Tag Archives: Alison Oliver

Book Reviews: April 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Nature’s Gifts, a Selfish Pig, and Geeky Vocab

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, sample illustration, and reviews. Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and sample illustration.Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey.  Scholastic, 2017.  First published 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Pig the Star by Aaron Blabey.  Scholastic, 2018.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

I didn’t much enjoy the first of the Pig books. Though in it, the pug, Pig, is admittedly a greedy dog and his literal downfall is the consequence of his own actions, he perhaps does not deserve to fall out a window. These next two books in the series follow much the same pattern of bad behavior on Pig’s part leading to a dire consequence and injury of Pig’s own making. These rhyming stories are formulaic in text as well as content: Each injury of Pig’s is followed by “These days it’s different / I’m happy to say.” In Pig the Winner, Pig is a sore winner, bragging and rubbing his opponent’s defeat in his face (poor Trevor) no matter the contest—or whether the act is a contest at all. He is always the best. In a one-side eating contest, Pig swallows his bowl, but is saved from choking by Trevor, only to have the bowl ricochet and knock Pig into the (garbage) bin. This story makes it clear that this injury is not enough to completely rid Pig of his need to win. In Pig the Star, Pig hogs the attention when he and Trevor go to a fancy photo shoot. The costumes that Blabey illustrates are by far the best part of this book. In this, shoving Trevor, leads Trevor to bump a precarious rocket ship that falls on top of Pig. The kids at my story time didn’t seem to much mind either the horrific accidents or the formulaic composition of these stories. 

***     ***

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

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell.  Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

I am late to this Caldecott party. I had not read Wolf in the Snow before now to even have it in the running for the medal. The story is mostly pictures. A little girl who in her red coat against the white snow reminds me in style a bit of the protagonist of Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day is lost outside in a snowstorm and finds a wolf pup, also lost. Together they find the wolf pup’s family and then the wolves help the girl find her family. Stylistically, this isn’t really my thing (too sketchy) but it conveys a lot with just a little, and is deeply emotional despite lacking much text, so I can concede that the Caldecott is a well-deserved award.

****

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100 First Words of Little Geeks.  Familius Corporate, 2018

There’s very little organization of these 100 words (maybe a nod to an attempt to group some words together but nothing more). There is no plot. But these are fun words to teach your little ones, and its inclusion of some words dear to me for fandom reasons made me smile. Is your fandom here? Several of mine are. I am reminded of the small children (it’s been more than one) who identify any and all owls at the store as “Hedgwig.” Too adorable.

***

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

Moon by Alison Oliver.  Clarion-Houghton Mifflin, 2018.

Over-scheduled, Moon wonders what freedom, what wildness would be like. She tries to find the answers in the only way that she has been taught—books, but books fail her. A shooting star lures her outdoors to the garden where a white wolf waits. Moon asks the wolf to teach her its “wolfy ways.” It brings her back to the pack. Moon having learnt the wolf’s wildness, its love of nature, brings play and wildness and freedom back to the classroom with her. The colors are dark with careful, gentle details. I’ve enjoyed Oliver’s illustrations in the BabyLit series for a long time. The juxtaposition of the domesticated, tortoiseshell house cat and the wild white wolf (a canine) is an interesting one. I expected this story to leave more of an impression than it has done. I like the art very much. I like the moral very much. But I have a difficult time recalling it emotionally several weeks on.

***

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

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  HarperCollins, 2014.  First published 1964.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m not sure that I had ever actually read this story, though I knew enough about it, that nothing about it was a surprise. The illustration style is familiar to me from Silverstein’s books of poetry, which I did read several times in childhood. The content was neither funny nor ridiculous however. There’s a lot to unpack in this small story. A boy grows into a man, being given everything he needs by an accommodating, female tree, who allows herself to be maimed to provide for the boy’s needs, but is happy to do so. In the end, the tree has nothing left to give and regrets this, but the old man needs very little, just a place to sit, and this her stump provides. It’s a very melancholy story. What exactly Silverstein was trying to say with this story, I’m not sure. Is it a metaphor for motherhood? Is it a warning against greedy, unsustainable deforestation and “progress”?  Both?  One has to be reminded of the Lorax who warns against cutting down all the Truffula trees, speaking for the trees when the trees cannot. The tree’s love for the boy seems unhealthy. I come at this story not as a virgin to it, not with innocent ears but having already heard whisper of the analysis that has been done on it. I know that skews my opinion of it some.

****

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

The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas and illustrated by Nicola Slater. Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This I feel like this is a much more healthy relationship with a tree than is that between the tree and the boy in The Giving Tree. A girl’s grandfather hangs a swing for her in the tree’s branches, and the tree becomes a site for community gathering—both for humans and for animals.  When the tree is deemed “unsafe,” the community comes together to save what they can of the tree, giving it new life as the platform for a treehouse.  This story was a little long, but my kids made it through.  This tree is not anthropomorphized in the same way as the tree in The Giving Tree, but becomes special through the love that the community has for it.

