surfer picture book, picture books, best picture books, multicultural picture books, pictures books

New Picture Books Reviews

New Picture Book Reviews by Mom and 3 Kids

I’m been asking for and getting a small pile of books these days and haven’t been posting on them. I was at a loss about how to present them … individual book reviews? But there are lots of bloggers who do that. Do you readers really need or want more? I had been putting them on [wacky] themed lists but not all the books fit on an existing list and creating a new list per book is crazy time-consuming. But I like the idea of putting a new book in the context of other well-known and really great books. A review by itself is difficult to decipher into “my kid likes X so he or she will love Y.” Sorry, no more math.

So, guess what I did? OK, nothing. Yep, nothing for a long time except read the books with my kids and enjoy them and try not to lose them in the black hole of our book piles. This is not a way to endear oneself to book publishers!

Sometime in the middle of the night, I got the [random] idea of a short stack of books. Like, it could be any amount from 3 to 10, like a stack of pancakes. I decided to rank the books in the order that we liked them. Let me know what you think. Maybe this is a new feature post that I’ll continue to do with all the new books I read and get. Thanks for your feedback!
And, because I anal-retentively organized every picture, chapter and YA book that I own (and labeled them, and purged them) and still am STILL busting at the seams with books, I am giving away the books that my kids allow me to. These are the picture book giveaways:

Please leave me a comment on what book you want and why and the book will go to the person with most compelling note.


10. Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

This picture book has stunning graphics and very simple text. Unfortunately, the man on the bike is so stretched out with particularly rubber band-y arms and legs that it totally freaked my kids out which is a shame because visually, this book is arresting!  If the bicycle guy wasn’t so distorted, I think my kids would have really enjoyed this book. Maybe your kids are less squeamish?! I’M GIVING THIS BOOK AWAY. [picture book, ages 2-7]

9. Mr. Biggs in the City by Kevin Bloomfield

Mr. Biggs is a Sasqutch (you know, Big Foot!) and he explores the city to great comedy. My son really enjoyed this book and I loved the fact that it’s bi-lingual in Spanish (we are all studying Spanish!). My son won’t let me read the Spanish part though I try to be sneaky and read it “accidentally”! THIS BOOK IS UP FOR GRABS. [picture book, ages 4-9]

8. Deep in the Desert by Rhonda Lucas Donald, illustrated by Sherry Neidigh

Set to nursery rhyme songs like Do Your Ears Hang Low and Baa Baa Black Sheep, the words are transformed to songs about desert creatures. It’s a delightful way to combine non-fiction with singing. My husband and I sang these repeatedly at our little boy’s insistence. It turns out that I’m the only one that knows the tune to Do Your Ears Hang Low … guess all those mommy and me music classes really sank in! In this case, though, I’m singing about the Fennec Fox! This is a diabolically clever concept! I love it! [picture song book, ages 4-9]

7. Look Alikes: Seek-and-Search Puzzles by Joan Steiner

If you read People magazine (shh! secret indulgence), you might have seen the two photo puzzle that has slight differences that are really hard to catch. Well… if you like that kind of puzzle, this entire book has these see-and- find-the-difference puzzles. Author Joan Steiner (who passed away from cancer last year) painstakingly made mini dioramas out of ordinary objects and the fun is in spotting them and it’s harder than you’d think. My son loves these kind of search and find books and we’ve been having fun reading and searching. [search and find picture book, ages 4-adult]

6. Astro the Stellar Sea Lion by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

I must have been reading Dude and Betty in the same bedtime story  sitting because I thought that Astro was a steller sea lion not a Steller Sea Lion, i.e. the actual name of his species. Astro is a stellar beast so I suppose he’s aptly named. He’s also one hard sea lion to return to sea. This is a true story of rescue baby sea lion and what happened to him. The good news: he lives at the Marine Mammal Center in Mystic Connecticut which is just a few hours from where we live. We can visit him! [non-fiction picture book, ages 5-10]

5. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

My son loves this book even though he’s never had Indian food ever and he has no idea what a roti is. It’s a Popeye-esque East Asian story set in a modern family that is heartwarming and fun. No stereo types here, when no one in Aneel, the little boy’s family, has time to make roti for Dada-ji (the grandfather), he whips up a perfect batch all by himself! I really like the multi-generational story of family who gets along … maybe this makes it a folk tale?! I jest.  [picture book, ages 4-9]

