The Story of Diva and Flea (Book Review)

The Story of Diva and Flea

I am so happy I picked up The Story of Diva and Flea.  I may even love the book more than my kids do, and they really like it.

First of all, Mo Willems is currently my kid’s favorite author.  Seriously.  Elephant & Piggie are HUGE in our house right now.

But whereas Elephant & Piggie are more of an Easy Reader book for K-2 kids, this book is aimed at a slightly different crowd.  Not too different – if you look on Amazon, they’re both listed for ages 6-8, but this is a book that is more likely to be read TO them than BY them.

And I certainly don’t mind.

(Actually I adore reading the E&P books with all my funny voices, too, but that’s beside the point.)

Diva and Flea has a great rhythm and an excellent structure.  They meet, they both try something new, and they discover how wonderful it is to try new things – even if they seem scary at first.

There are three acts.  In the first they meet, in the second Diva expands her borders, and in the third Flea expands his.  They both face their fears head on  – with the support of each other – and come out the better for it.

What a wonderful, wonderful lesson for children.

The writing itself is peppered with so many fun details.  For example, Flea is a stray cat who considers himself a “Flâneur,” which is “someone (or somecat) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see.”  The part I like best?  “A great flâneur has seen everything, but still looks for more, because there is always more to discover.”

Little Diva has a tremendous fear of FEET because she is aware of just how “squishable” her small stature makes her.  But she loves Fleas stories, like the ones about “The Underground Rooms on Wheels” and “The People Who Drink Cough-Fee All Day.”  And those stories are part of what inspire her to explore they city.

Flea introduces Diva to the world outside of her courtyard and the “tower that could cut a cloud in half,” and helps Diva discover the bravery inside of her.  Then Diva helps Flea conquer his fears, which also grants him the gift of the thing he doesn’t have:  a home.

The illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi are beyond charming.  I love the perspectives of the tiny dog Diva, I love the facial expressions of Flea, and I love the colors and the dazzling backdrops of the Parisian setting.

Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

And that setting!

Ah, Paris, my Paris.

Many years ago, when I was writing my Travelblog, I said that upon leaving Paris I had left part of my heart there.  And how very true that was.

Paris took me in.  There is life in the very bones of the city, deep in the foundation, in the stones, and the hum of the Seine and the glow of the Tower against a gently falling night.  It calls to me still.

But even if you don’t feel about Paris the way I do, it certainly never hurts to explore different cities and different cultures with your kids.  The Story of Diva and Flea brings many things to your children, and, at the very least, is a wonderful read-aloud to snuggle with.

Happy Reading!

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The Garden of Empress Cassia {a book review}

The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang: a Book Review at RoamingRosie.com

As soon as I finished reading The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang, I was seriously tempted to turn back to the first page and read it all over again.

I liked it that much.

But I had appointments to keep and a review to write, so my rereading will have to wait.

Before delving into the story, let’s get the basic description out of the way:  it’s a chapter book of 112 pages that’s suggested for elementary to middle school children between the ages of 8 and 12.  Of course, I’m in my thirties and really enjoyed it, so I’d say you could push that age limit out a bit, even if it is targeted to kids.

The story is about a Chinese-Australian named Mimi Lu.  Her parents own an herbal shop and insist that Mimi be proud of her Chinese heritage, but Mimi just wishes she could blend in with everyone else.  Wishes she could be “normal.”  To make matters worse, her father doesn’t want her to pursue her love of art, and she’s being bullied at school.

Another prominent character is Mimi’s art teacher, Miss O’Dell.  Miss O’Dell is an Irish-Australian that is a kind, calming, and somewhat enlightening presence throughout the story.  She’s also the one who gives Mimi the gift of the magical pastels.

These pastels allow Mimi to draw the ancient garden of Empress Cassia, and the magic in them transports people into her drawings, much like the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins.  The garden is a place of healing and inspiration, and it’s beautiful.

The reason we know the garden is so beautiful is because the imagery in the story is so vivid and alive.  It’s really one of my favorite things about the book.  The writing is so fluid and transportive that the scenes come to life in a natural way that leaves the reader feeling as though they’re experiencing what Mimi is experiencing.

But just in case you can’t quite imagine it for yourself without any help, there’s also a gorgeous illustration of a map of the garden in the back of the book.

My other favorite thing about this book is the strong moral story.  It’s not shoved at you or anything, but it’s potent.  First of all, Mimi is truly goodhearted.  Even when the bully steals Mimi’s cherished gift, Mimi truly worries for the other girl’s safety.  And when Mimi questions whether or not she’s actually a good person and deserving of the pastels, the wise old man in the tale helps her distinguish between someone who’s good but occasionally acts naughty and someone who is actually a bad person.

It even ends with showing that Mimi doesn’t really need the magic pastels to make magical pictures.  As an artist, she already has this vibrant magic in her heart.  And kind of like Dumbo learning he doesn’t need his feather to fly, it allows kids to see that maybe – just maybe – they already are special.

Overall, I feel Mimi is an excellent roll model, and I not only feel comfortable offering this book to my own children when they’re older (they’re in preschool now), I want to encourage it.

This tale is about following your dreams and passions, about being strong and confident in the face of meanness and adversity, and about embracing who you are.

The Garden of Empress Cassia is a story you shouldn’t miss.

Awards for The Garden of Empress Cassia

  •  CBCA Notable Children’s Book of the Year
  • Aurealis Award Winner
  • Shortlist, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
  • USBBY Outstanding International Booklist

Click here for a sneak peak of the first 2 chapters! 

Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the U.S. edition from my Usborne Books & More website, but you can still (yay!) find copies of the book on Amazon.

Similar books, with recommended ages ranging from 8 to 12:

Andie's Moon by Linda Newbery Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch I Lost My Mobile at the Mall by Wendy Harmer Butterflies by usanne Gervay

Happy Reading!

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Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and The Books That Inspired Them

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

These yummy treats were one of our recent projects.

I’d been wanting to do something that incorporated polar bears, since it’s winter, and when I realized I could shape little minty patties to look like bear paw prints, I got pretty excited.

It’s kind of like a teddy bear paw… but a polar bear instead.

My girls and I had been rotating through a couple of books that featured polar bears, which is one of the main reasons they were on my mind.  The books include East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Hush Little Polar Bear, both of which I’ve reviewed below.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

The bear paws are easy to make.  The patty is just sugar, cream cheese, and peppermint extract.

Then, for decoration, I added Junior Mints and milk chocolate chips.

You could use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips instead, but I liked the milk chocolate flavor with these.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

Here are the necessary ingredients.  I didn’t actually count out the candies ahead of time:  I just poured a bunch in a bowl for my girls to pick from.

My 4yo did a pretty good job, and my 2yo had a lot of fun shaping the dough… when she wasn’t busy eating the candy.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

To make the mint patties look like bear paws, add one Junior Mint and top with three chocolate chips.

You have to press them in right away, since the heat of your hand is what helps form the shape.  Once you’ve formed the disc and placed it on the counter, it will begin to harden.  So you’ll want to *gently* push in your candy right away.

Then store them in the fridge.

They look really cute on Christmas cookie platters, and would also be fun at winter birthday parties.  Or just, you know, to eat yourself.  :)

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I love this book.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a retelling of a 19th century Norwegian fairytale.  It’s retold by Susanna Davidson and illustrated by Petra Brown.

It’s part of the Usborne Young Readers:  Series Two books.  It’s meant to be read by children who are 8+ years and are gaining confidence in reading on their own.  I bought it to read to my 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year old girls.  It’s certainly much more appealing to the older child, who get’s very excited about it, but my youngest still enjoys the pictures and does listen to the story.  And older kids will definitely enjoy reading it for themselves.

I think it’s wonderful, especially because it’s a fairy tale written for a younger audience that isn’t one of the same old, worn stories that are told over and over and over in other books.  It’s a fresh tale.  There’s adventure and excitement, and it’s even a little scary – as all fairy tales are – but not too much.

It’s terribly romantic, too, but not in a mushy, flowery way.  This is a story about a brave girl who goes to the ends of the earth to save the man she loves.  She enlists the help of the Four Winds and outsmarts an evil Troll to break the spell that turns her beloved prince into a polar bear.

There’s even a little message hidden in the ending promoting the importance of love and family over money and riches.

The retelling is written to be easily understood by kids.  There are a limited number of words on every page, so as not to be overwhelming, and it’s 64 pages are separated into six chapters.  The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and many are displayed across a double page spread.

The physical book itself is also great.  It’s small, about 5.5 by 8 inches, with thick pages, and its sturdy hardcover is a silky, soft texture.  It feels nice to hold.

I completely and ardently recommend this book.  It is unfortunately no longer available from my Usborne site, but you can sometimes find used copies on Amazon.  You can also check out the other Young Readers:  Series Two books.

Hush Little Polar Bear by Jeff Mack

Hush Little Polar Bear, by Jeff Mack, is a charming picture book.  It’s available as a hardcover or a board book, and we have the hardcover version, since ours was a decommissioned purchase from our local library.

And I’m so glad I came across this gem while hunting for new books to read.  It’s colorful and adventurous, and a wonderful bedtime read.

It’s written in verse as a little girl talking to her stuffed toy polar bear and about what exciting dreams he may be having.  The bear sails the high seas on the back of a whale, swims through a waterfall, swings through the trees, forges through a desert, and floats through the sky … all the way home to her, where they curl up together to sleep.

The text has a good rhythm and the illustrations are a lot of fun.  The little girl appears somewhere on every page, watching the polar bear’s adventures from up close or afar, and my kids enjoy pointing her out.

Plus, I love reading stories at bedtime that end with the characters drifting off to sleep.  It helps set the mood.   :)

If you have Little Ones, you should really consider adding it to your collection.  It’s such a fun read!

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

And now, back to the recipe that was inspired by these fantastic books:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups confectionery sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
20 Junior Mints candies
60 milk chocolate chips

In a large bowl, use a mixer to combine the softened cream cheese and confectionery sugar until smooth.

Add the peppermint extract and mix until fully blended.

Scoop large spoonfuls of peppermint mixture out and use your hands to shape it into a disc. It won’t “roll” in your hands very well, so you’ll need to form them mostly by pressing them into shape.

Immediately add a Junior Mint and 3 chocolate chips to the peppermint disc in a pattern that represents a bear paw while still malleable. The disc will begin to harden once you stop moving it around in your hands, so make one at a time.

Store covered in the refrigerator. Makes 20.

[Notes: place the chocolate chips in upside down, so that the flat sides are facing up. And when placing the Junior Mints on the disc, press very gently on the edges, instead of in the middle, to avoid cracking them.]

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Click here for the free printable PDF version:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Enjoy!  And Happy Reading!

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