Books About Books and Stories
The human patrons of the library are even more diverse than the dragons—both male and female—who clutter the aisles—and while we’re mentioning it, let’s applaud that the protagonist, the character on the cover, and not just some of the background patrons is non-white. These illustrations are vibrant—in every sense, and are probably the best thing about the book. The diversity of the cast is what propels this book for me a little farther above its peers. I suspect that a great deal of the appeal of books about libraries is the meta-ness of reading a book about story time and about libraries in a library and in a library story time. It doesn’t quiet work as well in a bookstore, as much as I’d like it to do, particularly as a number of our younger patrons have difficulty separating the concepts of bookstore and of library. I love dragons. I love books. I love the concept of libraries even if right now I spend very little time myself in any. I wish I was more enthralled with this story and with this text, but this doesn’t say much that is original about how to respect libraries or what a library is; it just does so with dragons.
Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.
This little boy just wants to read a book without having anyone spoil the ending for him—poor kid. He goes farther and farther into the wilderness but meets wonderfully well-read animals, eager to share their enthusiasm for the books that he’s chosen to read. The text is first person with the interruptions by others as speech bubbles. This is definitely a book that the older reader can appreciate. This is the first book for children I think that I’ve ever read that talks about spoilers. Lê began as a children’s book reviewer and critic.
A quiet day at the library is interrupted by an angry monster who doesn’t realize that books are for reading and not for eating. Oskar and Theodore the bear must run from the monster, survive, and ultimately teach him that books are meant to be read, that he’s in a library not a restaurant.
This book had a lot of potential, but it read awkwardly. The shifting story just didn’t handle well aloud. I think with the right storyteller it could. I think especially with a storyteller dressed as a knight it could do. I’d love to see this tale acted out. The illustrations shift as the narration does. “A knight in armor rode away. Then again… he had no horse. Did I say ‘rode’? He strode, of course. That’s right—he strode across the land with half a sandwich in his hand?” This could also be fun with the right audience, one who wants to correct the story, make it fit the knight-in-armor, knight-vs-dragon narrative. But then they couldn’t see the pictures without being given the answers. It would be interesting to use this too in a discussion about narrative—about cultural narrative and subversion. Like I said, a lot of potential, but the execution just doesn’t seem quite right, and I wish it did.
Be Your Best Self and Don’t Be Ashamed
Told from the point of view of a cool pup—note the sunglasses—Teddy’s living the life—being a dog, wreaking havoc but never fetching—until a package arrives containing a cat—whom he nicknames and continues throughout the book to call Fishbreath. He tries to teach Fishbreath all that he knows, since it seems that the cat will now be his companion, but Fishbreath isn’t interested. Teddy tries to do the things that Fishbreath likes but doesn’t like them. Ultimately they bond over stealing cookies from the cookie jar, and Teddy decides that both of them are best when they are being their best selves, that each of them can contribute in their own way.
This was one of my favorite stories as a child, and it has remained fairly influential in my life. Fritz sees all the tall, glamorous, finely bedecked horses, and he wants to do what they do and be loved as they are loved. He notices that the children seem frightened of the fine horses. He prances before the people, doing his best impression of the horses’ prance, but they laugh at him, and he goes away dejected, but when the bridge cracks stranding the nervous children on one side and the adults on their prideful mounts on the other, Fritz goes up and down the steep banks and across the river to rescue each child. Then he sees that he can do what the fine horses cannot, that his smallness and surefootedness are strengths not weaknesses. Moreover the people—children and adults—recognize it, and he is given a place of honor in the city’s walls.
I loved horse stories—and still do, if more of that is nostalgia than it once was, maybe—and I love stories of the strength of littleness. I think those stories resonant with children. They resonate with me still.
I’ve talked before about the amazing detail and realism and wonder of Jan Brett’s illustrations. This book is no exception.
I read this alongside I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur and Teddy the Dog and am very pleased to report that this—this classic about a tiny pony that is bedecked by flowers and wears fine blankets was the favorite—even though my audience consisted of one maybe 5-7 year old boy. This was easily the most complex of those stories, the longest, the oldest, and the most muted—though Jan Brett’s details might help to compensate for the absence of bold, bright colors. Points made. Thanks, kid.
(rating this one seems unfair; I’d give it five stars for nostalgia)
Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.
There’s a new Little Elliot book! I did a little dance in the store when I found it and immediately rearranged things to be able to better display it. And when no one showed up for the story time where I intended to read it, I read it myself and showed coworkers my favorite pages; I final page evoked a spoken “aw,” and I had to explain myself. Little Elliot is truly one of my favorites. This book features a fold out page of a beautiful vista of the boardwalk seen from the top of the Ferris wheel during an orange sunset.
