Book Reviews: October 2017: Picture Book Roundup: Celebrities, Halloween, Loving, and One Last Book About Trains

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Old Friends

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Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2001. First published 1947. Intended audience: Ages 0-4.

I can’t possibly review this book properly. I am biased. This is a classic, and Margaret Wise Brown is my alma mater’s perhaps most prestigious alumna. Who didn’t grow up on Goodnight Moon? It’s only really within the last decade (good Lord, that’s painful to write) that I’ve gone back and really paid much attention to the book. After graduating out of picture books, I didn’t return to Goodnight Moon until I began college, and I really did a deeper study of it when I wrote a parody as part of Hollins’ Margaret Wise Brown Festival of 2012. The text is deceptively simple. A small bunny says goodnight to everything in his room and everything he can see. And some that he can’t see. “Goodnight air” he says and “Goodnight nobody.”  As an adult, there’s less innocence to this book.  When you really question those lines, it’s a touch frightening.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, trailer, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Good Day, Good Night by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Loren Long. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

With a bunny and a bedroom that emulates but doesn’t entirely mimic Hurd’s illustrations from Goodnight Moon, this little bunny first greets the sun’s first light then his town and his friends. He then spends the second half of the book saying goodnight to them all. Some of the text of the second half echoed Goodnight Moon too. The two halves are split by a single line imploring the reader to seize the day (which Long illustrates with a game of soccer). Loren Long’s illustrations are maybe a little more muted but her color palette much broader than Hurd’s. The illustrations are detailed, complete, rather beautiful.

**** 

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The Poky Little Puppy’s Wonderful Winter Day by Jean Chandler and illustrated by Sue Dicicco. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2017. First published 1982. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

The poky puppy lags behind all of his brothers and sisters as they wake up, eat up, go out to play, and come back home. The poky puppy lingers to play with children. This is a decent book about playing outside on a snowy day. I didn’t know about this sequel to The Poky Little Puppy and nor did the parents at my story time.

***

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The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. First published 1984.

This book reminded me of “The Rattlin’ Bog” and all of the camp songs like it. There’s a flea on the mouse and the mouse on the cat and the cat on a dog and the dog on the child and the child on the granny and the granny in the bed and the bed in the napping house where everyone is sleeping. There’s more to the rhythm than that, adjectives attached to each character: a cozy bed, a snoring granny, a dreaming child. The flea wakes the cat and one by one each character wakes the other until everyone is awake, the sun is up, and now it is a napping house where no one is sleeping. The illustrations are detailed both in the drapery and then in the subtle color change as the sun comes up and more and more characters awaken.

***

New Friends

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Little Penguin and the Lollipop by Tadgh Bentley. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Age 4-8.

The little penguin is back! And he has eaten Kenneth’s lollipop. Kenneth is pretty upset, and the little penguin wants to make it up to Kenneth, but nothing little penguin has tried has worked. This book like its predecessor calls for audience participation. The little penguin addresses his audience, and he asks for the audience’s help in making the funniest faces possible while saying “razzle dazzle lollipop.” Even that doesn’t work to cheer up Kenneth. In the end, the little penguin replaces Kenneth’s lollipop, but he’s still not good at looking before he takes, so while he may have learned how to make it up to a friend after you take something of his… he might still have some work and some more apologizing to do.

****

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Bruce’s Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Bruce is back too! And he is fed up with the mice that have infested his house. He does the only logical thing there is to do to remedy the situation. Since he doesn’t seem able to kick the mice out of the house, he decides that he and his geese are moving house. He finally finds a good, rodent-free home, but his geese don’t seem themselves. They’re sad and upset. Until the mice arrive. And Bruce realizes that the house is not a home without these often-annoying members of his odd family. This is perhaps the shortest book of Higgins’ books yet. After the brilliance of Be Quiet! this story honestly fell a little flat to me, but I’m glad it’s better for my average story time attendee.

***

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Max and Bird by Ed Vere. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

I have grown fond of Max the Brave, the little black kitten who knows that he is supposed to hunt mice, but doesn’t actually know what a mouse looks like. I’ve read it for a few different story times. Needing another quick story for a recent story time, I grabbed this, the most recent in the series. In this, Max knows that he’s supposed to chase and eat birds. This time he’s found a bird, and he wants to be friends with the bird. He tells his new friend the bird that first he will chase and then eat them, and Bird understandably complains that that is not what friends do. I was a bit put off by this discussion of violence in a picture book, though as Max says, it is a rule of nature that kittens chase birds. I knew though from the moment that I read it that it would end with the two as friends and neither being eaten. I’m glad I was not proved wrong in that supposition. The two make a deal: First Max will help the bird learn to fly then they’ll decide about the chasing and the eating. Since neither knows how to fly, they visit the library. They study for weeks. Nothing happens for days, but finally bird takes off. True to his word, Bird offers to be Max’s tasty snack now that Max has taught him to fly, but Max decides that he doesn’t want to eat his friend after all. This book betrays its British heritage with a few phrases that are odd for Americans, but completely comprehendible. Vere illustrates his books very simply, the characters comprising mostly of their shape and of overlarge eyes. He uses only a limited palette.