****

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

Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup.  Penguin Random, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Teckentrup’s peek-through books are more nonfiction than fiction. This one takes us lyrically through the seasons of a tree, with animals brushing in and out of its pages, the leaves and the forest around it changing color. The poetry gives a little life to the text, but there’s not much in the way of a story. The recurrence of creatures from previous pages on the next adds another layer of play to a book that is already creatively laid out to give it a unique, eye-catching gimmick in a row of picture book covers.

****

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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Book Reviews: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

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Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

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The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

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Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: May and June Picture Book Roundup: Friends Are the Best

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So first off, my apologies for lapsing, but between even these past two months, I haven’t read all that many picture books, so all’s well that ends well. June’s roundup with its one book would have been a dull and short post.

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Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sound Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2013.

BabyLit has really done some unique things with the primer, first focusing on individual groups of ideas and second using famous works of literature to give their primers more structure than many primers and a very unique structure compared to those that’ll take a reader through a day in the life of a baby or the actions of bedtime or the actions of waking up. Several of the more recent BabyLit primers that I’ve read have included quotes from the original books as part of the book. The primer based on Sherlock Holmes does not. Its focus is sound: scraping boots on hillside scree, creaking stairs, clattering wheels, screeching gates, and howling hounds…. These are more difficult words than those in most primers; that’s typical of BabyLit. The colors are darker. There’s obviously supposed to be an eerie air to the illustrations. For being unique, I have to, as usual, give BabyLit higher marks.

***

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Boom Snot Twitty by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Viking-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed Boom Snot Twitty. This I read at a story hour that either on purpose or by accident focused on close friendships.

One of the girls who was at the story time got hung up on Snot’s name and would not believe me when I said that it might be a perfectly beautiful name for a snail. I didn’t expect this to be such a point of contention, and when it arose, I hoped to be able to make it a learning experience about not teasing someone because her name is not one that you would consider “normal,” but I fear that my point did not come across.

The three friends have three very different personalities, but they each allow one another to act and react as they are most comfortable without complaining about one another’s habit. Despite different personalities and different reactions, they remain friends, and are comfortable with one another—comfortable enough to snuggle beside one another to rest—and they share their experiences and their talents and their personalities.

The day takes an unexpected turn when a violent storm presents the friends with a set of difficulties. This adds to the plot.

***

Good Night, Little Dragons by Leigh Ann Tyson and illustrated by Jim Bernardin. Golden-Random, 2012.

So yes, this had a cute, yawning, pink dragon on the cover. The illustrations, since I’ve started there, are bright, lively, and include many wonderful little details that add to the charm of the story, like firefighter mice and the shield that serves as the family’s name plaque and proclaims the dragon family to be “The Darlings.” I have to take a moment to point out too the similarity in style and most obviously in the dragonets colors to those of Despicable Me’s Sleepy Kittens because I feel it would be remiss of me to not wonder if Mr. Bernardin had those kittens in mind when he was illustrating this somewhat similar story. The story takes the young dragons from rambunctious play, through the process of getting ready for bed, to sleep. It does not try to take the dragons’ behaviors and too strictly make them human for the benefit of the young reader; while the dragonets do have to dress in their pajamas and brush their teeth, they still fly about and breathe fire. The real draw of this story for me is the inclusion of dragons, and Bernardin’s adorable illustrations of them.

***

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Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star by Maria van Lieshout. Philomel-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

This was another in our series on friendships. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my research for this book. This is the sequel to a book called simply Hopper and Wilson, and I will have to say that this book does not do a good job of introducing the characters. I was unsure until several pages in which character was Hopper and which was Wilson and I cannot remember now which is which either. Maria van Lieshout otherwise surprised me, though. She writes with a poetry that’s not found in many picture books anymore, and she includes the subtlest use of the unexpected and incredibly ridiculous. Hopper and Wilson sail a paper airplane that runs on lemonade, for example; van Lieshout doesn’t bat an eye at or acknowledge the impossibility of this; I enjoy her acceptance of an open imagination. In this adventure, the two friends say goodbye to their cactus friend on the pier and take off for the skies in search of a star to bring back to be their personal nightlight. Van Lieshout’s illustrations are beautiful and vibrant, but her characters are not particularly expressive, except at their most dejected. The ending where the friends are reunited with their cactus and return to their home and regard the perfect star that led them back to one another after they are separated is just heartwarming to the point of tears. For unexpected outpourings of emotion, for clever use of subtle surprise, and fearlessness of language, I have to rate Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star quite highly.

**** 

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Today I Will Fly! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

And now we circle back to Mo Willems, as we usually do. And what would a series on friendship be without Elephant and Piggie? In this adventure, the bold Piggie decides that today she will fly, and the practical Gerald reminds her that pigs cannot fly, but Piggie persists, and eventually succeeds—in a manner—with help. It is a story lauding outrageous thought, and belief in one’s ability to do the impossible, but at the same time it refrains from suggesting anything too dangerous because it reminds us that for the impossible to be possible, we always need help, so at least nothing dangerous will be achieved alone.

