may not enjoy. The picture book is a delicate formula, and so is the story. Still, largely, my toddler already loves this book and I do too.

I just love Phoebe Wahl. We only own one of her books, but I love her illustrating and storytelling alike. Her illustrations are the kinds of illustrations I want to live in. The settings are cozy and cluttered and warm and familiar, and in that way, the characters are all of those things too.

I’m putting this on the Gift This page, but with some caveats. I think this book could make a great gift. It would be especially useful to have on hand for children experiencing the loss of a pet, for example. But it is also an intense book for the youngest readers, so it may be worth broaching with the parents before gifting a book that deals with the good old circle of life.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars; 4.5/5

Kid Stars: 4/5

Pick A Pine Tree: Yes, It’s a Christmas Book.

The internet is a long lasting project, so it’s hard to say when you’re reading this. Still, I admit that I’m publishing this review in September, ages and ages before the holiday season. If you’re on book twitter, you already know about the expected book shortage coming this holiday season. And if not, I’ll tell you the short of it: book sellers are encouraging folks to order holiday gifts as early as possible. So I’m planning on covering said books as early as possible, too.

ID: The cover of the book “Pick a Pine Tree” placed over a pastel background. The cover of the book is an illustration of a snowy Christmas tree farm where children and woodland animals play in the snow.

I’m kicking this off with a book that’s brand new to me. “Pick a Pine Tree” by Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis is a rhyming children’s Christmas book. Rhyming children’s books can be controversial, but I’d argue it’s less about the rhyming as a concept and more about execution. I think this book largely pulls it off. There are a couple awkward pages, the word “ornament” is a bit of a bear to fit in a rhyme, but I enjoy reading the book aloud regardless.

The illustrations are exactly what I’d want from a Christmas book, too. The pages are snowy and warm at once, with plenty of pets making cameos to help decorate the Christmas tree. The story builds from finding the tree to decorating it, and the detailed illustrations are gifts that keep giving. The decorations accumulate until we reach the final spread of the book, a pop-up page where the Christmas tree comes to life. It’s just a sure win.

This book is a great gift for those who have and love Christmas trees, so it’s made my gift this list. It has a bit of glitter and shine that makes it a fun treat for children to unwrap. I’m waiting until after Halloween to debut this book to my toddler, so for now, there’s no kid rating. My rating alone will have to do!

The Verdict:

Grown Up Rating: 4/5

We Are In A Book! (It’s Elephant and Piggie time?)

It would be irresponsible to talk about children’s books without covering Mo Willems. Willems is such a known entity for young readers that in this book, his own last name is behind one of his beloved characters.

ID: The cover of “We Are in a Book”​ place on top of a pastel backdrop. The cover of this book is an illustration of Elephant looking up at the title of this book while Piggie turns the page to open the book.
ID: The cover of “We Are in a Book” place on top of a pastel backdrop. The cover of this book is an illustration of Elephant looking up at the title of this book while Piggie turns the page to open the book.

“We Are in a Book” is from the Elephant and Piggie series, but for the youngest readers, each book stands up perfectly well on its own. In this book, Elephant and Piggie realize they’re being read, play a quick practical joke and then ask the readers to read them again soon. It’s simple and brilliant, though mileage may vary.

My toddler loves this book. Like, really, really, really loves it. He requests it all the time and when we get to the “Banana!” page, he can’t stop laughing.

That said, my friend with an older child says this book is a trap. Older readers may relentlessly ask parents to explain this book, which plays with the concept of fiction and the fourth wall in a way that may boggle some young brains.

But we’re not there yet. We still love this book. And hopefully your family will too.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 5/5

Kid Stars: 5/5

Barbie; Life in the Dream House: A Bit of a Nightmare

I’m struggling here. I know that cartoons are cartoons! I know that SpongeBob didn’t rot my brain growing up, so surely this comedy has something to offer the youth of today. It’s funny enough, I guess? But my god, it’s so painfully vapid.

ID: An image of Barbie and the cast of “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse” over a pastel backdrop.

Every man in this show is either a nuisance or a himbo. At best, sweetly inadequate and at worst a shallow villain. I guess this is the Barbie universe’s way of being hashtag feminist, but it’s undermined by the heteronormativity in the show. There’s no other reason for Barbie to partner up with Ken.

