Tag Archives: bedtime

Book Reviews: March 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Springtime

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Toddler Reads

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, sample pages, and reviews.. 

Really Feely: Farm by DK Publishing-Penguin Random. 2017. Intended audience: Ages 0-2.

This is truly a really feely book. The full spread of every page incorporates touch-and-feel elements on almost every inch of the page—if it’s only raised markings to imitate the direction of an animal’s fur or feathers. Besides these raised markings, there are more standard touch-and-feel elements too: a cow’s short, coarse hair, a duckling’s feathered belly, a piglet’s squishy snout. Each illustration features two images of the animal, which is nice because it offers the child two perspectives, the creature’s name, and the animal’s tracks, as well as a few environmental elements. Each page of text asks two things of the child, either directing them to both touch-and-feel elements or asking them to find, for example, the cow’s “big, shiny nose.” This is a really well-imagined, very interactive board book primer.

*****

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Will You Be My Sunshine by Julia Lobo and illustrated by ­­­­Nicola Slater. Cottage Door, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 6 months+.

Using anthropomorphic mice as protagonists, this board book reinforces a parent’s perpetual love for her child. The illustrations are generally nostalgically vintage and cutesy, but there was something about smiling sun that I found more disturbing than cute.  I think the vintage quality of the illustrations will help this one get a little traction in this difficult genre.

****

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Somebunny Loves You! by Melinda L. R. Rumbaugh and illustrated by Cee Biscoe. Worthy Kids/Ideals, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

The illustrations of the bunny protagonists are cute with soft pastels and bunnies that are sometimes more bunny than anthropomorphic with long fur that lends movement to the protagonist’s forms. As the story takes the bunnies through a day of play outdoors, each page spread ends with “Somebunny loves you!” The text does make one mention of “find[ing] God’s joy,” but is otherwise secular. I have did not pull the tab on the book to find out what tune the book plays.  It’s becoming very difficult for books on this theme–the eternal and unfailing love of a parent for a child–to stand out for me.  Not as many of these exist that are explicitly religious, but that is the what I remember most about this book for that being the most original thing about it.  Perhaps the music would have stood out more?

***

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Dance by Matthew Van Fleet. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2+, Grades PreK+.

The movable pieces—all animated by pulling various tabs—were definitely the greatest part of this book, and the best of those was by far the clackety tapping toes of the tap dancing pig. A newborn chick somehow stumbles to the entrance of an animals’ dance hall and is greeted by a rhino—one of the band?—who invites him inside. The animals each show him a different dance and the chick incorporates all of them into his own routine on the final pages. There’s the Gator Mashed Potater and the Hippopota Hula. There’s a definite stereotyped jazz tone to the language, with phrases like “Crazy, Chickie Baby.” There’s a rhythmic pattern to the language too—“boom baba BOOM”—you can hear the beat, and it’s so easy to make the characters dance to that beat, hard to avoid pulling the tab in rhythm with the words. I read this story aloud while standing, hoping to get the kids and parents to dance with me. I got a little participation, interestingly mostly with the Gator Mashed Potater.

****

(Nearly) Wordless Books

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Egg by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Egg was a pretty cute story, but it was a poor choice to read aloud. How does one read aloud a story that uses so few words and that relies so heavily on page spreads with no text at all? What text there is serves almost more as a part of the illustration than as text for reading. The repetition of words and the absence of repetition serve to say more than do the actual words. There are four eggs. Three hatch into birds (“Crack. Crack. Crack. Egg. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Egg.”). The last does not hatch. (“Waiting. Waiting” ad nauseam.) The birds return and peck at the remaining egg to help stimulate its hatching, but the “surprise!” is a bit more than they were expecting. It becomes a story about accepting those who seem different at first glance and perhaps at beginning to accept and expect the unexpected. (Did that bird hatch from the sun?) There may be more of a message that could be read into it, more of a metaphor in the different-ness of the crocodile/alligator (I’m not cool enough to remember how to tell the two apart, and I doubt he drew for scientific accuracy). Could this perhaps be a beginning reader book? I feel like this book presents opportunities for learning, maybe for therapy, helping kids understand their feelings as much as recognize the sounds that letters form, though I cannot vouch for either.

****

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Nope! by Drew Sheneman. Viking-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is an almost wordless picture book. It’s only words I think are “nope,” “yep,” and some onomatopoeias: “boop” and “flap.” A baby bird is reluctant to leave the nest on his first flight. He imagines terrible things waiting on the forest floor—cats, wolves, gators—all creatively illustrated as his imagination through a thought bubble and lighter coloration from the rest of the page but otherwise seamless with the “real” forest floor.  It occurred to me that this could be another fun alternative graduation gift, if a little more tongue-in-cheek than other graduation gift books.

***

Picture Books

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You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

A little, brown-haired boy who loves unicorns—his shirt proclaims it so—uses a magic fountain and coin to wish for a unicorn—and it works! It’s “awesome” at first. The unicorn flies, and there are rainbows, but the unicorn ultimately proves to be a troublesome pet or houseguest. He sheds glitter—and we all know how impossible it is to get rid of glitter. He scratches up the couch. Worst of all, unicorns get lonely, and they can magically summon friends, and soon you’re hosting a party, and the house is completely destroyed. Luckily, unicorns can be wished away as easily as they can be wished for. The open ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel or a reader’s imagination to expand into another story. The text is told as if advising the character. It’s playful and imaginative—its imagination and playfulness only heightened by the illustrations, which really add the details to the unicorn’s destructiveness.  Did I mention how awesome it is that the human protagonist of this story is a dark-haired boy?

****

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

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book takes the world through the end of winter into the wonder of spring and to the longing for summer, drawing on the melting of the snow and the reawakening of the plants, the blossoming flowers, the hatching of the birds, the “more rain and more rain.” There’s much about the necessity of waiting. Alliteration and repetition lend a poetic quality to a text that relies pretty heavily on simple words and simple sentence structures. Distinct reference is made to the senses, which was a good opportunity to include my audience in the storytelling (What does spring smell like? What does it hear like?). None of the human characters are recognizably people of color, but many are noticeably white.

***1/2

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

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m sort of on the fence about this book, written in the style made popular by Hervé Tullet. The book reads a bit like an interactive app, really, like a tamigochi, a game to grow and keep alive a plant by following the instructions and going through the steps and providing for the plant what it needs to be healthy and strong, Farmville on a single-plant scale. On the one hand, it’s not an app, so it gets the kids away from a screen, even if they are still interacting with the book as if it were a screen. On the other, it would make a cooler app because the illustrations could be animated to respond to the reader’s interaction with the page/screen. The pages are bright and colorful, and it’s a fun way to explain the various things that a plant needs to grow, but there’s really no plot other than the plant growing because it is getting x, y, and z from its environment because of the reader’s interaction with the page.