****

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Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2008.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In this, Elephant and Piggie are excited to be able to play outside, but then it starts to rain, and Piggie is miserable and furious with the rain for ruining their plans. But the worms show Piggie and Gerald how they can have fun in the rain too, how the rain does not have to stop their plans. Piggie and Gerald do play in the rain as they would have in the sunshine, and Piggie loves playing in the rain after she tries it, and then is sad when the rain stops. Elephant Gerald is his wonderful self and helps to cheer up his friend as he always does, but his solution makes their friendship seem a bit unbalanced though the lesson that the weather does not have to ruin plans or play remains a good one.

***

Book Reviews: December Picture Book Roundup

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As with November, several of these are books from story hours.  A lot are now on clearance at Barnes & Noble, being books we sell only for the Christmas season.

A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2012.

Adams’ adaptation is a decent introduction to the characters of Dickens’ novel but does little to adapt the plot.  It also introduces more unusual colors.  There are few books that introduce children to “silver,” so I suppose it’s good to have some variation from other available primers; this along with BabyLit’s adaptation of literary classics sets Adam’s A Christmas Carol apart.

***

Bubble’s in Trouble! by Ag Jatkowska.  Caterpillar-Little Tiger, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a book I’d laud much more for its construction than its plot.  It features a spinner-like Bubble the Blowfish on its final page.  Bubble can be moved on each page.  Bubble gets caught in a porthole (a hole left in the pages of the book to show the Bubble of the final page) of a sunken ship.  Various sea creatures come along and suggest that he try to escape in the way that they would.  These means do not work for Bubble.  Only a sneeze works to free Bubble.  I would have preferred if Bubble had somehow been able to escape in a way that was especially specific to blowfish or if Jatkowski had somehow made it seem as if the sneeze was something unique to blowfish.  Then the lesson could have been said to be that one must use one’s own particular talents instead of deferring to the advice of others in problem-solving.  As it is, the story is cute enough, the text rhymes, and the moveable book is interactive.  It should be said too that this was a book that came to my attention because the rotating Bubbles that peeps through each page had been torn off.  I don’t know what the book’s history on the shelf had been.  Maybe it was maliciously torn off, but the fact remains that it had been damaged.

**1/2

My First Batman Book: Touch and Feel by David Katz.  Downtown, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

The main draw of this book is Batman—for both parents, kids, and gift-givers.  It introduces kids to the character, to the main gadgets, and to the idea; the text itself is not particularly imaginative.  The moveable pieces are of a more unique nature than most interactive books, however, including moving a cardboard Batman along a Batrope and turning off the lights to see the Bat-Signal glow in the dark.  The final phrase “Who’s Batman’s little helper?” with a mirror face in Robin’s costume seems dare I say saccharine (not to mention patronizing to Robin)?  This book too, it should again be mentioned, was brought to my attention by a customer who would have bought it perhaps except that a cardboard piece depicting Batman and Robin in the Batmobile had been torn from the book.  Again, I don’t know how long it had sat on the shelf or what torments the book had endured, but it did not survive to find a happy home.

**1/2

A Very Crabby Christmas by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Dave Aikins.  Inspired by Dr. Seuss.  Golden-Random, 2012.

This was a request from one of my attendees to the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! story hour.  I don’t know that he’d heard the story before and had to leave midway through it, but I finished it for anyone who was still listening while coloring.  When did the Cat in the Hat become a helpful creature instead of a creature of chaos?  This is not the Cat that I remember from my childhood.  I believe it happened when PBS gave him his own cartoon show, but perhaps the change was sooner, and I missed it.  In this tale, the Cat and his human friends, Sally and Nick, have been invited to a Crab Christmas Ball on the beach.  The festivities are interrupted when one of the crabs goes missing, and the Cat, Sally, and Nick, find the missing crab and are the celebrated heroes of the tale.  But there’s no suspense, and there’s very little plot.  There’s no real explanation of the crab’s festivities, and there’s no real description of the search for or panic of discovering that Sandy is missing.  I missed all that.  I suppose it is pleasant to have a Christmas book that doesn’t involve a usual Christmas celebration and one that excludes snow or any winter theme.

**1/2

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss.  Random, 1957.

This was a story hour read aloud.

Dr. Seuss is always a classic.  It’s hard for me to really qualify How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (or any Seuss book).  The lesson that “Maybe Christmas […] doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas perhaps… means a little bit more” is still a fantastic and very pertinent lesson today.

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The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg.  Houghton Mifflin, 1985.  Intended audience: Grades K-3 (Ages 4-8).

This is becoming a new classic, and like How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it now has its own film adaptation.  The story itself is not one that thrills me.  I like Chris van Allsburg, but I don’t consider this his best—or anywhere near his best.  Even the illustrations are not as amazing as I’d hoped that they would be, especially for a Caldecott winner.

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That’s Not My Train by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells.  Usborne, 2008.  First published 2000.  Intended audience: Ages 6 months+

There are a lot of books in this touch-and-feel series.  Pick a noun, tack it on the end of the phrase, and there’s probably a book or there will be soon.  Of them, I’ve otherwise read That’s Not My Elephant, which I preferred to That’s Not My Train, but maybe that’s because I’m more interested in elephants than trains?  For a boy in love with trains, this book would probably be amazing.  That’s Not My Train does use a number of interesting textures.

