Saturday, May 11, 2019

Night Night Bible Stories by Amy Parker, Illustrated by Virginia Allyn

"Please, Lord, guide me--show me what to do.
Please, Lord, guide me--make me wise like you." (77)

Each Bible story has a repeated two-line rhyming phrase several times throughout, such as the one above from "The World's Wisest King"  (1 Kings 3-4).  The stories each provide relevant background ("the boy David who defeated Goliath grew up to be the king of Israel" (77), for example). The text is all written in an easy to understand, straightforward manner. When fit easily into the story, words are emphasized to add interest, excitement, and sound effects ("Whoosh. Pow. SPLAT.") Virginia Allyn's illustrations do a great job of showing the main points of the story, making it easy for a child to follow along as an adult reads aloud.

As with each story, this one ends with a unique prayer that speaks to the themes of the story: "Thank You, God, for Your great wisdom. Please help me trust that You always know what is best. Amen." (80) At the bottom of the last page of each story, a final rhyming verse reminds the child of that it's time for bed: "Night night, Solomon, who wanted what was best. He asked only for wisdom and let God do the rest." (80). Also signaling this switch is a change in illustrations on the last page of each story that show a child or children, bringing the reader in to the story.

Night Night Bible Stories contains 30 Bible stories written for children and young readers. The stories are split evenly between the Old and New Testaments. The padded cover and small 7x6 trim size is a good fit for little hands. I also liked the use of gold foil on the front cover for the stars and emphasis on "Bible Stories."

Author Amy Parker is on a roll with the "night night" theme, having also written A Night Night Prayer; Night Night, Farm; and Night Night, Train.

The publisher should note the typo on p. 51 where it reads "gong" instead of "going," should this book be reprinted in the future.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Stop-and-Go Devotional by Diane Stortz, illustrated by Hannah Marksis

Stop-and-Go Devotional: 52 Devotions for Busy Families features a one-page Bible story with a thematic title and full page illustration; followed by a “think and talk” section with a short paragraph of connecting the story to the child’s life, two questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer; and the final section introduces an activity, a key point, and an easy Bible verse. The book is evenly divided between the Old Testament and New Testament.

The devotions are written for children to read themselves or with a parent. As some of the activities require going somewhere, or gathering certain materials (possibly including shopping), it seems like it would be most beneficial for an adult to read the section ahead of time and then suggest the devotion on a day suited to the activity. It may be that a particular days activity is also easily completeable at home without extra preparation, such as singing a song. The devotional is described as being for preschoolers and primary-grad children.

For example, the Good Friday Bible story is titled, "The Saddest Day." It references Matthew 27 and Mark 15. The "Stop and Read" section features dialogue from Jesus and one of the soldiers at the cross. Bold, colored onomatopoeia add emotion and sensory details to Jesus' death, after which "Roar! Rumble! The earth shook. Rocks split apart" (165).  "Think and Talk" provides questions such as "What are sins? Do you ever sin?" (166). For the activity, the book suggests finding craft sticks or paint stirrers to make a "Jesus Saves" cross where the first 's' in Jesus written across the horizontal stick leads into 'saves' on the vertical stick. The key point is: "Remember Jesus saves us" (167) with 1 Corinthians 15:3 ICB "Christ died for our sins" as the Bible verse.

The Easter story follows, titled, "Good News!" and referencing Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24. The onomatopoeia "Rumble! Rumble!" is repeated in the story section, as well as repetition from the angels and Jesus of "Don't be afraid" (169). Reflection questions include "Is there someone you could tell the good news about Jesus today?" (170). The activity is planting peas or beans, which requires some planning on the part of an adult to have the necessary supplies. "Remember Jesus is alive!" the key point directs (171). The Bible verse is Acts 2:32 NLT, "God raised Jesus from the dead."

The book is one that families will turn to daily or weekly for 52 different stories, reflections, and activities. To support that use, there is a ribbon bookmark sewn into the spine The cover features spot gloss and the end papers are full-color illustrations, but all of these features do not fully make up for the shock of a $17.99 list price.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Little Book of Grandma’s Love by Jean Fischer

Precious Moments’ Little Book of Grandma's Love is a padded board book that features Bible verses, original poems, and poems with outside attribution.