***

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

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

Having recently read Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, it made sense to finish up this pair’s repertoire and read this book. This book has a team of animal railway workers packing up a steam train for an overnight journey. This explains the different types of train cars and parts—again, a primer for me. Each type of car is bolded, so it’s obvious that the pair’s intention was to make a primer. Several of the pages make a point of mentioning how many of an object there are—giving this a chance to be a numbers primer too, though there does not seem to be an order to the numbers. I didn’t see as much of a lesson or as much of a story in this book of theirs than the others. Like the others, the text rhymes. There are a lot of onomatopoeias. I did like the end where the unlikely crew makes more realistic sense when revealed to be a child’s toy, and the story presumably a work of his imagination or dream.

***

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: May 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Cute Animals, a Piano, a Problem, and a Chinese Folk Tale

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biscuitBiscuit by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Pat Schories. HarperCollins, 2009. First published 1996.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

So here is a confession: I had never read the original Biscuit book. I read some of the sequels, and just… the covers… of course I love Biscuit, but I’d never read the original. I didn’t realize that it was a bedtime story. Two rambunctious little story time visitors asked me for a puppy story, and I wanted something fast because their attention wasn’t holding, and because they asked for it after we’d given up on the story that I had picked out for story time, I needed something pre-vetted, something I knew without looking long in the shelves. The story is adorable. The little puppy, whimsically drawn by Schories, does all that he can—all that kids do every night—to delay bedtime: he asks for a snack, he asks for a drink, he asks for story, he asks for a nightlight, he asks to be tucked in, he asks for hugs and kisses, and ultimately after his little girl has gone to bed in her own room for more hugs and kisses—which leads to him sleeping beside her bed on the floor on a blanket that he’s pawed off of the bed. It’s just precious. The interjection of “Woof! Woof!” after every sentence is… a bit much. While barking like a little puppy is fun, it’s a lot, and I admit I skipped a few lines. That’s really my one complaint about the book though.

****

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Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated Taeeun Yoo. Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I sort of doomed this one all on my own. For months I’d wanted to read it for story time, and this month I was finally able to do so, but the hype that I’d built up around what I imagined this book could be from skimming it was greater than the book itself seemed to me to be. Yoo’s illustrations are still amazing, just the sort of illustrations you coo over with the little elephant in its red scarf, matching its boy’s, and being carried by the little boy over the cracks in the sidewalk. There’s a plethora of creative and colorful creatures on the last pages, and we took a few moments to point and name them: an armadillo, a giraffe, a bat, a hedgehog, a penguin, a narwhal…. There were POC. Though the primary protagonist is, of course, white, the secondary protagonist—his first friend and the only other person with a speaking role—is African American and female. POC and white children, boys and girls were in both the friendly and unfriendly—the accepting and the rejecting—groups. This was a simple introduction to exclusion and inclusion and racism and prejudice. It says a lot for a simple book with not a lot of text. What disappointed me, though, was the text—and again, I say that that is no one’s fault but my own. There were some gems to be sure—the little elephant afraid of cracks, then later never minding the cracks—but I didn’t like the blunt didacticism of the “that’s what friends do:” phrases. The ending felt lackluster to me as well, though I think I see what Mantchev was going for: an invitation to the reader to join in this accepting club. Mantchev’s written quite a few books, but I think this was her first for such a young audience.

****

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My Dog’s a Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari and illustrated by Anne Wildorf. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is a cute, atmospheric book. Lula Mae wants a dog, but her mother says no; they can’t afford a dog. But Lula Mae doesn’t get upset by her denied request or her poverty. Instead she chooses a spotted chicken and decides that that chicken will be her dog, Pookie. Pookie is not just any dog, though, she is a multi-talented dog: a show dog, herding dog, a watchdog, a search-and-rescue dog. It is only after Pookie proves herself in this last field—finding the missing Baby Berry, who has toddled off—that Lula Mae’s mother relents and allows Pookie to come inside the house—and even sleep at the foot of Lula Mae’s bed. This book was not at all what I expected, but it was a good story. It might be an avenue to talk about poverty with little kids too—a more realistic, more modern version of poverty—though there’s something ironic about a $16.99 hardcover about poverty—and I wish that that vision of poverty came without some of the Southern stereotypes; I’ve never once down here met anyone called Tater—but on the whole, I think Montanari did a decent job avoiding overly stereotyping the South or in any way demeaning her characters. Really this wasn’t so much a story about poverty as a story about creativity and imagination and a chicken with characters who just happen to be poor.

****

9780807530757_GrumpyPants-BD-512x512Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer. Albert Whitman, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This book caught my attention early in the month, but only late this month did I bring it out for story time. This penguin is grumpy, and he doesn’t know why. He strips off his clothes piece by piece, thinking that one less piece will make him feel less grumpy, but it’s no good, even when he’s down to just his underpants. So he takes off his underpants, takes a deep breath, counts to three, and dives into the bathtub, where at last he is able to wash off the last of his grumpiness by splashing and making a bubble beard. He puts on his favorite clothes and feels even better and goes to sleep.

This would be a great book for little ones: bedtime, bath time, clothes primer, a reassurance that sometimes you get grumpy without any reason and that’s okay. Plus, it’s hard to feel grumpy while this penguin pulls off with his beak his very colorful clothes; this penguin dresses only a bit more conservatively than Dobby the house-elf.

I worried a little about showing the penguin sans clothes, but none of the parents said anything—and it’s more natural—isn’t it?—to see a penguin without clothes than in them, so I didn’t feel as if I was showing the kids anything too racy.

*****

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If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

This is a sequel to If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! That first book was better. This one felt… well, like a sequel, piggybacking off of the success of the first but unable to capture the same uniqueness and unexpectedness that made the first book memorable. Magnolia brings a full-size upright piano to the beach. Her mother warns her not to lose it, “keep it neat and clean” and “push it to the beach.” Well, you just know, every one of those promises is going to be broken. They get broken in surprising, more and more outlandish ways. Brownie points for a multiracial family: white, Asian, and African American with potentially just a single mother. There’s a lesson here about our love affair with stuff: The piano is replaced in Magnolia’s heart and affections by a shell that she can use as a boat, a shovel, and a Frisbee.