4. Jay and Ben by Lulu Delacre and Katharine Swawson, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

This is an interesting and ground breaking special needs picture book helps special needs children, particularly those with autism, learn about sequencing of events and  reading by using symbol pictures wrapped in the guise of a picture book. There are numbered pictures on each page with one single sentence. You can cut out symbols for each word and use tape to velcro to match the symbol to each word. The numbered pictures show a sequence of events. He can spread jam on toast by himself. Picture 1: boy with jam. Picture 2: Boy opening jam jar. Picture 3: Boy taking lid off. Picture 4: Boy with jam on butter knife. Picture 5: Boy’s hand spreading jam on toast. Picture 5: Toast covered with jam. Picture 6: Boy enjoying jam on toast.

The entire book is the day in the life of Jay, who often likes to be by himself. To see more about this book, click here. I WILL BE GIVING THIS BOOK AWAY. [picture book for special needs children learning to read, ages not exactly sure]

p.s. If your child likes reading about bread with jam, here’s another favorite of mine, Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban.

3. Substitute Creacher by Chris Gall

This is the perfect Halloween book if you are inclined to give grandkids or children gifts on non-gift holidays. Slightly spooky but not scary, this is a warning tale to bad little boys and girls of what might happen if you don’t behave! My six-year-0ld son delights in the poems about naughty children the Substitute Teacher/Creacher balefully warns the children about. He wasn’t scared a bit! [picture book, ages 4-9]

2. Hogwash by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jim McMullan

This book reminds me of some of my favorite funny barnyard picture books: Duck on a Bike by David Shannon, Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin, and Arnold Lobel’s Small Pig. It’s farm animals against farmer with the farm animals winning the day and their right to do as they please. For hogs and small pigs, it’s to stay dirty. Small boys like mine would completely agree with the animals! This is a very well done classic-in-the-making picture book told in rhyme and beautifully illustrated in water color! [picture book, ages 4-9]

1. Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Tom Dunne

My son didn’t agree with about how much fun this book is so I told him, “You’re harshing on my mellow, dude!” It might be the Southern California girl in me, but I LOVE this book. It takes old school Dick and Jane and spins in on its ear with Dude and Betty, surf dude and surf bunny respectively. It’s a righteous, bodacious picture book that I think his older sisters will be stoked about because they love to catch gnarly waves. (It’s actually true, my middle one especially has caught the surfing bug. Too bad we live on the East Coast!) [stylin’ picture book, ages 5-10]

 To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Congrats to Natalie. She won Jay and Ben! Congrats to Lisa who won Along a Long Road and Mr. Biggs in the City.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I love the Dude and Betty reference 🙂 You hit upon it — I talk about Astro being a “stellar Steller” sea lion during my school visits and book talks. Thanks so much for the nice review!
    Jeanne Walker Harvey

  2. Thanks for a nice review. I am so glad your son enjoyed the story; it was fun to write. Keeping the intergenerational link strong is important to me. We do learn so very much from each other.

  3. I think you and your son will really enjoy visiting the Mystic Aquarium, and in particular Astro! He’s quite a character — he’s even been known to hide his toys at “bedtime” behind the rocks, and then his trainer finds them out the next morning. 🙂 I’ve visited him twice there and I’m so impressed with the trainers, particularly Erin Gibbons, and the aquarium. They truly care about the well-being of the marine animals and they conduct research to help protect them in the wild.

  4. Thanks for your note to me. I am going to SF and will read Hot Hot Roti to my two grandchildren and perhaps make them roti too.
    F. Zia

  5. Natalie Warden

    Thanks for the fun reviews. I do appreciate when you throw in a comparison to other books occasionally, just to give a point of reference!

    I would love to receive the book JAY AND BEN in your giveaway. I think it would make a wonderful gift for my two nephews, both of whom are autistic, one with apraxia (severe difficulty forming words). My son adores his cousins, and doesn’t always understand why they have trouble talking to him, yet they play together with such kindness towards each other and cry when they have to part. Both my nephews are in the beginning stages of word awareness, and I’d love to be able to encourage them along in their journey towards reading with a book that’s targeted towards needs like theirs!

  6. I’m so glad you and your son are enjoying “Deep in the Desert.” When I do school visits, I have motions that go with the Fennec fox song. Lots of fun. Thank you so much for the great review!

  7. Hmm. Not yet. Good idea for my next school visit.

  8. Call me wind because I am absolutley blown away.

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