Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell


Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

They say there’s a girl
Who lives by the woods
In a crooked old house
With no garden but gloom.

She doesn’t have parents.
No one knows her name.

But the people in town
Call her Wee Sister Strange.

Like Emily Winfield Martin’s bestselling Dream Animals, here is a bedtime read-aloud sure to entrance young listeners. Each evening, as the shadows grow long, Wee Sister Strange climbs from her window and runs into the woods. She talks to the owls and rides on a bear. She clambers up trees and dives into the bog. She is searching for something…. She looks far and wide, over forest and marsh. What is it she seeks? Why, it’s a wee bedtime story to help her fall asleep!

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean it’s time to go to sleep quite yet.

The descriptions in this book were vivid and beautiful. One of my favorite parts of it had to do with the main character’s origins and how the people who live nearby reacted to her unusual habits for a girl of this age. There were just enough details to explain what was going on without making her life seem any less whimsical than it was. I also liked the fact that the author left plenty of room for a possible sequel here. While I don’t know if she’s planning to write it, I’d sure like to read it if she ever does.

All of Wee Sister Strange’s adventures made me smile. I was intrigued by the idea of a young child wandering around in the dark, especially since she was so confident in every corner of the woods. The forest was her playground in so many different ways. This wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find, so I was thrilled to see how much she loved doing everything from talking to the animals to going on a late-night swim.

After spending so much time hinting at what the main character was searching for when she ran through the woods alone at night, I couldn’t wait to get an answer to this question. The ending not only satisfied my curiosity, it fit in perfectly with the general tone of this tale. While the blurb does give away part of it, I also appreciated the fact that it left some of the final scene a mystery. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised once I reached that part of the storyline.

Wee Sister Strange was one of the most creative bedtime stories I read this year. It’s a must-read for children and adults alike.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

The only thing scarier than being the new kid in class is feeling rejected.

All of the adults in Unhei’s life were supportive and kind. They listened to her when she talked about the anxiety she felt over having a name that was so different from the American names of her classmates. I especially liked the fact that they took her seriously and worked hard to help her feel better about having a name that other kids didn’t know how to pronounce. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of her when she began to wish she could pick a new name for herself.

The friendship the main character developed with Joey, one of her classmates, made me smile. He barely even knew her, but he still tried his best to make her feel included and understand why she felt the way she did from the beginning of their friendship. His kindness made a huge difference in her life, and I enjoyed seeing how much work he put welcoming her to her new country.

Unhei experienced some mild teasing in the beginning because none of her new classmates knew how to pronounce her name. What I liked most about that scene was how much care the author took in showing why the other kids reacted that way. It was definitely a painful experience for the main character, but digging into the reasons why her classmates weren’t being very nice to her helped to set the stage for everything that happened later on.

The Name Jar was a beautiful tale about acceptance and diversity that I can’t recommend highly enough. I loved every single moment of it.

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson


In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Sophie lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who spends his days by the window. Every day after school, it’s Grandpa whom Sophie runs to.

“Here I am, Grandpa!”
“Ah, Sophie, how was your day?”

As Sophie and her grandpa talk, he asks her to find items he’s “lost” throughout the day, guiding Sophie on a tour through his daily life and connecting their generations in this sweet, playful picture book from Richard Jackson, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist and Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winner Jerry Pinkney.

The best part of every day happened right after Sophie arrived home from school.

Sophie had such a warm and kind family. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with each other during the average day. They all loved each other a lot, and it showed. It was especially interesting to see how this character’s parents balanced taking care of their young daughter with also looking after the grandfather. They did a wonderful job of showing how a multi-generational household can nurture everyone who is part of it.

The conversations between Sophie and her grandfather were pretty repetitive. While I’d certainly expect some repetition in a children’s book, it would have been nice for their conversations to vary more from one day to the next, especially when it came to how they started the next round of this game. Reading almost the exact same conversation between them in every scene makes me hesitant to read this story again.

With that being said, I really liked the guessing game itself that Sophie and her grandfather played every day after school. He found some creative ways to hide common objects in places that I’d never think to look for them. Watching her try to find his “lost” possession was as entertaining as it was heartwarming. I found it interesting to attempt to figure out where those items were before flipping the page to see if I was right.