***

e_and_p_thank_you_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

This book fell flat for me too—and maybe because of the hype, maybe because of the awesomeness of all of its sequels—maybe simply because of what it was. The books problem is that Piggie wants to thank everyone—and that leads to a reunion with every minor character who has ever appeared in an Elephant and Piggie book—including the Pigeon. Gerald is sure that she will forget someone. Piggie is sure that she won’t. It seems as though Gerald thinks that she will forget him—and maybe that’s a reflection on me, making that assumption—but she’s only saving him for last because of course she’s not forgotten her best friend. The person she does forget is the reader, the audience. And she leans forward at the end to thank us, breaking the 4th wall in the same way that once won my heart. Though I think Piggie forgot one more person; I was really rooting for an appearance by Mo himself. There was no lesson here and I think that’s what threw me off, really—not that I think books need to be moralistic, but I think it’s hard for them to exist solely for the sake of existing as this one does. The whole purpose of the book is to thank the reader for reading the book(s), and that’s a bit meta even for me. I think it also suffered from saccharine sentimentality. Further, it does not really standalone. Really grasping the plot requires reading at least 9 other stories (I say at least because there are a few of the 26 I have not yet read and I did not recognize all of the characters thanked and because we were thanking even the flies who flew around the slop it’s possible I just forgot about some characters). Overall, I’m sad that this is the last Elephant and Piggie book because it’s the last Elephant and Piggie book, but it is not the book I wanted—and it’s not one that I will add to my collection, should I ever actually begin amassing these—and I’ve thought about doing so even in the absence of any foreseeable children.

***

28863341 What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2016.

This is a companion book to Yamada’s first picture book for kids, What Do You Do with an Idea? The same character returns. This time he has a problem, and it feels like it will never go away, and he can’t run away, and it seems to get bigger and bigger, until he confronts the problem head on and finds the yellow sunlight of opportunity that the cloud hides inside. Well timed for graduations, this book appeals to a broad audience. Marketed for children, it nevertheless speaks maybe even more to me as an adult, where my problems are bigger, and there are fewer “adultier adults” to turn to for help. Again it’s Besom’s illustrations that really make this book shine for me. The text itself is fairly and I believe intentionally nondescript so that the “problem” can be any problem a person faces and the person can be any reader.

****

1103447 The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. HarperCollins, 1997.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Kam Mak’s illustrations for this Chinese Beauty and the Beast type story are stunning. This book is worth it for the photographic realism and vibrant jewel tones of the illustrations alone, but, well, I’m a sucker for folk tales, but I enjoy this one. I especially enjoy this one because Seven is not asked to fall in love with the Beast (or Dragon). She is asked to marry him, yes, but her kindness not her love—no true love’s kiss—gives him reason to choose to present as a handsome male prince. The prince here too is not some previously wicked and now cursed soul, but a man who makes his own choices and goes on his own quest for a wife. He is given agency—a lot of agency, so much more than de Beaumont’s or Disney’s Beasts. He searches for his wife when he begins to suspect that her wicked sister is not his beloved wife as she pretends; Seven believes her prince is unable to distinguish her from her sister and takes this as proof that he does not love her, so she has not sought him but rather found a new life for herself through her own skills. I’ve read this story several times—the first time in 2011 for a class taught by Brian Attebery on gender identity in fantasy and science-fiction. I still enjoy it.

*****

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 2015 Picture Book Roundup: THREE Five-Stars and Some Christmas Leftovers

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Christmas Leftovers

9780399243202Spot’s Christmas by Eric Hill. Warne-Penguin Random, 2004. Ages: 0-3.

This was a fairly lackluster book, which really I probably ought to have expected as this is a holiday spin-off book. Spot, a popular character of his own book series and television series, performs some of the acts of celebration surrounding Christmas: decorating the tree, singing carols, baking cookies and cake, hanging stockings. He knows Santa came because the stockings are full in the morning. Other than being an adorable roly-poly puppy and fairly expressive, there was little story, no moral, and not much really to say.

***

9780553498394How to Catch a Santa by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I didn’t realize that this was of the same series as How to Babysit a Grandpa, Grandma, and Surprise a Dad. As well as those first two especially have been selling, I have not read any of them, and I was not particularly thrilled by this one. There’s not a lot of story, but a lot of text. “Don’t you have a zillion questions?” A list of questions follows. “Maybe you have things you want to tell him?” A list of things that you might want to tell Santa follows. “And maybe you have things you want to give him?” A list of things to give him follows. “Okay, now you know what you want to do once you catch Santa. Now it’s time to figure out how to do it.” A list of some tips and suggestions follows. While there are some creative and sweet ideas here, I just don’t like the format—and it seems like it’s becoming more prevalent within picture books.

**1/2

The Critically Acclaimed

9780451469908Llama Llama Red Pajamas by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This is a new classic and has sparked a whole series of books. Llama Llama in this first adventure is sent to bed, but he misses his mama, he’s nervous in the dark, he wants a glass of water, but mama’s downstairs on the phone and isn’t coming to answer Llama Llama’s pleas for her to come back to the bedroom. The story ends with the moral that mama always loves you even if she isn’t immediately available. The text is full of end rhymes and internal rhyme. It’s a good reminder of a parent’s love.

****

9780803736801Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I could have been more impressed with this book. I thought what had thrown me off was the somewhat clunky progression of ideas that repeats itself, I feel, unnecessarily so that we have at least two very ardent warnings about spicy salsa—do we need two? The more I reflect on it, though, the more I think that what was even more off-putting was the questions asked of the dragons to which the dragons were never allowed to respond. The dragons are silent throughout this book, and that made the text feel clunky because why ask questions if you don’t want an answer? Why even have the dragons in the text until you need them there to offer proof of your previous declaratory statements about them loving tacos but hating spicy salsa? All of the hard t’s and d’s and p’s sounds were fun.

***

FIVE WHOLE STARS

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Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tadgh Bentley. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This little book came sweeping up and stole my heart. The narrator is an adorably illustrated little penguin with the—hic!—hiccups. He pleads with the audience directly for their help. He’s tried everything to get rid of the hiccups that he developed after eating too much spicy chili last week, but nothing’s worked, so his friend Frederick has told the penguin that he would try to frighten the hiccups out of him. I was surprised that my audience was not as excited as I was for the opportunity to shout, “BOO!” The penguin forgets the audience to scold Frederick for frightening him so badly, but then realizes that his hiccups are gone and agrees to join Frederick for celebratory tacos, and—surprise, surprise—those spicy tacos give him another bout of—hic!—hiccups.

*****

stacks_image_17Part-Time Princess by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cambria Evans. Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

In her sleep, this regular girl becomes a princess in beautiful dresses and crown, who fights dragonfire to save her kingdom, who lassos the dragon but invites him to tea instead of listening to the demands for the dragon’s death by her fearful subjects and realizes that he is a good dragon who is just upset that his crayons were melted. She meets a queen, and they play in the mud, and she takes a bath with bubbles, a high dive, and a dolphin. She isn’t scared of trolls either but dances with the head troll and shows her subjects that trolls are neither frightening or mean. There is a handsome prince, but she’s too busy saving the kingdom to marry now. She is tired in the morning, and there is glitter in her hair. There is glitter in her mother’s hair too; she is the queen. This is a good alternate princess narrative particularly for those girls who do want to marry princes and wear frilly dresses and eat three slice of pink cake for tea.

*****

9781452125329_350_4Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. Chronicle, 2015.