****

Real Life Celebrities

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The Little Grumpy Cat Who Wouldn’t illustrated by Steph Laberis. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

We all know Grumpy Cat? A happy butterfly, a cheerful ladybug, and a joyful bird want her to play, but Grumpy Cat doesn’t want to play with them. She ultimately tricks them into thinking that she will race them, and the other animals race off without her. “Good.” The book uses many of the lines from Grumpy Cat memes. The book did get some twitters of laughter from my audience.

***

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A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book by Christy Webster and illustrated by Steph Laberis. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was the better of the two Grumpy Cat Little Golden Books that we read. This one is an alphabet book. It seems a relatively normal alphabet primer—A is for ants, B is for butterfly—but Grumpy Cat grumpily comments on the text of the alphabet book, her comments utilizing that letter as much as possible within the sentence, clearly fully aware of the book’s intention to cover the whole of the alphabet and drag her through each illustration up till Z. This too utilizes many lines from the Grumpy Cat memes. This one got giggles too.

****

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A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhané Wallis and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Annie, 12 Years a Slave, Trolls) writes about her night at the Academy Awards. It’s honestly a delightful, relatable story. A young girl in new shoes, tap, tap, tapping down the hall, excited for the day and waking her whole family to be excited with her. Because it’s such a big day, someone comes to help her get ready, a limousine comes for her and Mama, and though she doesn’t win, she still enjoys the night out. Vanessa Brantley-Newton does a fabulous job with these illustrations and Wallis writes with a poetry and musicality beyond some adult writers.

*****

Loving and Respecting Others and Yourself

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The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3+

This pair wowed me before with their book The Storybook Knight. Snatchabook was their first book together, but somehow I’d missed it. I think it was before I became one of the story time readers at any Barnes & Noble. This book tells in rhyming couplets of bookworm Eliza Brown’s real-life mystery. The books are all disappearing from Burrow Down, and Eliza lays out a trap to catch the thief. She catches a creature called a Snatchabook, who steals books because he has no one to read to him. Eliza convinces him to return all of the books, and gets all of the residents of Burrow Down to agree to let the Snatchabook join them from their bedtime stories whenever he likes. In this way, the residents of Burrow Down get their books back, and the Snatchabook gets someone to read to him. The illustrations use lots of colors for shading. Details make it fun to linger on the pages or revisit them.

****

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Skin Again by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Jump at the Sun-Hyperion-Disney, 2004.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I was reminded reading this of Paige Britt’s Why Am I Me?  Where Britt makes the similarity between different characters the very humanity and reasoning they have in thinking the same questions about themselves, hooks merely says look for the similarity inside.  That I think was where hooks lost me.  I got a call to action–great.  But I missed the second step, the guidance from the wise mentor if you will, if I can put a life’s journey into the steps of a hero’s journey.  And having only that call and no concrete direction left me wanting more.  The text of this book and the idea of the book were abstract, and the language hooks uses didn’t help to solidify the idea.  The idea is that we are not our skin but what is inside (and that’s the type of language that hooks uses, language that I think my usual toddler audience would not follow), that the skin is only a covering that cannot tell a story, for that you have to “come inside.”  I like the idea.  No, I love the idea.  We need more books about common humanity.  But I think I needed some more concrete language or more concrete illustrations maybe to help with the abstract language.  (I enjoyed too the illustrations of Britt’s book done by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls better than Raschka’s.)  There’s a poetry to the text, sure (in fact I thought at first that maybe this was an illustrated poem and I think maybe the text might have worked better alone as a poem than as an illustrated picture book with pages breaks and breaks in thought as one pauses to admire and dissect too the illustrations).  Maybe I need to read it again aloud.  Maybe the rhythm of the text means more aloud, and it becomes easier to see past the repetition and vagueness.  Whatever stumbling blocks this book has, though, it is still important.

***

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May I Please Have a Cookie? by Jennifer E. Morris. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2005. Intended audience: Grades PreK-2.