In Plain Sight should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a gentle tale about the fun games a grandparent can play with his grandchild.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel


A Christmas Spider’s Miracle by Trinka Hakes Nobel
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Long ago in a faraway place there lived two mothers. One, a humble peasant woman who struggled daily to provide for her children. And the other, a mother spider who also worked hard to care for her family. And although it would appear they were as different as night and day, these two mothers had more in common than would first seem. As the only holiday gift she can give her children, one cold Christmas Eve the peasant woman goes to the forest to get a tree, never noticing that someone has made a home among its branches. During the night, the mother spider spins webs decorating the tree, resulting in a Christmas that neither mother will ever forget. Based on an old Ukrainian story, Trinka Hakes Noble (The Orange Shoes) crafts an original heartwarming tale of the grace that can be found in the true spirit of Christmas.

Kindness can repay itself in all sorts of lovely ways.

Nothing on Earth can compare to the love of a parent for their children. I enjoyed seeing how the spider and the peasant woman did everything they possibly could to keep their babies safe, warm, fed, and happy. They were both dedicated mothers who took wonderful care of their families. The scenes that showed just how far they went to do that were the best ones in this tale.

There were pacing issues. The plot sped up and then slowed down again at various points of the story. Due to this, the quieter sections didn’t have enough going on in them while the busier scenes were a little overwhelming because so many different things were happening in them at once. It would have been nice to have one consistent speed from the beginning to the end.

The fantasy elements of this book didn’t show up right away, but they were definitely worth the wait once they did appear. I was curious to see how a spider could be connected to the fantasy genre and what either of them would have to do with the Christmas season since I don’t automatically think of spiders when I think of either one of these topics. Finding out what that connection was only made me want to know more. It was all tied together quite nicely.

A Christmas Spider’s Miracle should be read by anyone who is in the mood for new twist to a classic legend.

The Worst Twelve Days of Christmas by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen


The Worst Twelve Days of Christmas by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In this spirited reworking of the classic song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Joy has to deal with her first Christmas with a new baby brother—and nothing could be worse. He drools on the ornaments and ruins the presents, he eats all the cookies and smashes the snowmen, and he’s on the verge of taking over the whole holiday. Joy’s patience runs out as the baby’s mishaps pile up. A sweet surprise turns the tables on Joy, who eventually appreciates what her baby brother adds to the holiday.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Ryan Wood pair perfectly for this funny holiday book with a sibling-appreciation message that will make readers laugh and sing along with every reading.

Is Christmas going to be ruined by a little brother who gets into everything?

Becoming a big sister isn’t easy, especially once the baby is old enough to crawl around and break important things. This book had an honest and funny take on what it’s like to have a new sibling who seems to be more trouble than they’re worth. I especially liked seeing how it repeated all of the baby’s bad deeds as Joy and her family kept preparing for Christmas. This was a clever and interesting take on a classic song.

Some of the rhymes didn’t quite work. For example, at one point the narrator tried to make the words “stairs” and “tear” rhyme. When it read that section out loud, I kept wanting to either say “stairs” and “tears” or “stair” and “tear.” This happened a couple of other times, too, with different words in the poem. While I enjoyed the concept of this tale overall, paying closer attention to small details like this would have lead to a much higher rating from me.

After she spent most of the book complaining loudly about the annoying things her baby brother did, I couldn’t wait to see how Joy would behave on Christmas morning. The ending to her troubles couldn’t have been better. Not only did it fit the tone of the story perfectly, it made me smile as well.

I’d recommend The Worst Twelve Days of Christmas to any family that is looking for a lighthearted way to talk about sibling rivalry this holiday season.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon


Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Childrens, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (41 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature

A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world. This is a heartwarming, timeless picture book.

No immigrant knows for sure if he or she will be welcomed in their new country or if the place they’re moving to will ever feel like home.

One of the biggest reasons why I chose such a high rating for this story had to do with the blessings that Oskar discovered after he arrived in New York City. I tried to predict what they might be ahead of time. While some of my guesses were pretty close to being correct, I was pleasantly surprised by the authors’ creative approaches to what a child would think of as a blessing. They worked hard to approach this idea from every angle, and it showed.

There was so much kindness woven into this character’s long, chilly walk to his aunt’s house. I loved seeing how the people Oskar met treated him, especially once they realized that he was travelling alone and had almost nothing to call his own. The idea of wandering around in an unfamiliar city can be a bit scary even for adults, so I was thrilled by how much compassion this character found while he was trying to find his new home.