It’s the story of Cinderella—set in space! This Cinderella fixes the household robots and machines but dreams of fixing fancy space ships. The family is invited to the royal parade, and Cinderella’s stepmother says that she can come if she can fix their broken space ship, but the stepsisters take Cinderella’s toolbox with them to the parade, leaving her stranded. Cinderella’s friend, the robot mouse Murgatroyd, sends an S.O.S. and summons Cinderella’s fairy godrobot, who magics Cinderella up some new tools: a sonic socket wrench (yeah, I saw that, Underwood), a blue space suit with jewels and pockets, and a power gem that will run out at midnight. Then it’s off to the parade, but the prince’s ship is smoking, and he doesn’t have a mechanic. Cinderella, masked behind the dome of her space suit, flies over and saves the prince’s ship. He invites her to the Gravity-Free Ball in thanks, and they talk for hours of space ships, but she has to run away before the clock strikes midnight. The sonic wrench falls out of her pocket. The prince goes searching for her, and brings a broken ship with him across the galaxy. The stepfamily tries to fix the ship, but can’t. The mouse helps Cinderella escape the attic into which her stepmother has locked her and left her tied up. Cinderella grabs her wrench back from the prince and fixes the ship. The prince asks her to marry him, and she thinks about it, but decides that she is too young. She offers to be his mechanic instead, and she goes to live at the palace, and fixes fancy space ships, just as she always dreamed she might do. Her fulfilled wish is a job that she loves in a field that here on earth is dominated by men.

This has all the elements of the classic fairy tale story, but the fairy tale ending is not one that includes marriage. My young audience was curious why she didn’t want to marry the prince. I’m not sure if I should be glad that I got to explain that not everyone’s dream is to get married and put that thought in their young minds or I’m sad that I had to explain. The handsome prince is a dark-skinned besides, though it’s never mentioned in the text, and we may have Hunt more than Underwood to thank for that.

There are a lot of larger words here, some of which I think went over the heads of my audience, but they didn’t seem phased by not knowing how to define a sprocket.

The text relied surprisingly heavily on the illustrations here. It almost seemed as if there were holes in the text itself, perhaps the text being limited by the rhyme, but the illustrations filled in those holes well, showing us why, for example, Cinderella would cry out for her toolbox. We had fun looking at the details of the illustrations: the robots, the aliens.

Now I have a question for fellow readers: The endpapers show Cinderella’s tools, all nicely labeled. One of the spaces is empty. Has anyone found that tool? Maybe in one of the book’s illustrations? Why is it missing?

*****

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: October 2015 Picture Book Roundup

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There are so many books this month that I had to rethink how I organize these books just to make some order out of the chaos of words on the screen. Luckily, there were a few books for each of a few categories this month.

The Books That Can’t Keep It Inside Their Spines

0763661635Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley and illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne. Nosy Crow-Candlewick, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

I first read this book in March 2013. I had complaints then: It reminded me of other books, it didn’t interact with the reader as fully as it could have done, nor did the characters interact with each other as much as they could have done. Those complaints are still valid, but I had a lot more fun with it this past month when I read it for story time. The book begins as an adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling,” but the s distracted by the sight of a green tail on one of the pages, which the duckling chases out of his book, discovering it to be a crocodile in the following pages. The crocodile starts to eat up the text, letter by letter, then whole sentences at a time while the duckling begs him to leave off as best he can without a few letters: “St p! Mr. Cr c dile!” To stop him, the duckling suggests the reader rock the crocodile to sleep and while the crocodile is asleep the duckling draws a pink tutu, ballet slippers, and bow on him to make him less scary, but this only, understandably, makes the crocodile angrier, and I don’t like the implication that it’s okay to mess with someone who’s asleep. The duckling is given the power of speech, but the crocodile remains silent and menacing, an animal stuck in an Animal’s world, as I put it in 2013. In the end, the crocodile chews his way out of the book, leaving a hole in the last pages and back cover. There’s no knowing where this loose crocodile could turn up again, and I’m a bit surprised that there hasn’t been a sequel. This book plays with space and format well, but while I understand that a rational discussion between two Animals would have made for a very different story, the taunting and harassment of the animal by an Animal does not sit well with me. I appreciate this book more than I did for its interactive elements and it’s creative illustrations, so I’m giving it three stars instead of the two I did in 2013.

***

9781627794510We’re in the Wrong Book! by Richard Byrne. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Bella, Ben, and Bella’s dog have appeared before in Byrne’s earlier book, This Book Just Ate My Dog. I hadn’t realized so until I was putting This Book Just Ate My Dog back on the shelves more than two weeks after reading We’re in the Wrong Book. In This Book Just Ate My Dog, characters disappear into the gutter of the book, unable to cross to the facing page. The kids to whom I read We’re in the Wrong Book! aloud really seemed to enjoy guessing the book styles that the protagonists fell into. I was less impressed by this book honestly. It’s an interesting concept, but I just didn’t get much enjoyment from it myself. In We’re in the Wrong Book, the book characters walk through some doorway or fall through some tear or sail off in a hot air balloon or take an origami boat onto the next page, each new page being a different style book: a comic book, a maze book, “Red Riding Hood,” an origami instruction book, etc. I would have liked to see more creative use of the book’s construction, knowing how Byrne has used the construction of the book previously. It was interesting to stop mid-book to try and make an origami sailboat, and it would have been fun to stop and solve the maze too. As an activity book with a plot, this book would get a much higher rating, but as a picture book, I felt that the activities slowed and interrupted the plot and the text. So take my reading with a grain of reader error. Aloud and on a schedule might not have been the best way to enjoy this book. At home, a page at a time, this might have been a lot more fun.

***

The Book For Adults

672077Wisecracks: Everyday Wit and Wisdom compiled by Tom Burns. Barron’s, 2005. First published in 2004 by Tangent-Axis.

This is a picture book for adults. The text is composed of the sort of snarky quips familiar from Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest (really, many of theses phrases I’ve read or heard before). The lines were sent to Burns by various, unnamed contributors. The format of quirky text beside black-and-white animal photographs that might illustrate the text is highly reminiscent of Bradley Trevor Greive’s books (Grieve’s first, The Blue Day Book, was published in 2000). Unlike Grieve’s, though, each page’s text in this book is independent rather than building towards a book-long message. This book had me snickering, more at its witticisms than its photography, and as I’ve said, this text was not written by Burns. I do still appreciate the book, however. It’ll be a good pick-me-up on a gray day.