Spreads contain themes about having fun with Grandma (biking, gardening, playing hide-and-go-seek, going to the beach, etc), Grandma caring for the children (helping them learn, caring for them when there sick, settling the, in at bedtime), and Grandma helping the children learn about God (prayers, reading the Bible, and of course the Bible verses on each page). The themes of each spread are carried out well and the Bible verses match the themes, too.

The illustrations are in the classic pastel-colored, youthful-style of the Precious Moments brand. Even the grandmother often looks very childlike, though also sometimes appears as a grey-haired, but still youthful-looking person. They are fit very well to the text, especially in the poem that describes a drawing that a child makes for grandma that is shown exactly in the adjacent page’s picture.

Overall, it’s a pleasant book that shows grandmothers’ love for their grandchildren, and grandchildren’s love for their grandmothers. Compared to Jean Fischer's Precious Moments Little Book of Bible Stories, I'd say given the choice between the two that the Bible Stories is a stronger, more substantive book. For even more substance in the Precious Moments style, the 5-Minute Bedtime Treasury is worth checking out. However, if you're looking for something specifically about the grandmother-grandchild relationship, such as for a gift giving opportunity, this book is obviously well-suited.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Put on Your PJs, Piggies! Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Put on Your PJs, Piggies! is a not-quite-square board book that walks though nighttime routines, including little piggies stalling for more time. A bedtime snack is followed by a bath, then into PJs. The little piggies sing their nighttime song, say their prayers, count sheep, and then fall asleep. The daddy pig helps them through their routine and is mentioned in the text. The mommy pig is shown in the illustrations during the nighttime song, prayers, and sleep time.

One of the little piggies is much smaller than the rest and the littlest pig is my favorite part of this book. The littlest pig is too small to know to close her eyes during the prayer and continues her wide-eyed laying pose that she has throughout the entire story. The funniest part is on the last spread where every other animal in the barn is sleeping, but the littlest piggie is still wide awake.

Each spread features a four line stanza of rhyming couplets. Each also has a phrase about PJs: "Almost PJ time, piggies!" "Get ready for PJs, piggies!" "Time for PJs, piggies!" "Put on your PJs, piggies!" However, even after the piggies have put on their PJs, the "Put on your PJs, piggies!" line is repeated five more times. It doesn't really make much sense, especially after the piggies have already fall asleep.

The illustrations are very well done. There are lots of little details that make them very enjoyable, like bubbles from the bath s\till apparent on the grass in the next spread while the piggies are putting on their PJs.

Other animals that appear in the illustrations include a calf and its mother, a foal with a parent, a cat, a baby mouse with parent, and a sheep family of one parent with three small sheep. The front cover features some spot slitter on the piggies PJs and on the moon.

Overall, it's a cute book, but the text, especially the repetition of "Put on your PJs, piggies!" is a little disappointing. Repetition can be a positive feature in a board book, but I was not a fan of how it was carried out in Put on Your PJs, Piggies! It was much more effective in Sydney Hanson's other Bedtime Barn Book, Go to Sleep, Sheep! because the repetition happened in the middle with a different first and last page message. The sheep family featured in Put on Your PJs, Piggies! will be very familiar to anyone who's read Go to Sleep, Sheep!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Bedtime Blessings by Bonnie Rickner Jensen, Illustrated by Julie Sawyer Phillips

Bedtime Blessings is a familiar board book for children with bible verses, rhyming couplets laid out in quatrains, and Really Woolly animals. Each spread has a title, followed by a verse (not clearly connected to the rhyming stanzas), two quatrains and a small image on the left-hand side, with a rhyming couplet and nearly full-sized illustration on the right. Certain keywords are bold-faced and colored, such as in "Heavenly Blessings," where attention is drawn to smiling, brave, love, dreams, and happy.

Julie Sawyer Phillips uses the classic Really Woolly animals, with each spread featuring the sheep, bunny, and duck. The colors are muted, pastel, almost watercolor-looking. They contain a lot of great details that will hold up to many re-viewings. For example, in "Sunny Blessings," the animals ride bikes through a park where a play set in the background has a miniature rock wall, cyclone climbing pole, and tire swings, while off to the side two squirrels climb a tree.