**1/2

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Pigs Make Me Sneeze! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2009.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In a very usual childlike idea, Elephant Gerald sneezes while Piggie is nearby and decides that he must be allergic to Piggie, and he is terrified and terribly distraught.  He sees a cat doctor, sneezes near the cat, and decides he must be allergic to cats too.  The doctor tells Elephant Gerald that he is not allergic to cats or pigs; he has a cold, and Elephant Gerald rejoices.  He runs to tell Piggie the good news and finds Piggie sitting in a pile of tissues.

****

Book Reviews: September Picture Book Roundup

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You’ll have to all forgive me the tardiness of this post again.  Another month means another move for me, this time to an apartment with which I will share the lease with a friend, one that is new to us, and so required us to set up our Internet—and while I thought about going elsewhere to get this post up on time, I realized that I ought rather to worry about getting things out of boxes and making sure that we can get fixed all that needs fixing.

This month there are a lot of books that just made me think “ehn.”  Also, Halloween has come early to Nine Pages, Halloween books being what Barnes & Noble is promoting on its children’s octagon and up by the registers.  So, if you’re interested in books to give a young child for Halloween, you’ve found the right review blog.

Anna Karenina: A BabyLit Fashion Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2013.

A fashion primer is not something that it would ever occur to me to gift to a child.  A fashion primer seemed—upon my initial reading of the book—to be a tool of an overly consumeristic society and merely to give a child words to ask for extravagances.  Upon considering it more carefully, I recognize that there are advantages to a young child being prepared with the words to ask for the extravagances that she desires—and not all of the clothing types listed are unnecessary frou-frou (a word actually used within the illustrations) if most of them are.  This BabyLit primer includes brief quotes from the original work (all describing the characters’ clothing) and also is more interactive than any of the BabyLit primers that I’ve previously read, asking the reader to find elements within the pictures.  Asking the reader to find these other elements also allows BabyLit to include two vocabulary words per page rather than the usual one of the primer format.  I enjoyed Moby Dick more but concede that Anna Karenina is probably the better-constructed and more useful primer.  I do think that Moby Dick is the better illustrated as if the animal characters give Alison Oliver greater rein for her imagination; her animal characters seem warmer and more friendly and childish than her stiff human characters.

****

Goodnight, Mouse: A Peek-A-Boo Adventure by Anna Jones.  Parragon, 2012.

The construction and glitter of this book attracted me to it.  I frankly found the text disappointing for being banal and the pictures dark (in color palette), but I maintain that I do like the cutaway format and that I do like a little tasteful glitter.

***

Pop-up Surprise Haunted House by Roger Priddy.  Priddy-Macmillain, 2012.

Priddy rarely disappoints.  Other than that I’ve read a lot (two) Halloween-themed counting books about monsters arriving for a party, I liked this book of his.  Of those two, I thought that Priddy’s was the better written for being more creative with sentence structure.  Also it has the advantage of being a pop-up.  The page with the werewolf is even a tiny bit frightening for the height of the pop-up.

***

Curious George by H. A. Rey and illustrated by Margret Rey.  Houghton Mifflin, 1994.  First published 1939.  First published in English 1941.

This one I actually read twice this month, once to myself, and once aloud to a group of twelve kids, none probably older than eight and some as young as one and a few months.  In reading it to myself, I worried that I would have to answer questions such as why it’s okay for George to have “a good smoke” (that line and illustration more than any other really dated the book, first published 1939 in France) and why George’s phone looks so absurd (being rotary).

George gets into a lot more trouble than I remembered.  George looks thoroughly distressed when the Man in the Yellow Hat snatches him in his bag.  George nearly drowns when he tries to fly like a seagull.  He is taken to a dismal, dungeon-like jail cell by the firemen.

This last is another concept that I was not utterly comfortable disseminating to impressionable children.  A lot of work is done to ensure that children are comfortable around firefighters, firefighters being less able to help children who are terrified of them.  While it’s important for children to know that calling the fire station when there is no emergency is a crime and wrong, the dungeon prison into which George is thrown is truly miserable.

The kids seemed to enjoy the story.  I think I was more distressed by the situations in which George found himself than they were.  I also made it fairly interactive.  George—even in the overlarge paperback I was giving for Curiosity Day story time—was often small, so I had the kids come and point out George to me.  I had them tell me what animals they saw George sharing with at the zoo.

Curious George is a classic and George’s adventures are a good mix of relatable and whimsical, teaching consequences without endangering children and being exciting and fun enough to entertain.

****

 Gallop!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder.  Workman, 2007.