***

Dinosaurs! 61608107906180LMy Dinosaur Is More Awesome! By Simon Coster. Sky Pony, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Honestly, this one fell flat—even for my dinosaur-enthusiast. This is sibling rivalry and ridiculous fighting taking place over whose dinosaur (presumably imaginary) is better. The dinosaurs do some very un-dinosaur-like things, each more ridiculous than the last. The mother to settle the argument steps in with her enormous dinosaur, who also does ridiculous, un-dinosaur-like things, claiming hers to be the best. Honestly, it would be cute acted out, I think, but as a single person reading a story, it just didn’t do it—for anyone. And there was some unexpected bodily humor besides.

*

0f8a8cf55c472aeafdd04f5e07e169deWhat the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure by Refe Tuma and Susan Tuma. Little, Brown, 2015.

This is a picture book follows an Internet phenomenon and the publication of a book for adults that sounds as if it was fairly similar in concept and style, but had more text and more pages. A lot of sites—Amazon, Goodreads—seem to think that this and the other book, What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night with no colon, are the same book. I’m pretty sure, but not entirely sure, that they are wrong, because the author on his Tumblr was referring to this as a new book. The illustrations are photographs of dinosaur toys that appear to have wrecked or to be wrecking the house, creating huge messes in places they shouldn’t be and interacting with things that they shouldn’t. Then the messes stop, and you might, the text warns, start to think that the dinosaurs have gone away, but that’s what they want you to think. Meanwhile, they’ve built a rocket and launched themselves into space. This was pretty fun text to read aloud, but I think the pictures would have been better appreciated one-on-one than aloud story time-style. They’re busy and detailed, and wow, these parents/artists really went all-out with their tableaus. A messy book of good, clean fun. I think the parents enjoyed it more than my toddler audience, though.

***

The Sweet Stories of Best Friends

9780062379559Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

When I first saw this story on a shelf, I got excited, because this is a pretty awesome duo, one of my favorite picture book writer/illustrators and the writer of the Artemis Fowl series. At the same time, I got a flutter of nervousness in my stomach. When writers write outside of their usual age group, there’s always a chance that the book is an absolute train wreck that will nevertheless sell well because of a big name author. Opening the book for the first time, I was worried that Colfer had indeed been unable to narrow his story to suit his new target audience. The first page has a lot of text, but subsequent pages are more appropriate for a read-aloud picture book. I didn’t get to read it aloud to anyone, although I was supposed to do. I read it to myself in anticipation of reading it aloud and snickered to myself at some of the jokes. Overall, this is a sweet story with a happy ending, a story for writers and dreamers and artists I think especially. Imaginary friends exist even when they’re no longer needed or visible to the people that they befriended. As their friends find “real” friends, the imaginary ones fade away then float away and wait to be needed by someone else. Fred meets Sam and everything seems perfect, but then Sam meets Sammi, and Fred begins to fade and tries to warn Sam, who assures Fred that he will still need Fred even if he befriends Sammi and that Fred won’t fade away. Sammi has an imaginary friend too, and while Sam and Sammi become greater friends and move on to more adult pursuits, Fred and Freida grow closer too, so much so that they become more and more real. They never fade for Sam and Sammi and they never fade for one another. Both sets of friends support the other and both go on to achieve their dreams and goals—much to the bewilderment of those who cannot see or hear the imaginary pair, who at one point perform in Carnegie Hall while the audience wonders when the performance will start and Sam and Sammi compliment their friends. This is a great, quirky story about holding on to the wonder of childhood, and also about the evolution and growth of a proper friendship, an age-proof friendship, if you will. What’s more, this portrays two male-female friendships that never become romantic! (See my rant on the lack of portrayal of such friendships here.) The illustrations and text are both clever. Jeffers makes clever use of pointillism to illustrate the imaginary friends’ difference from the real friends and the imaginary friends substance or lack thereof, giving them always a hazy substance and never any clear outline. All this is done in only blue, white, and black hues, the overall images being fairly gentle and soothing to the eye despite Jeffers somewhat jagged lines. One Goodreads reviewer rightfully calls the text “touchingly lyrical and abruptly hilarious,” and I really can’t describe it any better than that, so I won’t try.

****

9780805098266Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is the second Little Elliot book by Curato, the first being Little Elliot, Big City. I haven’t read Little Elliot, Big City, but I went looking for the illustrations after falling in love with the illustrations in Little Elliot, Big Family and I think that Curato’s art has improved even between these two books, so we should keep a close watch on this man, I think. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, saturated, poignant—oh so poignant. I think I enjoyed this story more than did my toddler audience, but I loved it. I am a homesick girl, too, away from her family and being taken in by others while mine are a twelve-hours-long drive away. That probably plays into my love of this book, over the course of which much the same thing happens to Eliott, who feels so alone in the Big City (clearly New York, by the way) when his friend Mouse announces that he will be busy with a family reunion with his hundreds of cousins. Mouse and Elliot, a polka-dotted white elephant, are animals in a human city. Curato shows such diversity of family and races and lifestyles over the course of a mere 40 pages, and does so casually without any fuss and without having to raise any issue, which I think is one of the best ways to undercut the whiteness of the canon. I like the text, I really like the story, but it is the illustrations that I’m in love with, and Mr. Curato, if in a few years, you feel like illustrating a teen fantasy cover, you let me know. The first three pieces in this gallery are from this book. The next three are from Little Elliot, Big City.

*****

The New Classic Series

cvr9780689832130_9780689832130_hrClick, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000. First published in 1999. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I first read Click, Clack, Moo in March 2013. It sells very well and is often prominently displayed in Barnes & Noble, and it did not then live up to my expectation. I find it an odd little book for kids, its tale revolving around a lot of bureaucracy: demands, ultimatums, neutral parties, compromises, terms that I don’t expect kids to understand or relate to. Reading it aloud this past month, I had in my audience one particular fan of this book, who mouthed the words along with me, and that made a great deal of difference. If the kids enjoy it, who am I to suggest they might not. Now, she was on the older side of the book’s target audience, but nonetheless within the target. It’s a pretty fun book to read aloud anyway, and there’s something to be said for the early lesson of how to compromise.

***

cvr9781442465534_9781442465534_hrClick, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

In this Halloween spin-off of Click, Clack, Moo, Farmer Brown tries to lock himself inside his house Halloween night, but creepy noises and frightening shadows lure him to the door to investigate, where he finds a note inviting him to a Halloween party in the barn, hosted by his animals. The creepy noises are the highlight of this book, it always being fun to put on a spooky voice.