This leveled reader leapt into my hand one rough night when I passed by the free library. The title perfectly captured my mood. What I found inside was less a story about cookies and more of a story about manners. Alfie tries several ways to get a cookie, but his mother insists that he think of a better way to get one. Ultimately after crying and Mommy gently reminding him by asking politely for one of the paper cookies that he has made, Alfie figures out what she means, asks politely, and receives a cookie, and a snuggle. It’s a sweet story with expressive, brightly colored alligators (crocodiles?). (But admittedly it was not the story that I needed when I first read it.) It would be a fun book for teaching manners with plenty of humor in the outlandish schemes Alfie hatches to try to get a cookie.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

Though from the creator of Skippyjon Jones, this is a very different book: softer illustrations, a more inspiring than hilarious message. Sarabella is always thinking about the most extraordinary things (seriously, the illustrations are amazingly detailed and beautiful with text to match), but she doesn’t speak much. Her daydreaming gets her into trouble at school and at home. Her teacher assigns them to a project that allows Sarabella to express her thoughts and daydreams. She wows the class with her thinking hat and makes a friend. My toddlers had a hard time concentrating on this story. It was long and there wasn’t a lot of humor to engage them, but the adults in the audience (myself included) were enthralled. My kids’ attention wandered away before the last few pages, but I read quickly because the parents and I wanted to know how it ended, to see the last few pages of Schachner’s beautiful artwork.

****

Zombies, Frights, and Pumpkins

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios. 

Peanut Butter & Aliens: A Zombie Culinary Tale by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Harry N. Abrams, 2017.

In this sequel to Peanut Butter & Brains, the town of Quirkville, where zombies and humans have come together over a love of peanut butter and jelly, is invaded by aliens. The aliens speak another language. No one understands. Each establishment tries to offer them a different food, and each person who does so gets covered in cosmic grape jelly. Just as the aliens are getting ready to storm town hall, Reginald the Zombie and Abigail Zink, the smartest girl in town, realize that of course, aliens that squirt jelly must be after peanut butter. They assuage the aliens with a jar of peanut butter, and the aliens settle down to start a peanut butter and cosmic grape jelly sandwich restaurant. While the message about bonding over similarities despite obvious differences and even different languages is a good one, I wanted something more from this story. Maybe more to the story than episodes of different foods being refused by the aliens.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, awards list, sample pages, trailer, activity kit, and author's bio.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Jasper Rabbit is not a little bunny anymore. His mother may be perturbed by the ghoulish, greenish glow and toothy grin of the creepy underwear, but he’s not; he thinks they’re cool. So she agrees that they can buy one pair. And of course Jasper wears them first thing. But the ghoulish, greenish glow keeps him up at night. He tries to bury them in the hamper. He tries to bury them in the garbage. He tries to bury them deep underground. They keep showing up whatever he does. Even cutting them into confetti doesn’t stop the underwear from returning, whole.  He finally succeeds in keeping them gone. But the darkness is too overwhelming, so he relents, retrieves the underwear, and buys more pairs. His creepy underwear becomes a friend, keeping the dark at bay. This book makes good use of page breaks and good use of the different text layouts. The book has a message that even big rabbits can be scared of the dark and that first impressions aren’t always right. The ghoulish, greenish glow becomes a gentle, greenish glow when Jasper’s impression of the underwear changes.  I was surprised I enjoyed this one so much, and surprised that reading to kids about underwear with underwear on every page didn’t this time for this book feel awkward.

****

Click to visit Barnes & Noble's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano and illustrated by Susan Banta. Barnes & Noble, 2009. First published 2001. Intended audience: PreK-2.

The other pumpkins make fun of square Spookley, and Spookley wishes he was round too so he could roll with the other pumpkins in the patch. But one night in a storm, his squareness, what makes him different, saves nearly everyone in the patch. He volunteers to help the others because he knows that he can because of his difference. After that night, the pumpkins and the farmer recognize Spookley’s specialness. The next year, the farmer plants mostly Spookley’s seed, and the pumpkins that sprout are all different: different colors, some polka dotted, some square, some triangular, some flat. Visitors come to the farm for these unique pumpkins. This book too is told in rhyming couplets. The message is a little heavy handed, but because it’s such an important one, I’m not upset by it. I actually rather like the call at the end to tell friends Spookley’s message in the hopes that the world will become a little kinder.

****

Trains

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's bio.

Trains Don’t Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

This was the surprise winner of our story time, my favorite for that week (which included The Napping House and the two Margaret Wise Brown books reviewed here) and the favorite of one the little girls who is one of my regulars. The story is rhythmic, musical, rhyming. The illustrations are beautiful, reminiscent of an older style of travel poster, soft and pastel but with contrast and creative angles. The book mentions different types of trains and train cars without overtly drawing attention to its educational bent. In the back it has more information on each of the cars mentioned, a smaller copy of the page on which each appears with a paragraph beneath. The story ends with a goodnight for readers, for travelers on the rails, though one last page emphasizes that trains don’t sleep.  Seriously, I don’t love trains, but I’d like prints of these illustrations (coincidentally, they are available on Etsy).

*****

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.

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