This is the first scanimation book, scanimation being the patented way of creating a moving image.  It’s pretty much just as exciting now as it was when it was released in 2007, and though I’ve flipped the pages of this and other scanimation books before, I’m sad it took me this long to read Gallop!  It is a very interactive text, asking readers to if they can “gallop like a horse” or “swim like a fish,” “spring like a cat,” or “soar like an eagle.”  Readers could either answer the text’s questions or, if feeling active, try to imitate the pictures’ motions.  Nonsense words accompany the pictures and create a rhyme scheme for the book.  The final page commends the readers’ efforts and says, “take a bow and smile: you twinkle like a star.  Take a bow and shine: a star is what you are,” providing a positive message for readers, because compliments, even coming from an author that you’ve never met face to face, are nice to receive.

****

Count, Dagmar! by J.otto Seibold.  Chronicle, 2011.

This is the second Halloween themed counting book, with which I was less impressed than with Priddy’s.  Also “Janner [and Kathryn] was as unsettled by the overuse of exclamation points as he was by the dreary countenance of the place” (176).  The exclamation in the title is entirely unnecessary, but that is a small quibble.  While I am quibbling with Seibold’s punctuation, let me congratulate him on the pun; I did not when reading the book notice that the title is a command, not Count Dagmar (like Count Dracula, Count Count, or Count Chocula) but “Count, Dagmar.”  I have just discovered that this is a spin off of another book that I have not read—Vunce Upon a Time—and as such may find its merit and its marketability in being a spin off, also in the popularity of Seibold’s Olive the Other Reindeer.

***

Sophie La Girafe: Peekaboo Sophie! by Dawn Sirett.  DK, 2013.

As a touch-and-feel book to accompany a teething toy, I hadn’t expected to find any quality to the book, but Sophie la Girafe has always been known for quality and the book was no exception.  Very interactive, this touch-and-feel book is also a flap book and the text invites reader interaction with questions.

**** 

Frankenstein by Rick Walton and illustrated by Nathan Hale. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillain, 2012.

This was a very cleverly and well-done parody of the classic picture book Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.  Walton keeps a similar rhythm and rhyme scheme to the original’s and, basically the same story, where a caretaker of twelve children awakes in the night knowing that something is not right to find that the smallest/ugliest of them all, Madeline/Frankenstein, has contracted a disease: appendicitis/headlessness.  The cure is sought and achieved, but then the other eleven children want to contract the same disease and in Walton’s succeed.  Walton throws in a twist where the caretaker does not care for the remaining eleven, her problems being greatly solved by their headlessness.

****

Cozy Classics: War and Peace by Jack and Holman Wang.  Simply Read, 2013.

Cozy Classics are, like BabyLit, are classics remade into board books for kids.  The stories seek to capture the basics of the plot in pages with a single word associated with a picture.  Cozy Classics does a good job creating full scenes with their felt dolls.  The dolls can also be surprisingly expressive.  This is a series I appreciate for its illustrations more than its text or concept.

I’ve not actually read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and am not overly familiar with the story other than to know that it follows several Russian families through several generations (I think), so I can’t attest to the Cozy Classics’ merit as an adaptation.  I have to think that there would have been some stronger illustration, however, than of a yellow dress—unless the yellow dress is highly symbolic in a way with which I am unfamiliar?

***

 Cozy Classics: Les Miserables by Jack and Holman Wang.  Simply Read, 2013.

This Cozy Classic also attempts to be an opposites primer but does not maintain the opposites throughout.  This Cozy Classic does a decent job of capturing the entirety of the tale (as I know it from the musical rather than the novel), though it glosses a lot of the reasons behind its illustrated nouns and the connections between pages are lost in translation.

***

Chuckling Ducklings and Baby Animal Friends by Aaron Zenz.  Walker Children’s-Bloomsbury, 2013.

This board book was another surprising find.  It’s a greatly factual book, and it feels that way but not oppressively so.  With a rhyming singsong rhythm, Zenz lists the different technical names that we have for baby animals, going into amazing specifics and digging up the more obscure names of which I was previously unaware.  There was nothing of a plot to the text, however, and it can really be lauded more as a reference with colorful and playful drawings than as a story.  The back also includes a pictorial guide so that, if there are animals the adult name of which the reader could not guess, the reader won’t have to search for the information.

***1/2

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.

Book Reviews: July Picture Book Roundup

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Welcome to the second monthly roundup.

Moby Dick: A BabyLit Ocean Primer by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2013.

The first BabyLit Primer that I read (Pride and Prejudice), I didn’t much enjoy.  This second, a more recent publication, I liked better, maybe because I was better prepared for what to expect, but also perhaps because it simply is more complex, better constructed, and makes better use of the source text.  This integrates quotes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as it introduces young readers to both the story of Moby Dick and some usual (captain, fish, whale, ship, stars, sailors) and more unusual (harpoons; if anyone is looking to get me a gift) ocean vocabulary.  It takes the basic primer a step farther not only with its quotes but also with its labels of the various types of fish (more specific knowledge than I at 24 know).  Confession 1:  I have not read Moby Dick, but I know it is lengthy, and I know the basic idea.  Whether BabyLit retells Moby Dick I cannot say, but it does capture the basic story of a whale hunt, though BabyLit does not specify what becomes of any of the characters, cutting it short of killing or injuring the whale.