The reference to the Night of Broken Glass was nicely handled. The page that discussed it went into enough detail to show young readers what happened that evening, but it also kept the explanation appropriate for this age group. This is the sort of book I’d happily to read to younger children. At the same time, the hints about that part of German history could also lead to more in-depth conversations about the time leading up to World War II with older kids who wanted to learn more about it.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings was a gorgeous Hanukkah story. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia C. McKissack


The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia C. McKissack
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Newbery Honor–winning author McKissack and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Pinkney have outdone themselves in this heart-warming story infused with humor and the true spirit of Christmas.

Christmas always comes to Nella’s house, but Santa Claus brings gifts only once in a while. That’s because it’s the Depression and Nella’s family is poor. Even so, Nella’s hoping that this year she and her two sisters will get a beautiful Baby Betty doll.

On Christmas morning, the girls are beside themselves with excitement! There is Baby Betty, in all her eyelash-fluttering magnificence. “Mine!” Nella shouts, and claims the doll for herself. But soon she discovers that Baby Betty isn’t nearly as much fun as her sisters. Would it be more fun to share this very best gift with them after all?

Sometimes letters to Santa get answered exactly how a child hopes they will be. Even when this happens, though, there still might be a lesson to learn before everyone lives happily ever after.

The Pearsons were such a close and loving family. I enjoyed seeing how hard Nella’s parents worked to make Christmas special for their daughters nearly as much as I liked watching the kids react to all of the surprises that were waiting for them after they opened their presents. This family found a way to make everything from cleaning their house to spending time together a cause for celebration.

While I completely agreed with the message of this story, it was a little heavy-handed. I was surprised by how quickly Nella’s opinion of the Baby Betty doll changed once she received it. It would have been nice for the main character to learn her lesson without growing tired of her new toy so quickly or changing her mind about it so soon.

This book was full of little details that made Nella’s world three-dimensional and beautiful. I actually read it a second time right after I finished it for the first time because I was so impressed with how much attention the author paid to everything from how siblings bicker when they can’t agree on something to how a parent reacts when their child makes a selfish decision.

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll was a charming story that I’d recommend to anyone who would like to be reminded about what really matters during the holiday season.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis


I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Publisher: Abrams Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a young monster sets out to create a gourmet dinner for someone special, he squelches through marsh and muck to find just the right ingredients, from beetle knees to plump slugs to chicken teeth! But who is the dinner for? A surprise awaits his special loved one and readers alike!

Monsters aren’t always scary. In fact, some of them are downright sweet!

The narrator compared the love he had for his mother to all kinds of disgusting things, from boogers to sweaty feet. Reading about all of the strange items he were collecting as he talked about his feelings for his mom made me really curious to know what he was planning to do with all of it. The longer the list grew, the more impatient I became to see how it would all turn out.

I would have liked to see the main character be given a name at some point. While I definitely liked the fact that this character was relatable to both boys and girls, it felt odd to me to read about a friendly little monster without knowing something as basic as what his mom called him. They had such a special relationship that I would have loved to know that detail about him.

One of my favorite parts of this story was how much effort the writer put into rhyming words that I never would have thought to stick together. They were pretty clever, and they made it impossible for me to stop reading. While some of those words will probably be unfamiliar for this age group, there were plenty of clues in the illustrations and other parts of the rhyme to help them figure out it.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham made me giggle. It should be read by anyone who is in the mood to get a little grossed out while talking about love.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin


Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Pedro’s and JoJo’s families are on their way to Katie’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. But they get stuck in a snowstorm, and the Woos’ oven suddenly breaks. Katie wonders what kind of Thanksgiving it will be without sweet potatoes, pie, and most of all, friends.

Sometimes everything that can go wrong does go wrong all at once.

The chances of an oven breaking at the same time that a friend’s car gets stuck in the snow are low, but this sort of thing can happen. Seeing how Katie reacted when everything that made Thanksgiving special to her was taken away made me smile. She was such a good role model even though she was terribly disappointed by the change of plans. This can be a hard thing for people of all ages to handle, but she did a great job of expressing her sad feelings without allowing them to ruin her day.

There was a plot hole in this story that was never resolved. It involved what happened after Pedro and Jojo’s vehicle became stuck in the snowstorm. I was expecting the characters to spend more time on this problem than they did, so it was surprising to see how little attention that part of the plot received.

One of my favorite sections of this book happened while Katie and her family were trying to decide what to do on Thanksgiving now that their friends were no longer on the way and they couldn’t cook the foods they normally liked to eat then. Not only was the choice they made a kind one, it fit perfectly into the spirit of Thanksgiving and what it means to truly celebrate this holiday.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving was a short, cute read that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had something go wrong during the holidays.