Little Elliot isn’t enjoying the amusement park that Mouse has brought him too. All of Mouse’s favorite rides are too scary, too dizzy, too fast. But Mouse knows the perfect ride—the Ferris wheel—that they can both enjoy, and though Elliot is at first scared, the payoff here is worth his fear. And afterwards they find activities at the boardwalk that they can both enjoy—ice cream, balloons, the beach. Can Elliot be my spirit animal? For real?
I still love Curato’s illustrations, his stories, and his inclusion of many races in his vivid backgrounds.
This is what I expect in books featuring dinosaurs: a chance to stomp and invite the kids to give me their best ROAR! A white boy in a cardboard costume proclaims his wish to be a dinosaur and a dinosaur shows up to show him his best dinosaur skills. The boy questions if dinosaurs can eat junk food and play soccer and video games and do the other things that he as a boy enjoys doing. The dinosaur cannot, and the dinosaur wishes to be a boy. And in the end the boy is dressed as a dinosaur and the dinosaur is dressed as a boy and both are stomping around and roaring. The endpage was pretty fun too: a more realistic painting of dinosaurs, one you might find in a nonfiction book, doing boy-things with the trapping of boyness added overtop in marker. I am reminded a touch of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, but this is a much more enjoyable, less frightening way to get across the same message of being glad that you are what you are.
More Lessons to Learn
This is one of those new classics that I feel I’m sort of expected to know, but it was my first time actually reading the story. I’m always a bit uncertain about potty humor in my picture books—mostly because I don’t know my audience and don’t want to be held accountable for corrupting young minds. I was wary of this one, but it was required one Saturday. This was… not the book I was expecting. There wasn’t a lot of potty humor, though there were lots of briefs and boxers. This was more a lesson book than anything else. This is a new answer to the age-old question of why there are no more dinosaurs: Dinosaurs loved underpants; I don’t really know why; they don’t seem to have fit or have made any dinosaur happy. The dinosaurs fought each other one night to extinction for the underpants that they hadn’t torn. Mankind is saved by the dinos love of underpants, so we should love and respect our undies too. I was honestly a bit thrown by the portrayal of dinosaurs as enemies of mankind but the glossing over of dinosaurs as predators and by the lesson to respect our underpants. It just all around was not what I was expecting, but I guess I’m glad I didn’t feel like I was going to get any angry, prudish parents. This would be a good read, I guess, for the potty training child who just keeps ripping their undies off. Be aware that you’ll have dinosaur names to trip over.
I overheard a friend of mine reading this —another Barnes & Noble employee and an excellent story time reader. It just sounded so ridiculous—so ridiculous that I avoided it for just over a year. This was the first time that I read it fully myself. I missed when overhearing that reading the context of the illustrations, which make the weirdness seem less off-putting. In this story, Gerald is exhausted and needs to sleep. He dreams that Piggie has come to keep him from napping. Nearly the rest of the book is Gerald’s dream of Piggie interrupting his sleep, and dreaming Gerald does not realize till after Piggie’s head has morphed into a laughing turnip that this manifestation of Piggie is a dream. The illustrations actually make fairly clear that Gerald is napping. Piggie first appears in a green thought bubble above the napping Gerald and all subsequent pages are that minty green. This is not your average bedtime book with gentle rhymes and gentle pictures and lulling rhythms of peaceful sleep. This does not portray dreams of floating on cloud, but better portrays dreams as a reflection of daily worries and daily interactions and better portrays the absurdity of dream logic. I like the idea of the discussions this could open up, but I wasn’t able to get into any. For being a different kind of bedtime book, for portraying the necessity of sleep in a different way, I rate this one higher than I might otherwise.
Find Your Best Friend
I was surprisingly pleased by this book. Rory has shown up in one other picture book: Me and My Dad. Liz Climo’s illustrations of cartoon animals however are familiar from her Tumblr, and I have seen them passed between friends on Facebook. Rory’s friends introduce him to a new pet hermit crab, and Rory decides that he too wants a pet. He tries to coax several animals into being his pet but they are too busy, not interested, and he almost gives up until a coconut (it’s never identified as a coconut in the text) rolls to his feet, and turns out to be the perfect pet, ready to do anything Rory wants without complaint. The story was fairly commonplace until the coconut came along. I’m reminded a little of Yoon’s Penguin and Pinecone. I loved this story—so did the mother at this story time. We both cooed over it when I was done.
These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.