****

Les Petits Fairytales: The Little Mermaid by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillian, 2013.

Les Petits Fairytales retell classic tales in the form of board book primers with only one or two words per page and bright illustrations of round, toddling characters in complete settings.

I really appreciate Les Petits Fairytales’ ability to tell an entire tale in such a simple form and their decision to distance themselves from the Disney representations of these classic fairy tales.  Ariel is not a redhead, though the illustrator, Oliver Lake, could easily have made her so.  Instead the young mermaid sports black locks.  Confession 2: I’ve never read Hans Christian Andersen’s original “Little Mermaid.”  I do not know how closely this book stays or how far it strays from the text.  I can only really compare it to Disney’s.  The mermaid regains her grandmother (Disney never can allow two parents to care for their protagonists—or not until recently).  Following closer to Andersen’s version than Disney’s, the prince and mermaid do not wed (Les Petits Fairytales calls them “friends”) and the mermaid returns to the sea, though Les Petits skips the bit about the mermaid refusing to kill the prince to save herself and the part where the mermaid becomes a spirit, losing her mortal and bodily form altogether for not winning the love of the prince.

****

Les Petits Fairytales: Snow White by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillian, 2012.

Again, Les Petits Fairytales distances itself from the Disney version of the tale and remains closer to the original Grimms Brothers’ version.  The witch uses an enchanted corset and poisoned comb before defeating Snow White with a poisoned apple.  Les Petits Fairytales remembers its audience and allows only a forehead kiss to wake the sleeping girl.

 ****

Baby ABC by Deborah Donenfeld.  Dial-Penguin, 2013.

Obviously, this is an alphabet book.  The illustrations each feature a black-and-white photograph of a baby wearing or bearing some object alone in the photograph left colorized.  The color of this object matches the letter that it represents.  It’s a simple concept, a simple design, but very tastefully done—and of course babies (humans) like looking at faces, are predisposed to recognize faces, and humans as a whole are drawn to faces that look more youthful, more babyish, so what better than a smiling baby’s face?  There’s no plot to report on here, but there’s not meant to be one.

***

In My Ocean by Sara Gillingham, illustrated by Lorena Simonovich.  Chronicle Books, 2011.

This is another book the draw of which is the design not the text.  The book is done with concentric cutaway pages of ocean landscapes, essentially oversimplifying a day in the life of a baby dolphin.  The baby dolphin, it should be noted, is a finger puppet, which is sure to delight, though I noticed that the puppet is quite small and quite shallow; I have small hands for my age and had a difficult time maneuvering the puppet.  The book ends with a reminder to come home to family.

**

No Matter What by Debi Gliori.  Houghton Mifflin, 2008.  First published 1999.

Small fears that Large doesn’t love him because he feels unlovable, “grumpy and grim.”  Large assures Small that there is nothing Small can do or be (a bear, bug, or crocodile) that will make Large love him less.  Small becomes surer of Large’s love through the story, the crocodile question being less fueled it seemed to me by fear than as a challenge given with a giggle.  Small asks about the qualities of love, and Large confesses her ignorance of whether it can bend or break.  Large assures Small however that, as the stars shine after they die, her love for Small will go on beyond her death.  This is a small book with a lot packed into its short, rhyming text.  The images nicely take the pair through the actions of getting ready for bed, giving the book a grounding and context that is rare in such picture books.

I love that the characters are Large and Small rather than a more boxed in Mother, Father, Grandma, Grandpa, Baby, etc.  I should mention too that I have arbitrarily assigned genders to these characters for the sake of the review and that they are never specified.

This is a great, little-known alternative to Robert N. Munsch’s Love You Forever or Barbara Joosse’s Mama, Do You Love Me?, and one that deals additionally with the question of death not just misdeeds that children fear might diminish a parent’s love for them.  The rhyming text is enjoyable with a great message.

*****

My Little Pony: Friends Forever: Play-a-Sound.  Publications International, 2013.

This is a “meet the ponies” book.  Spike convinces Twilight Sparkle to leave her studies to go seek the company of her friends.  The book has little plot and consists primarily of the gathering of the friends together.  The book includes flaps to lift and reveal the friends and buttons to press to hear the character’s theme music.

**

Bizzy Bear: Pirate Adventure illustrated by Benji Davis.  Nosy Crow-Candlewick, 2013.

Pirates are all over the bookshelves lately.  I blame Jake (and the Neverland Pirates) but want to say that we at Hollins’ Children’s Literature program were ahead of this trend when we voted the 2012 Francelia Butler Conference’s theme to be Pirates and Treasure Seekers.  This is a board book, filed at Barnes & Noble as a “first concepts” book.  Within the rhyming text, there are examples of opposites (left/right, up/down) though the book markets itself as an adventure not a primer.  This is a board book with moveable pieces.  Readers can hoist the sails, steer the ship, dig for treasure, and open the chest.  Even the cover illustration allows readers to toss the ship on the waves.  The illustrations are quite detailed and colorful even aside from the captivating moveable bits.  The book is thankfully constructed of sturdier material than most other books with moveable pieces.  The plot is pretty simplistic, though, I suppose for its genre (first concepts), it’s actually quite complex.

