Category Archives: Ages 6 and under

Papa’s Latkes, by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, 2004, book review

papa's latkesHappy Hanukkah, everyone!

No, we’re not Jewish, but my family likes to celebrate Hanukkah. And this is one of the picture books I like to read every year. It doesn’t really explain the meaning behind the holiday, so it’s not a great teaching tool, but it’s flavored with hope and family, two of the holiday’s most important  ingredients.

Within, Salma’s and Dora’s mother has died, and the girls are having a difficult time anticipating this first Hanukkah without her. Papa steps in and, with the girls recalling all the preparations Mama used to take, prepares for the first night of the eight day celebration. His latkes (traditional potato pancakes), however, aren’t quite the same as Mama’s.

This book is gorgeously illustrated, and it so beautifully shows the tradition surrounding this ancient festival. But it also portrays the heartache of missing a loved one and the hope of remembering her. Papa, with his twinkling eyes and his sly humor, is a wonderful character, filling in as Mama and Papa and holding the family together with love. He’s not perfect, but he’s so likable and solid.

I don’t review many pictures books, and I don’t commonly use a rating system, but Papa’s Latkes is an easy five star.

A few years ago, my kids and I studied and celebrated all the Jewish feasts for homeschool. If you’re curious, you can find posts about each of them on my other blog under Holidays->Jewish. I’ve pulled out a few that relate to Hanukkah:

Latke Recipe

What is Hanukkah?

Studying Hanukkah

Hanukkah Resources


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865, Book Review

I have never much cared for Alice in Wonderland. Before today, I had never read the book, only seen parts of the Disney movie. But since Alice features in the book I am currently writing, I had to take the plunge. And I found that I still don’t care for Alice.

Before the Victorian era, stories for children were rather rare, and the ones that were published were, for the greater part, instructional and/or religious. But the mid-1800’s brought about a rise in imaginative stories, books written simply for children to enjoy. It was a novel concept. Many still had a moral point to them, but they were fun.

Alice was written during this time period, and it is very much a celebration of children and childhood. For those who may not know the story, young Alice falls down a rabbit hole where she meets a variety of talking animals, meets the King and Queen of hearts (as in playing cards), and changes size dramatically—several times. It’s silly and nonsensical, without a distinct plot (which is what I dislike about it), but for young children, it really is a wonderland where fantastical things can happen. And adults (including me) can laugh at the logic (or lack of it) and the many humorous word plays Carroll makes. I also particularly enjoyed the variety of clever nursery rhymes Carroll created. (I looked them up, many are parodies of actual rhymes from the era, some of which I recognized.)

Over the last century and a half, Alice has proven immensely popular. Only a year or two ago a new Alice movie came out! But as always, I like to encourage kids to read the original text that prompted all the adaptations, to see where it all began. It’s a very easy listening level, for the most part. The only difficulties are the occasional old-fashioned phrases. (Independent reading level may be about fourth to fifth grade.) The imagination, which is the book’s key strength, is still as relevant today as it was in 1865. In that regard, kids have not changed. If you have one who likes the Alice movies, try the novel.

Download Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland free for Kindle.

The Command, by Shell Isenhoff

The Command cover

I publish my religious stories under my pen name, Shell Isenhoff, just to keep the genres separate.

This is one of 14 retold Bible stories for kids found in my Bible story collection, Another Perspective. All are retold from the viewpoint of a lesser or fictional character.  This is the story of Noah and the Flood.

Another Perspective

“I’ve heard that story a thousand times.”
“Maybe it’s time for another perspective.”

Where to find it:

The Little Brown Sparrow, by Michelle Isenhoff

little brown sparrowAfter a difficult day in the meadow, Keturah learns she doesn’t need any particular talents to be special. She’s valuable just as she is. A sweet retelling of a well-known Bible story, through the eyes of a bird who was there. 

“I wrote The Little Brown Sparrow years ago for a children’s program at church. It’s always been one of my favorites. Less than 950 words, I chose to make this one free. Enjoy!” -Michelle

Where to find it:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, 2006, Book Review

edward tulaneThis is an adorable novel with the sweetly nostalgic feel of an old classic, which Bagram Ibatoulline intensifies with his stunning illustrations. It reminded me greatly of Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit. I would estimate the independent reading level suitable for tweens, but the story is a fabulous read-aloud for children as young as four and five, who would probably appreciate it more.

Edward is a large, china rabbit doll beloved by a little girl. But Edward is proud and arrogant and does not return Abilene’s love. And then one day he is lost at the bottom of the sea. After many long months he passes into the hands of a fisherman and his wife only to be lost again. He changes hands many times and meets many people, and eventually Edward learns to love. Lonely hobos whisper the names of their children in his ear. A sick child nearly hugs him to death “and it felt good.” But each time, loss follows love. “I have learned to love,” Edward claims, “and it’s a terrible thing.” He wishes for wings to fly from the pain. Yet again and again his hope returns.