The illustrations are the highlight of this bedtime book because of the attention to each detail that gives the eyes many places to look while the story is being read. I found the text just okay. The sentiments were nice ("Your Shepherd loves to watch you play / and bless your sleep at the end of your day"), butt the rhymes and rhythms didn't stand out. The Bible verses were mostly generically about sleeping, with some other comforting protection, love, etc. verses as well, but it was disappointing that they didn't have a more direct relationship to the rest of the text or illustrations.

This is the second Really Woolly book I've read, and it seems that the great illustrations are a feature of this series, which also seems to put less emphasis on the text. Though I wasn't a fan of the poems in the Really Woolly books, I did really enjoy Bonnie Rickner Jensen's writing in God, I Know You're There.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Don't Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story by Bob Hostetler, Illustrated by Mark Chambers

A fun concept for a children's book along the lines of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Mo Willems, 2003), Don't Close Your Eyes is a padded board book that encourages kids to fall asleep by telling them not to do the inevitable--closing their eyes and going to sleep. Each rhyming quatrain split into two lines on each side of the spread describes how various animals prepare for bed, recaps the days activities, and provides arguments for staying awake--"Life's too sweet to spend it sleeping" (16). Though the text is cute and the rhyming lines have a nice rhythm, it's the illustrations that set this book apart.

Mark Chambers' illustrations feature different animals on each spread, often with what appears to be both parent(s) and child(ren) of a particular animal family, as well as other random animals. The best part about them is that although most of the animals have half-closed eyes or completely closed, there's always at least one animal with eyes wide open, which looks hilarious and adorable. In the second to last spread, all of the foxes' eyes are partially or completely closed, and the final spread has a mix of animals all sound asleep.

Little details like a ladybug on a fence post and nearly camouflaged fish in the pond make nice treats for the attentive reader.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jelly Bean Blessings illustrated by Maddie Frost

Jelly Bean Blessings is a fun, easy, rhyming board book that showcases color anthropomorphized animals enthusiastically participating in springtime activities.

Each spread has a five line stanza where the first three lines rhyme: "Our kites will soar up high / Into the bright blue sky. / We'll run until they fly!" (9). The fourth  line is the same word repeated three times, increasing in size as it goes from purple, to green, to yellow: "GO, GO, GO" (9). And the fifth is a more direct statement of an activity to do together: "Let's fly our brand-new kites!" (9). Other activities include eating jelly beans, picking flowers, splashing in puddles, planting seeds, biking, hiking, spring cleaning, and feeding birds. The only divergence from this pattern is the last spread, in which the repeated word line is omitted for the final exclamation, "Thank God for springtime blessings!"

Though the text is written in third person plural (i.e., "we") point of view, the illustrations feature a fox, alligator and pig as the main actants. Other animals make occasional appearances. The illustrations appear computer generated, with precise outlines, but textured fill like crayon on construction paper. There is a nice amount of detail in the pictures, with little touches like the fox holding trail map for the hiking spread and a bakery and pizzeria in the background for the biking spread.

A missed opportunity is that at least one lady bug appears on every spread except the one where it is raining. It is a bonus "Where's Waldo?" activity and it would've been really neat if the ladybug was under the umbrella or inside one of the buildings. (Unless of course its hiding so well that I missed it!)

The book is charming in its rhyme scheme and happy animals. It tries to convey that even cleaning can be fun when you're doing it with family or friends (ha). But does impart that a rainbow, and all of the other activities in the book, are blessings from God. As a whole, there's nothing that really makes it stand apart, but it is a nice book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

God, I Know You're There by Bonnie Rickner Jensen, Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Beautiful and creative text and artwork pair together in the imaginative board book, God, I Know You're There. Each spread is addressed to something intangible with a rhyming quatrain and the repeated phrase, "Still I know you're there" followed by how the narrator experiences each. Wind, sun, sky, clouds, moon, stars, rainbow, rainfall, thunder, tiny seed (in the ground), snowflake crystals, and God are each addressed in turn.

The text is delightful throughout, but in particular I found the stanza's about the rainbow and God to be most representative of the book's quality: "Rainbow, I can't slide down you. / Still I know you're there. / Your colors arc in heaven's art, / Both beautiful and rare" and "God, I can't see You. / Still I know You're there. / You're in the love I give away-- / The sparkle when I care." This final spread addressed to God has an additional couplet: "And if Your love is what I show, / My heart is fuller still, I know," a beautiful message to end the book on.