***1/2

Ponyella by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Nate Evans, and illustrated by Lynn M. Munsinger. Hyperion-Disney, 2011.

As you can probably guess, this is a retelling of “Cinderella,” where all of the characters sans the prince and the stepmother are ponies or horses.  I actually thought that this was an extremely well done retelling.  Ponyella’s farm is bought and she along with it by a new owner (stepmother) who brings two of his own beloved horses with him (the stepsisters).  Ponyella is shoved aside so that the owner’s horses can have the nicest stalls.  She receives less love and attention.  He even put her to work pulling carts of heavy coal.  A horse show is arranged which it is rumored that the Princess Penelope will attend to look for a new pony.  Ponyella’s godmare arrives, cleans up Ponyella, gives her diamond horseshoes, and turns a friend of Ponyella’s, a mouse, into a rider.  Ponyella attends the horse show and shows off her ability to jump the higher than the other competitors.  When her glamour wears off, she loses one of her diamond horseshoes, and Princess Penelope uses it to search the land for the pony that it fits, ultimately finding Ponyella and taking her to live at the castle as her own pony, showering her with love and attention, putting her up in the largest, nicest stall, and feeding her carrot cake.

The retelling uses all the elements of the story and twists them just enough so that they fit the new cast.  It’s sure to delight young riders and horse-enthusiasts.

The story is beautifully and expressively illustrated by Munsinger in pastels and pinks.

****

Imagine by Bart Vivian.  Beyond Words-Aladdin, 2013.

The illustrations of this inspiring picture book are gorgeous.  Black and white images of kids in the now and the real are contrasted when the page is turned by bright, bold illustrations of what could be or what one could imagine the real to be (ex: a tree house is a castle or you could become a real life hero as a firefighter).  I hope kids don’t need the reminder to imagine, to dream.  It almost seems to me to be a book for older children (graduates).

***

An Elephant and Piggie Book: I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2008.

Piggie has a new toy.  Elephant Gerald plays with it, but it falls to the ground and snaps.  Piggie becomes very upset, upsetting Gerald.  Then a kindly squirrel happens by to explain that the toy is supposed to break, and Piggie becomes embarrassed for having gotten angry with her friend.  Gerald and Piggie realize that friends are more fun than toys, and the toy is forgotten.

****

An Elephant and Piggie Book: My Friend Is Sad by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2007.

Elephant Gerald is sad, Piggie notices.  Piggie tries to cheer him up by dressing in elaborate costumes as things that she knows Elephant enjoys (a cowboy, a robot), but Gerald only seems to become sadder each time Piggie tries.  Piggie finally approaches Gerald without a costume to apologize for not being able to cheer Gerald up, but Piggie’s appearance heralds Gerald’s happiness.  Gerald explains he was sad because he saw all these awesome things, but Piggie wasn’t there to see any of it.  Piggie reminds Gerald that she is here now, and Gerald explains that he needs his friends.  Piggie tells Gerald, who did not recognize Piggie in any of her disguises, that he needs new glasses.

Willems’ depictions of Gerald’s devastating sadness are particularly expressive, and this book contains such great gems of lines as “How can anyone be sad around a robot?”

****

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.

Book Reviews: June Picture Book Roundup

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This June I read a lot of picture and board books and little else.  I seem to have a harder time reviewing in depth such books, but I don’t want to utterly ignore them either, so I’ve opted for a monthly roundup of such books, each with its own brief review, starting now.  I want to mention that the idea owes some to Rick Riordan, who posts monthly brief reviews of books that he’s read.

BabyLit: Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I built this book up too much in my mind and didn’t realize it was a number primer/counting book.  This book counts 1 English village, 2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters… up to 10 thousand pounds a year!  Round about the middle—maybe it was by 6—the numbered objects became more nonsensical—horses and soldiers—unless there were actually only that many horses and soldiers mentioned in the books (which I find unlikely), then it’s rather brilliant.  I expected Pride & Prejudice to be more like the Les Petits Fairytales, the illustrations for which I find more appealing, softer, more childish, and more complete.  Some counting books are masked in a plot, but this one, while it might use a plot as its basis, cannot claim to tell the story coherently through its pages.  I have a difficult time with stories without a plot—even when I know that plot is not the point.

*1/2

Les Petits Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillain, 2013.

I’ve been reading a lot of books in this series because they are quick and I can read them while I walk them back to their assigned shelf.  I have read Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel besides.  These are board books, meant to be the earliest introductions to the fairy tales.  These are the fairy tales reduced to their simplest ideas, nouns attached to illustrations, simple and complete illustrations, not like those that are attached to Eric Carle’s Favorite Words books. Belle et al.’s books seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it.  They cannot really be read aloud—or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud.  These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Are You a Cow? by Sandra Boynton.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

A simple story in which the characters of Boyton’s books ask the reader if he or she is a cow, a dog, a duck, a frog, etc.  It ends with the affirmation, “You are YOU,” sure to get a giggle out of most young children, whom I’m sure will take it as a responsive, interactive book, sure to mean a little more to readers who return to it as more aware children, teens, or adults.