****

y648Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly Dean and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Would you believe that this was the first Pete the Cat book I’d ever read? I’ve read it twice now on two occasions within days of each other. That in itself gives it a good review. The first time, my one visitor to story hour requested Pete, and I had many copies of this book on the shelves. Somehow, this one escaped my notice when it was published; I don’t remember it coming out, though I know I was at Barnes & Noble at the time. Pete books use sometimes rhyming text, a lot of repetition of phrases, and somewhat dated slang to say “cool,” which I find an interesting choice, but I’m old enough to know how these phrases ought to be inflected, if the kids don’t understand why. In this one, Pete’s just feeling down, “blue,” he has the “blue cat blues.” Grumpy Toad gives him a pair of shades that improve Pete’s outlook, to “see things in a whole new way”: “The birds are singing. The sky is bright. The sun is shining. I’m feeling all right.” Pete shares these sunglasses with his friends, who are also having poor days; “nothing is going my way,” they all complain. The glasses work for them all too. But when the sunglasses break, Wise Owl is there to tell Pete that he never needed the sunglasses to feel “all right.” “Just remember to look for the good in every day.” That bit felt a bit dues ex machina; that was a hiccup in the text. How was Owl right where Pete needed him to be right when he looked up into the tree? But such is fiction. I appreciate that Pete stops and takes the time to talk to his friends, share with them, and give them what they need.

****

y648-1Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues by Kimberly Dean and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Pete invites his friends over for a sleepover, but none of them are quite sleepy when Pete wants them to be. One by one, Pete has to tell them to go to sleep, “this cool cat needs to go to bed.” Eventually, he reads them all a favorite story of his to help soothe their minds and put them to sleep. I wasn’t as pleased with this one as I was with His Magic Sunglasses, though I see this as a good story to read aloud at bedtime, especially at a sleepover, a sort of niche book—though bedtime books are a large niche. The rhyme is stronger in this text than in His Magic Sunglasses. The text was all over the page in different colors, fonts, and sizes. That made it a little difficult to read aloud. I missed lines because I didn’t see them till after I was turning the page. Missing lines broke the rhythm. Going back to read them would have broken the rhythm too. Be prepared if you try to read this book aloud. Prepare first perhaps.

***

The Spooky Standalones

1076322 The Tailypo: A Ghost Story adapted by Joanna C. Galdone and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Clarion-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1984. First published in 1977.

This is one of my friend’s favorite ghost stories—a local folktale—and before finding this book I’d heard her tell it a few times—very memorably—the first time while she was driving me down dark, twisty country roads at night when I couldn’t escape her story—and yes, we three adults all screamed when near the end we found a raccoon in the road with our headlights.  She calls it “Tailybone,” but it’s the same story.  Her storytelling is the unavoidable comparison to this picture book, which I read aloud to a story time audience, but not without her Appalachian accent slipping into a few of the phrases (though it’s not my natural accent). Galdone’s adaptation is less dark than my friend’s and used less repetition—the difference between the oral and written story—but was more descriptive for using less repetition, making more clear the terrain and describing in more detail the animal. I almost prefer both of these vague as in my friend’s telling because it leaves the story open for a broader interpretation and telling. Leaving out the setting avoids the “Oh, we’re not near a swamp. We’re fine,” that could follow Galdone’s. I think, though, that Galdone’s done a good job rendering an oral folktale into print, and if it’s not a folktale that you know, it is a fun one. Paul Galdone’s watercolor illustrations here helped I think to keep the story lighter than it could have been. The illustrations shy away from putting the readers in the old man’s position during any of the spooky parts, always keeping the reader an outsider observer, and the moments depicted are never the spookiest or most gruesome. Two of my audience members were young enough that I didn’t want it to be that spooky and worried it might be too much regardless, keeping particular watch on the youngest, but I think they all came out all right, and we finished on a lighter note with the next story and some crayons.

****

9780064431835The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd. HarperCollins, 2002. First published 1986. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is one of those new classics, but it really only shows up in stores around this time of year. A little old lady who is not afraid of anything encounters several animated pieces of clothing that first impede her way before she tells them off then follow her home. She is finally spooked by a huge pumpkin head saying “Boo! Boo!” She shuts herself in her home, but there’s a “knock, knock” on the door, and deciding that after all she isn’t afraid of anything, she answers it to ask the pieces of clothing and pumpkin head what they want. They answer that they came to scare her, but she won’t be scared, so what are they to do now? The little old lady provides the answer and today’s pumpkins and ghostly clothes become tomorrow’s scarecrow. This text builds. At first it’s just a pair of boots going clomp, clomp, but later it’s a two boots going clomp, clomp, on pair of pants going wiggle, wiggle, one shirt going shake, shake, two gloves going clap, clap, one black hat going nod, nod, and one pumpkin head going boo, boo. There’s repetition and counting (though no higher than two). Reading it, I found myself—and some of the kids—stomping, clapping, nodding, wiggling, and shaking along with the text. It’s one I’ll have to remember for those times when we need to expel a little energy at story time. I have a soft spot for stories of strong, brave, clever women.

****

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: February 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Evocative is Today’s Word

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Click, Clack, Peep! By Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades: PreK-3.

Cronin’s Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type has been fairly successful, frequently being displayed in various places in Barnes & Noble. This latest edition to the series takes on a far more relatable and age-appropriate topic, I think, than did this first book of Cronin’s, which I found a little too bureaucratic in its subject. In this, a new duckling is born on the farm, and like a child sometimes, he will not be quiet and will not sleep, so the animals can’t sleep. With a plethora of onomatopoeia’s and creative text formatting, this is a visually pleasing story and visually evocative too. There’s one page with so many peeps that I’d have been irritated if I’d felt the need to read each one, just as the characters in the story are irritated by the constant peep of the duckling. On another page the tension of waiting for duckling’s egg to hatch is palpable, evoked by the text and illustrations alike. This funny book will make a great bedtime story.

****

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Walking Home to Rosie Lee by A. LaFaye and illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd. Cinco Puntos, 2011.

A. is a professor of mine. I was in her class when or shortly after this book was released. She read the book aloud to the class and several of us were unable to keep our eyes dry, and while I’m sure some of that is attributable to the emotion that A. as the author put into the characters through her reading, the story remains evocative without the author’s interpretation. Gabe’s is a perspective little covered in texts for any age: the struggle for African Americans, former slaves, after the Civil War. Gabe’s syntax adds life to Gabe’s voice. Heartbreaking and finally uplifting, this is a story I think needs to be told. Gabe’s search for his mother, for family, for love, for home is universal as well as historical. Shepherd’s illustrations are bright and bold. There’s enough detail in the story to illuminate the suffering of African American slaves, but not enough to make it inappropriate for most children, especially on the older end of picture books.

****

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Disney’s Frozen’s Melt My Heart: Share Hugs with Olaf by Reader’s Digest. 2014.   Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This book is a collection of lines of Olaf’s from Disney’s Frozen. The lines do not make a plot. I would love to see if this book makes any sense separate from the film, but I saw the film and so could add a little weight and meaning to the text and illustrations. I would have liked an original plot, a plot separate from the film, or even any connection beside the central character between pages. The board book does sport plush arms, but I have seen even this concept better handled. They are difficult to manipulate and still hold the book.

*

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The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2014.