The structure of the show includes talking heads and nods to the camera. Again, I see where the humor kicks in. But the show reminds you that the Barbie universe is absurdly white, thin, and frankly, rich.

Whatever. If you’re reading this and you loved this show, more power to you. But wow, I hope I can get away without watching it again. I have no interest in moving to Barbie’s Malibu and I wouldn’t recommend it for any children, either.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 1/5

Kid Stars: 2/5

tiny, perfect things: a tiny perfect book

Okay, the book itself isn’t unusually tiny. But it’s undeniably perfect by it’s own definition.

ID: The cover of the book “tiny, perfect things” placed on top of a pastel backdrop. The cover of this book is an illustration of a young Black grandchild and white grandparent walking through shrubs and trees and flora.

tiny, perfect things” is written by M. H. Clark and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper. The book follows a child and grandparent as they go for a walk and look for the small, beautiful things that can be especially thrilling for young children. An accomplished snail, for example, or a wildflower blooming in the sidewalk both grace the pages of this book that is just a delight to flip through.

The last spread of this picture book is the perfect children’s finale. The pages fold out to reveal a long, detailed illustration of the street where our characters walked. It’s an invitation to play I Spy or revisit familiar vocabulary.

Kloepper’s illustrations are the kinds of illustrations I want to live in. The colors are bright enough for a child’s eye and still muted enough to feel like a permanent autumn. It’s the kind of book that makes me want more, from both author and illustrated. That said, it took a while for me to get my copy, so if you’re planning on gifting this book, be sure to order it soon.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 5/5

Kid Stars: 5/5

Just Ask: Just… Look at the Pictures

Just Ask: Be Brave, Be Different, Be You” is a picture book written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. The book is as wordy as its title. The text is a lot.

ID: The cover of the book, “Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” placed over a pastel backdrop. The cover of the book has flowery lettering and shows a young Justice Sotomoyor pushing a wheelbarrow.

I think the book has a lot to offer. There’s a ton of disability representation and if your child has one of the disabilities mentioned, they’ll probably love the page or two that focuses on said disability! But Justice Sotomayor may have been underserved by her editors, afraid of trimming down too much text when dealing with a very high status author. She also does a lot of work to avoid the world disabled, a strange omission for a book that absolutely centers disability.

There are just a lot of words! The book is a clearly a picture book in format, but the amount of text overwhelms even my eager reader. When we read through this book, I often read one or two sentences from each page. But some spreads have 15 sentences, some of which use semi-colons! That’s just… a lot!

I do love the illustrations. It’s cool to see wheelchairs and insulin shots and seeing eye dogs all in one picture book. There are also children with dyslexia and Down syndrome represented in thoughtful and nuanced ways.

If you’re looking for more disability representation in your personal library, I’d save the money and borrow this book from your local library. The illustrations are valuable and there is something to this book. But ultimately, I don’t recommend it. There has to be better disability representation out there. I’m on the lookout for it.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: 2/5

Kid Stars: 2/5

My Little Cities, New York: Engaging as the Adult Reading It

“My Little Cities: New York” does most of what you’d ask a New York City board book to do. This means the book is intensely simple, but that also makes it very fun for toddlers and babies, too. Pictures are by Greg Pizzoli and while there aren’t many words, the words are by Jennifer Adams, who does a good job with limited real estate.

ID: The cover of the book “My Little Cities: New York” is placed over a pastel backdrop. The cover of the book is a yellow taxi being driven with two passengers over a dark backdrop with stars.

The book uses opposites as a way to explore NYC. High and low buildings, loud and quiet places. Because of this, if you’re reading the book aloud to a toddler you can make the book very entertaining with gestures and voices. But my toddler likes flipping through it as well.

The book is Manhattan-centric in landmarks, but that’s not a surprise for the audience. The book was a welcome gift for our family when we moved out of the tri-state area, and I’d say it’s a great gift for any families about to make the same move.

The Verdict:

Grown Up Stars: (This is hard for board books, they just aren’t for grown ups!) 3/5

Kid Stars: 5/5