****

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  Candlewick, 2011.

The illustrations say so much that the words do not.  The bear searches for his hat, asks a number of creatures whom he meets about his hat, always politely, always thanking them for their denial.  Young readers might spot the hat in the pages, might guess before the bear that the wearer’s fierce denial should be taken as an affirmative.  The bear gets the last laugh, squashing the thief and winning back his hat.  It’s a much darker book than I expected.

****

What Makes a Rainbow: A Magic Ribbon Book by Betty Ann Schwartz and illustrated by Dona Turner.  Piggy Toes, 2003.  First published 2000.

Magic ribbon is right!  If I at 23 am marveling over it, I can only imagine the wonder in the face of a child of the appropriate age.  This is meant for the very young, a concept book to teach colors, and given a loose plot to string the colors together—and what better way to string the colors together than in a rainbow?  The little rabbit asks his mother “what makes a rainbow?” and she sends him across the forest to query his friends, each of whom responds with a color needed to make up a rainbow that also happens to be their primary color. The pages are bright.  The text is nothing stellar but neither is it entirely forgettable.  With the turn of each page, the appropriate color is added via a ribbon to the rainbow growing at the top of the pages over the gutter.

***

Bluebird by Bob Staake.  Schwartz & Wade, 2013.

This is a powerful book.  I was left staring at it in my hands after I was done.  Bluebird is a wordless picture with lessons in moving past grief after a loss and death, anti-bullying, and true friendship and love.  A young boy befriends a bluebird that follows him on his way home from school through the city, even into a dark and twisted forest where they meet several bullies who throw sticks at the boy and bird.  One stick catches the bird and kills it in the air.  The bullies and the boy are appalled.  The bullies run away and the boy is left to mourn his dead friend.  Then they are descended upon by a flock of brightly colored birds that lift boy and bird into the sky where the bluebird undergoes some kind of resurrection and flies away.  I’m not entirely sure what Staake meant the ending to mean.  While the resurrection of the bird and the soaring boy give hope to children dealing with loss, I’m not sure that the ending doesn’t also give unrealistic expectations—of birds, of death, maybe even of friends, though I count myself extremely fortunate in my friends.  Yet, I cannot say that the nebulous and potentially overreaching ending much diminishes the power of the book.

****1/2

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.  Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2013.

Willems’ retells Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck, itself arguably of the Red Riding Hood tale type.  I wish I’d realized before or while reading it that that was the premise of this book.  The tale stirred distant memories, but I thought it an old Aesop’s tale maybe.  Retelling Potter is better.  Jemima was foolish and had to be rescued.  Willems’ heroine can save herself.  Not only that, she can manipulate the situation from the beginning.  Women and tricksters win!  Illustrated to remind audiences (mostly the parents who will understand the reference while the kids, I’m almost sure, will not) of silent films, this tells a common story, a fox and a mother goose meet by chance the fox invites the duck back to his home for supper.  The audience of the film within the book—a flock of young goslings whom I assumed from the get-go were the geese’s children—yell at the screen that what the characters are doing is not a good idea, really, really not a good idea, don’t do it!  In a twist both in the age-old story and my imagination and understanding, the duck throws the fox as the last ingredient into his own stew, and the chicks, it is revealed, were warning him not her of the danger.  I enjoyed the surprise, I enjoyed the twist, I enjoy it all more that I realize its inspiration.

****

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion, 2005.

This book starts out simply enough, listing a few basic modes of transportation: a bus, a train, an airplane, objects that seem to catch the interest of many young boys.  Following these is a twist.  “A hot dog?  What is that doing here?”  The duckling explains that a hot dog can go too—right down into his stomach.  It works as a board book, meant to have a simplistic “plot” and a few pages, but I don’t think it would work as a hardcover, where I expect a little more.  This is a book for the very young—and the parents tired of reading books that are solely lists and in need of a good laugh; call it a variation on a theme.

****

An Elephant and Piggie Book: A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

Elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie are back, and a big guy has taken Piggie’s ball.  Elephant Gerald is big too.  He’s going to get the ball back for Piggie.  But the big guy is very, very BIG, and he says it’s his ball.  Gerald returns empty-handed, but he’s soon followed by the big guy, but like many other side characters in The Elephant and Piggie books, he seeks to share Gerald and Piggie’s friendship, and whale ball is invented.  Elephant and Piggie stories are often heartwarming and always funny.  Best friends like Elephant and Piggie are hard to find—in real life or fiction.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and event kit.

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2011.

Elephant Gerald feels excluded because he’s not a pig and feels he can’t celebrate with his friend.  Gerald’s sadness makes Piggie sad too, but Happy Pig Day isn’t just for pigs.  This book shows kids how exclusion feels and reminds them to include everyone—a common theme in The Elephant and Piggie books.

***

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.