Lucy Fleming's artwork is especially pleasing and imaginative in the spread about the moon, showing a girl and fox serenely swinging from the moon. Each spread features a different child, with varying races and genders represented. The final spread about showing God's love ties the theme together by showing a boy and a girl of different races holding hands.

The spot-on text and artwork might this book one of the best board books I've seen in a long time.  God, I Know You're There is written by Bonnie Ricker Jensen, who also wrote the I Love You, Little One board book. The book is just over 5" x 8", giving it the look and feel of a "grown-up book."

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

You're My Little Sweet Pea by Annette Bourland, Illustrated by Kit Chase

"Cuddle up with the Little Sweat Pea in your life and share this heartwarming book that reminds children just how special and loved they are."

Adorable watercolor animal baby and parent pairings accompany soothing rhyming text in You're My Little Sweet Pea, a padded-cover board book. Softly outlined in ink, Kit Chase's illustrations depict a different baby-parent animal set on nearly every page show the parent cuddling, holding hands, or playing with the child.

There is some visual variety in that two spreads each feature a two-page illustration, one page has five small images illustrating each of five different verbs (my personal favorite page, particularly a little baby fox taking a bubble bath in a pail with a stack of bubbles on its head), a spread that features the same animal pair on each page, and the final spread has the pairing of mother mouse putting baby mouse into bed while the right-hand page is a close up of just baby mouse all tucked-in, asleep.

The text by Annette Bourland is short, sweet rhymes centered around things the parent loves about the child: appearance ("squishy cheeks and sparkly eyes, pure delight and perfect size"), personality ("your giggle always melts my heart"), possibilities ("tender feet and tiny toes, where they'll take you, no one knows"), and the relationship between them ("you and me, we're quite a pair"). The last three spreads focus on getting ready for bed, a typical theme of children's board books.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I Love You, Funny Bunny by Barbara Hendon, Illustrated by Sean Julian

I Love You, Funny Bunny is a sweet picture book about the special relationship between a parent and a child. Each line of rhyming text (except for one) begins with "I love" and then describes a child's attribute or action that the parent loves.

Prominently on the front cover are the words "Illustrated by Sean Julian," the spine says Julian, and the back cover flap features only his bio. To find that the text is written by Barbara Hendon, you have to look at the fine print on the title page with the copyright information.

This focus on illustration makes sense in context of the book: the text itself is simple and undetailed--short, easy to understand, and rhyming: "I love your sense of wonder, when you first see something new" (13-14). The rhymes appear on subsequent pages, making the overall rhythm less effective: "I love the times we cuddle close and share a book or two" (15-16).

In contrast, the illustrations are full of detail, telling more story than the words with vibrant colors and emotive facial expressions on both part of the child bunny and the parent bunny. Each spread has so much detail to take in, occasionally with multiple scenes displayed across the pages. Fully appreciating the illustrations would make the reading aloud pace slow, further prolonging the payout of the rhyme on the next page.

Though the book suggests that it's appropriate for ages 4-8, I would stay on the younger side of that range for optimal enjoyment of the simple text and lack of narrative story line.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Gift that I Can Give by Kathie Lee Gifford, Illustrated by Julia Seal

The Gift that I Can Give by Kathie Lee Gifford is an empowering picture book that shows the many gifts given by God and how children can share their gifts with the world. Told in short rhyming quatrains, through the story the narrator questions whether the gift she is given is dancing, singing, sharing while playing football, helping animals, cheering on a friend, joining a marching band, visiting someone in the hospital, or giving her family hugs. The ending includes a prayer for her to be able to share her gifts with others, and the revelation that God's love is the gift she can give. The message is encouraging: that God has given her so many gifts that she can share with others. The specific mentions of acts of services is an especially creative way of teaching children that gifts don't have to just be innate skills.

The text is in first person, but the illustrations follow a little girl through the pages, accompanied by lots of butterflies, pinks, and purples. The dust jacket also features glittery butterflies. Despite playing in to some gender stereotypes, the illustrations redeem themselves through a racially and gender-diverse game of flag football. Julia Seal's illustrations are cute and colorful and add depth to the story through little details.

The religious message that our gifts come from God is strong, as is the message that we should be sharing those gifts with others. This book encourages community engagement, friendship, and generally compassion for others, shared through a catchy rhyming verse. For these reasons, I'd recommend this book for children ages 3 to 7.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.