The Pepper Party Picks the Perfect Pet

July 24th, 2019 · Books

THE PEPPER PARTY PICKS THE PERFECT PET is an elementary level chapter book that is the first in a series about The Pepper Party, a family that is raucous and loving and wild and fun. The focus for this introduction to the Pepper family is adopting a pet from the local animal shelter. Author and illustrator Jay Cooper keeps the storyline moving with entertaining antics and creative combinations, but there are also issues surrounding the treatment of pets and shelter animals that crop up.

The main Pepper family member in this story is Annie Pepper, and she desperately wants to adopt a shivery Chihuahua from Frida Flamingo’s Animal Adoption Agency. Her plans to convince her family are turned upside down when her father agrees to adopt a pet, BUT it must be done by traditional Pepper Family rules that involve pulling names from a hat. What ensues is a parade of siblings choosing pets (a tarantula, a forlorn lovebird and a snobbish cat, a pig…) and then returning them when things go awry thanks to sabotage by envious family members.

What is problematic is the cavalier adoption and return of the pets. The family thinks nothing of swapping out animals for a new choice. And there is no attempt to match the animal with the lifestyle of the family prior to handing them over and waving goodbye. To his credit, Cooper brings up consequences towards the end of the story with Frida Flamingo’s mild scolding of the family’s lack of training and preparation regarding their chosen pets. At one point, the family is also told that they are banned from adopting any new animals. To that end, the story opens up opportunities for conversations about pet care and responsibility. Redeemably, the character of Annie works hard to “do the right thing” for the animals.

The wacky events that string The Pepper Party Picks the Perfect Pet together will appeal to elementary school readers who love Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And the illustrations are clever and cute. We suggest being prepared for conversations about responsible pet care and how to choose a pet wisely with your children.


Review by Kristin Wald


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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

July 22nd, 2019 · Books

The new collection of the poetry of Mister Rogers is a true gift for the children of today and the adults who grew up with Mister Rogers throughout their childhoods. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD includes 75 songs from both Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the earlier The Children’s Corner, and it’s sure to evoke memories for some and do the work of bolstering children’s self-image for a new generation with the sometimes goofy and sometimes painfully honest messages.

The collection is filled with familiar verses like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “It’s You I Like,” and “You Are Special,” to songs that address very specific childhood concerns like “When a Baby Comes,” “It Hurts To Be Lonely,” and the ever-comforting “You Can Never Go Down The Drain.” The lyrics are pro-child, pro-thoughtful responses, and they always encourage children to persevere even while they accept and even celebrate their vulnerabilities. With children’s shows that feel fast and slap-dash, this book reminds us that growing up can feel fast sometimes, and it’s up to grown-ups to help children learn to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is not a new idea!

The colorful and simple illustrations by Luke Flowers include a mix of characters from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and depictions of the themes in the song featured. While most of the people and animals shows are happy and smiling, some are nervous and shy (Hi, Daniel Tiger!) and other times children are shown as afraid, anxious, or embarrassed. The illustrations are a wonderful accompaniment to the text.

Highly recommended for every household.

Review by Kristin Wald



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Lola Goes to School

July 18th, 2019 · Books

LOLA GOES TO SCHOOL by Anna McQuinn is a lovely and encouraging picture book for children starting Kindergarten or preschool. Fans of Lola’s previous adventures will recognize her love of reading and learning and having new experiences. Lola Goes to School is perfect for children who are anxious about starting school as there is a matter-of-fact, reassuring tone, and the story presents no conflicts to overcome — other than school being “fun…but exhausting.”

The first half of the picture book is all about preparing for the big day. Lola picks out her outfit and packs her bag, including a set of extra clothes “just in case.” The story then follows Lola as she starts her first day of school and navigates reading and snack time and blocks and singing. The array of color and variety of activities Lola takes part in are sure to include at least one or two tasks that any child beginning a new school year will recognize.

To further ease trepidations, every character is smiling throughout the book, and the text is simple description of actions with no dialogue. The bright colors and soft edges of the illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw are consistently comforting and joyful. Lola Goes to School will make a wonderful addition to any picture book collection about starting new adventures and enjoying every moment.

Review by Kristin Wald


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Plant-Powered Protein Cookbook

July 12th, 2019 · Books

We are always on the lookout for cookbooks that include recipes kids will be able both help cook in a meaningful way and eat with zeal. The PLANT-POWERED PROTEIN COOKBOOK from Vegetarian Times has lots of easy-to-follow recipes that include color, texture, and a wealth of flavors. As with many vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, the cookbook offers a basic primer focused on the primary plant-based sources of protein. Another section offers replacements for eggs and dairy replacers, making the recipes easy to adapt to vegan from the majority of the vegetarian recipes. Each recipe also provides nutrition information including protein, sugar, and sodium.

Most kids love smoothies, and there are several in different colors to choose from here. Other breakfast item standouts are the various tofu scrambles, baked oatmeal, and beautiful millet porridge pancakes. Several other recipes rely on eggs, but vegan families will find it easy to adapt the flavors with replacements or by adjusting the recipe to suit their lifestyles.

Appreciated, especially for busy families, is the Snacks & Finger Foods section. Staples like crispy kale chips show up, but it’s snacks like the peanut-stuffed okra fingers and black bean and corn taquitos that include texture, protein, and flavor perfect for picky children. The Soups & Stews section is full of recipes that the young people in your life can help chop, stir, and garnish. Again, there are familiar staples like lentil soups and stews, and these are joined by a delicious farmers’ market chowder made with corn, leeks, sweet potatoes and more and a gorgeous smoke vegetable & wheat berry stew.

Additional standout sections include Sandwiches & Wraps, Pizza & Breads, and the voluminous Vegetables section. An inventive section on Tofu, Veggie Burgers, and Meat Substitutes includes basics like tofu skewers and instructions on how to use tempeh effectively in the glazed maple-mustard tempeh bourgignon. With everyday meals like a portobello mushroom pizza and elegant dishes like the truffled wild mushrooms over whipped white beans, there is something for every occasion.

As with many vegetarian and vegan fallbacks, the Pasta & Noodles section had a sizable selection. We love that there were two different lasagna recipes, one with noodles and the other with tortillas. There is also a wonderful recipe for peanut noodles, another for beet linguini, and still another for zucchini-corn cannelloni. We suspect that the spinach-artichoke mini lasagnas, baked in muffin cups, will appeal to just about any young cook.

Don’t worry! We haven’t overlooked the desserts! Chocolate-cherry quinoa muffins, a fresh berry tart, and glazed chocolate avocado cupcakes are all included. There’s also a lovely raw cashew cheesecake, and the cookbook includes detailed instructions on how to make a versatile cashew creme. The photos will make every aspiring chef want to try each recipe.

Review by Kristin Wald



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