Edward’s story is a human one. We love people and we lose them, and love is all the sweeter for our pain. Separation through death, or divorce, or anything else is a difficult process, even for adults. Edward will help children begin to understand and process this difficult life lesson. He will encourage readers to hope, to never give up, and to continue to love. Because, as a wise old doll once said, “If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.”

I highly recommended The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Purchase it to read before bed with your little one.

The Great Fuzz Frenzy, by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Grummel, 2005, Book Review

the great fuzz frenzyI discovered this fabulous picture book a few years ago with my middle son and we both loved it. Now my youngest son asks me to read it again and again. And I oblige, because it’s one of those rare books that never wears out no matter how many times you read it. The pictures are brilliant and funny, and the text just rolls out in a fun, quirky, “fuzzy” tumble.

The Great Fuzz Frenzy takes place in a prairie dog hole. Before the text begins, pictures show a great big golden retriever dropping a tennis ball down the hole. It bumps and it rumbles all the way to the bottom, and the prairie dogs don’t know what to make of it. Till young Pip touches it, and some of the yellow fuzz gets caught in her claw.

This prompts the frenzy indicated in the title. Every prairie dog wants fuzz. They “pulled it. Puffed it. Stretched it. Fluffed it. Tugged it. Twirled it. Spiked it. Swirled it” until the fuzz ran out, and the dogs began fighting each other for the limited supply.

In the end, the prairie dogs learn what really matters, the villain becomes the hero, and everyone swears off fuzz. But trouble threatens again in the very last picture.

I guarantee young kids will love this. Probably many of the older ones as well. My middle son still sits in on readings. I highly recommend you look up a copy!

Why Animals Talk, by Eric Pullin, illustrated by Chris Davis, ebook review

I was encouraged by other kids-on-Kindle enthusiasts to try out Eric Pullin’s Why series, so I purchased a .99 download.  I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I was happily surprised.  

Why Animals Don’t Talk is sixteen pages of versed rhyme slightly below my usual range of expertise.  This one’s a charming read-aloud for the youngest set.  Some challenging vocabulary includes words like: situation’s, naturally, managed, tongue and absurd, which signals to me that it’s intended more as a read-aloud than an independent reader.  And the perfect sing-song metre lends itself to an adult’s oration.  If I was to venture an independent reading level, I’d say a second grader could master it, perhaps with a help or two.

Every page of this story includes a full-color picture consisting of simply-drawn farm animals.  The characters do have very similar expressions every time they appear, but the simplicity works, and the animals are cute.  Mr. Pullin has carefully counted syllables so his story flows very nicely.  My one grievance is the non-rhyming couplet: “As time went by the animals saw, That Spot could not talk any more.”  Perhaps in softer brands of English the words sound more alike, but in my hard Yankee drawl, they come off very differently, right in the middle of the poem.

Overall, Why Animals Don’t Talk is a lovely, kid-friendly tale about why animals gave up their words.  It cries out for a soft couch, a warm lap, and a snuggly child.  And at .99, how can you go wrong?  Over the next few weeks, my family will be purchasing the other ebooks in the series (also available in print), which include:

Check out Eric’s Amazon author page. For paperback editions, visit his website.  Or for signed copies, contact him at

***Since posting this review, Eric and I have been in contact.  I, in America, have been trying my darndest to get that couplet to sound like a rhyme; he, in England, has been putting on his best American accent trying to figure out how it wouldn’t!

Grumpy Badger’s Christmas, by Paul Bright, illus. by Jane Chapman, Book Review

613U71JyMzL__SL500_AA300_My literary interests don’t usually extend to picture books, but every now and again one tickles my fancy. Such is the case with Grumpy Badger’s Christmas. Deep in the forest, all the animals are decorating for the holidays, but Grumpy Badger just wants to be left alone. He checks and rechecks his spring provisions and settles into a cozy bed. But three visitors interupt his nap, and a community crisis finally changes his attitude.

The story elements shadow Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. We have Scrooge in the form of Grumpy Badger, three nighttime visitors, a needy public and a final reformation. It’s cute, predictable, and satisfying; appealing qualities for young readers.

It is the pictures, however, that won me over. Jane Chapman creates the most becoming forest scenes, with textured, snowy backgrounds and adorable animals who look as if they might jump right off the page and offer their hand in greeting. She brings to life a forest community in such detail that I find myself wistfully longing to become a part of it. The kid in me wants to join the festivities in the clearing and explore the quaint dwellings. I’d love to peek into Badger’s snug little tree home and perhaps share one of his goodies over a cup of tea. The characters are so beautiful, so animated, that I’m quite certain I could become good friends with each of them.

My son must have felt the same way, because this Christmas, I’ve had to read this library book to him no less than fifteen times. And I-an adult-have enjoyed every reading. That’s a pretty sure sign of a great book.