This is the latest Caldecott Medal recipient, and this is a wonderful and wonderfully illustrated book. Santat’s imagination is, frankly, stunning. He built a world and culture here and peopled it with fantastical characters that might bear some resemblance to creatures and objects in this world, but are unique nonetheless. With equal prowess he captures our world, the “real world,” though in the absence of children and imagination, the world appears in grayscale. Beekle leaves the world where imaginary friends are born and wait to be chosen by a child in the real world. He sails alone to the real world and scours our world for his friend, finally finding her. Together they learn about friendship, and he helps her make other friends too.

****

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

Book Reviews: November 2014 Picture Book Roundup: It’s Blue… or Maybe Green?

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Away in a Manger illustrated by Lisa Reed and Randle Paul Bennett. Candy Cane-Ideals, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The text and audio of this book are the first two verses of “Away in a Manger,” sung by “Junior Asparagus,” who is unfortunately one of my least favorite musical talents among the VeggieTales cast. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and VeggieTales fans will appreciate seeing familiar faces in a probably equally familiar tableau. I witnessed one parent trying to read this book (or it might have been its sister book, Silent Night) to a child, and stumbling to an awkward halt when it turned out that the audio button was the text in its entirety. That rather detracts from the book’s ability to lead to interaction between a parent and child. A parent can turn the pages, but the time spent on each page is limited and the parent’s voice is lost amid Junior’s warble.

*

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Step Into Reading: Level 2: A Pony for a Princess by Andrea Posner-Sanchez and illustrated by Francesc Mateu. RH Disney-Random 2002.

I was drawn to the book by the promise of a pony but was a little worried by the book being a Disney spinoff. I was more impressed with this book than I expected to be. The plot is well formed. A deductive thinker could reason the plot from details. Belle sees a barrel of apples, and later decides to return to the barrel to sate her hunger, only to find the barrel empty, then logically she seeks to discover what happened to the apples. I do think it unlikely that a wild pony could be so easily caught by a trail of sugar cubes, but this is a Disney story, and Belle qualifies as a Disney princess, so I will forgive the implausibility and call it more of an inevitability.

****

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Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. G.P Putnam & Sons-Penguin Putnam, 1996. First published 1994. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was at least a second read. Good Night, Gorilla is something of a classic. I think the illustrations are what make this book. The zookeeper goes about saying goodnight to the animals (making it a plausible animal primer), but on the first page, the gorilla steals his keys and follows him through the zoo, unlocking cages. The whole of the zoo follows him home and into his bedroom. Too many responses to her “Good night, dear” alert the zookeeper’s wife of the trouble, and she calmly gets up out of bed, takes the gorilla’s hand, and leads all the animals back to their cages. The gorilla and the mouse escape even her watch and follow her once more back to the bed that she shares with the zookeeper. I appreciate the presentation of a more alert, more able wife.

***

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Peekaboo Barn by Nat Sims and illustrated by Nathan Tabor. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 0-3, PreK.

This lift-the-flap animal primer comes with a free app download code. This is the first of a few books I’ve since come across with app companions. Apparently, this book was an app first. The animals are cartoonish with bug eyes that are mildly disturbing. Sometimes there’s only one flap on a page, sometimes there are two. At first read, this was confusing, as I didn’t know to look for two flaps and would open the barn doors to discover only one of the animals whose sounds I’d just read. Then I noticed that the loft doors also occasionally opened. I’m not sure if as a toddler reader, this variation would be exciting or confusing. If I’m being finicky, the animals are not seen or entering the barn, but the scene never changes, the sun never moves across the sky. It would have been very simple to introduce more plot into this book.

*

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That’s Not My Snowman… by Fiona Watt. Usborne, 2014. First published 2006.

There’s not much exciting about this winter edition of a series of touch-and-feel primers that spans all manner of creature, machine, and… sculpture. I do puzzle what sort of squishy nose one could give a snowman. I prefer to have logical connections between the illustrations and text. The inclusion of the ever-present mouse in this series adds a nice element of continuity to the story and the series.

**

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I am a fan of Mo Willems and of Elephant and Piggie in particular. I was not expecting the mixed media illustrations in this book nor the subtle hint of the passage of time as the white space becomes darker. I think both the messages of patience and of the beauty of nature are valuable to today’s children, so used—as we all are—to instant gratification. I like it even better on a second reading, particularly I enjoy Piggie’s answers to Gerald’s questions Piggie about the surprise.

*****

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Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014. First published 2012. Intended audience: Ages 2-6, Grades PreK-1.

I am biased towards Wolff’s books and this one in particular. Wolff is a professor at my alma mater. This book I saw as an unbound proof when she read it to us. I saw it later read at a local library story hour and witnessed the unbiased enjoyment of it from the children and the librarian. Wolff’s illustrations are jewel bright, and the text does not seem overly formulaic as many primers can seem, though Wolff does keep some repetition in the line “Baby Bear sees [color]” to give the story a familiar structure and rhythm. Wolff does not shy from poetic language within her text, but she keeps true too to the toddler understanding of the world with Baby Bear’s speech, as when Baby Bear asks who is waving at him, indicating an oak leaf stirred by a breeze. I had not considered till reading a particularly detailed review on Goodreads that the closing line makes the book fit appropriately too into the bedtime story mold.

****

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: January Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read a lot of picture books this January, and so I’ve decided to break the roundup into two parts.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The illustrations in this one are pretty fantastic, so detailed, so realistic—not just in style, but also in not whitewashing the neighborhood or the surrounding town.  Speaking of whitewashing, a reader on Goodreads commented about how this is an African American family—and that was the first that I’d taken notice of it.  This is an African American in a book with no social message or message of equality.  Better still, Jonathan Bean himself is not African American.  The story is every child’s experience of watching snow fall (and though it’s not explicitly stated in the story) waiting to see if the snow will be deep enough for snowy play like sledding.  It’s a story with which any child can empathize.  The mother distracts her son with household chores and baking.  The father comes home to play with him.  The only thing I can really complain about in this story is that the mother was home, cooking and cleaning, while the father was out at work—but isn’t that the typical American experience.  It would have been a nice choice to break the gender stereotype since Bean so nicely broke the whitewashed vision of the American family.  I do appreciate though that this is a family with both mother and father present and active and interested in the child’s life.

****

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.  Philomel-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I think most people know Eric.  The Hungry Caterpillar left quite an imprint on my childhood, though not as great an imprint as did the illustrations of Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? et al.  I was sadly unimpressed by The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.  The prose would have benefited from more zest, though I approve of Carle’s message that a good artist is not necessarily one who sticks to reality, promoting creative thinking and creativity, prompting children to put away enforced ideas of correct and incorrect.  At the same time that message seems self-aggrandizing even though the artist at the end of the book does not look like present-day Carle (it might be a boy Carle).

**1/2

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 1996.  First published 1977.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In retrospect, this was not a story I ought to have chosen for story hour.  It begins with two ladybugs who want to eat the same leafful of aphids.  Now aphid is a strange word, so I thought I had better explain it.  And then I realized what was going to happen to the aphids, and I wished that I hadn’t called them “baby bugs.”  And this whole story is about a ladybug that wants to fight—not exactly a great role model.  I tuned my voice to make the ladybug sound at least like it wanted to pick a fight for fun, for the challenge, the way a kid might ask, “You wanna race?”  In retrospect, I may have learned my lesson at least about screening Carle books before I take them to story hour.  As a story hour book too, the clocks in the top corner of the pages were nearly invisible to the children.  I explained where the hands were on the clock faces, at least at first, and was able to work that explanation pretty easily into the prose, but I didn’t really think any of them were there to learn to tell time and stopped after the first few pages.  Also, analog clocks are disappearing, though I think they are still more often in classrooms than digital clocks, so maybe it will be something that they’ll need to learn.  Reading this book makes me feel old.  Not only because of the analog clocks but also because of the political correctness that makes me wonder if such a violent little ladybug would have made it past an editor today.  The kids did pick up on Carle’s lesson that you shouldn’t be mean and that you should share, but it seemed like there were few pages on that.  Most of the pages were devoted instead to the grouchy ladybug asking larger and larger animals if they wanted to fight then dismissing each as too small—and I think at least one my kids was frustrated by the ladybug’s idiocy (she kept commenting that she was pretty sure this or that animal was large enough).  It made a better bestiary than a story it seemed to me as I read the same few words over and over with a slight variation.  That being said, that repetition can be very lulling.  I found it very easy to read and to play instead with my inflection than focus on the words when I was caught up in the repetition.

*1/2

What’s Your Favorite Animal? edited by Eric Carle.  Contributed to be Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems.  Henry Holt and Co.-Random, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8 (Grades Pre-K-3).

As a student and lover of children’s literature, I personally loved this book.  Some of the illustrations in this are amazing.  A lot of the memoirs are truly sweet and endear readers towards either the animal or the author.  Some of the poetry was humorous.  The book provided an interesting view into the minds and lives of some of my favorite illustrators.  The kids at my story hour were less enthralled.  I knew more of the illustrators than they did (many of them having not recently produced any bestsellers), and taken all together, this is a long book.  The eldest of my story hour friends was maybe eight.  Much beyond eight, it’s hard to see a child being thrilled with being read any picture book.  This book lacks the cohesion that can hold a younger child’s attention.  There’s not a story.  There’s no conflict.  The book includes flash memoirs, poetry, and cartoon panels of facts about octopi.  I think only the one (Nick Bruel’s) got a laugh out of any of my friends and that because of Bruel’s interaction with Bad Kitty, a familiar face for some of the kids, I’m sure, and the humor of Bruel’s entry.  Bruel’s didn’t read very well aloud, though, I thought.  There were so many individual panels and I don’t know how many of my friends were able to follow my eyes across the pages as I read.

****

Knight Time by Jane Clark and illustrated by Jane Massey.  Red Fox-Random House UK, 2009.

I loved this book, though I was biased towards it from the beginning as the cover was of an adorable towheaded young knight and a young dragon, each looking terrified into the dark forest.  Towheads and dragons, how could I not love this book?  It was cute in the way that I expected.  The knight fears dragons.  The dragon fears knights.  They meet and become friends after each seeing that the other is not so frightening.  I did not anticipate the inclusion of the knight’s and dragon’s fathers.  Both wander into the woods looking for their fathers and are each found by the other’s father.  The book is lift-a-flap.  If anything this made the book too interesting, too intriguing, too busy, but I loved that there was so much to look at and explore in this adventure.

****

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4 (Grade Pre-K).

I’ve never read the original Pout-Pout Fish so I think this book meant less to me than it is supposed to.  I think this would be fun to quote at young kids.  “Smile, Mr. Fish.  You look so down, with your glum-glum face and pout-pout frown.”  Followed immediately by, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.  When life gets you down do you know what you gotta do?”  I do dislike that the implication seems to be that a peck on the cheek by a strange should illicit a smile from someone who’s down.  I don’t really think that’s true, and I’m not sure it’s something that we should be teaching our children.

 **

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.

The trick is in the details with this one.  There’s a lot of humor from a careful inspection of Feeney’s illustrations, from the attempts of Little Owl to send his orange scarf to Peru to how he finally rids himself of the hated scarf.  While I sympathized with Little Owl’s plight and I really want to like this book even more than I do, I had a kid pipe up during story hour that he liked orange, and there’s was such sadness and hurt in his tone.  The scarf of course could be hated for being any color, and Feeney had to choose some color. There’s something so implicitly realistically childlike about Owl’s dislike of the scarf not only because it’s too long and scratchy but especially because it’s orange.  It reminds me of friends who hated and refused to wear anything pink simply for its color—and I’m glad that Feeney chose a color other than pink.  Pink would have seemed cliché.

***1/2

Buzz, Buzz, Baby!: A Karen Katz Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This lift-a-flap book is all about insects and bugs—perfect the adventurous and outdoorsy child in your family.  Katz’s protagonists are not strictly male even though the book is about bugs.  Katz’s illustrations and the use of flaps are what really appealed to me in this book.  The insects peek out from behind foliage making it easy to see where a child being read too could be prompted for an answer to the questions that the text poses.  The colors are bright—as are all of Katz’s.  Rhymes help with the rhythm of the text.

****

Book Reviews: August Picture Book Roundup

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As I settle into a loving friend’s apartment in a new city, I hope you will all forgive me that this month’s picture book roundup is being posted late.

Noodle Loves the Zoo illustrated by Marion Billet.  Nosy Crow-Candlewick, 2013.

I was really enjoying this touch-and-feel book until I got to the last page where I was thrown out of the illusion by Noodle liking to roar.  Pandas do not to my knowledge roar; humans (represented that the anthropomorphized panda here) roar in imitation of other animals only, and so what had been a message of loving animals was degraded, Noodle’s love suddenly seeming a mockery—though in retrospect I recognize that this reaction of mine seems a little irrational.

***

 Birthday Monsters! by Sandra Boynton.  Workman, 1993.

This book is probably primarily meant to be a once-a-year read or an “I don’t know what to get” birthday present for a young child, but Boynton writes amusing, rhyming prose, and there is a message about selflessness if you care to look for it.  The birthday monsters show up (too) early on the young hippo’s birthday, and they seem to be bent on making his birthday a great celebration, but the birthday monsters ruin the celebration with their greed and selfishness.  They leave, but return to tidy their mess so that the young hippo’s birthday ends on a high note with his house clean and his birthday things returned to him.

***

 Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney.  Viking Juvenile-Penguin, 2013.

I very much enjoyed the original Llama Llama Red Pajamas (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads), but as important as this newest book in the series is for classrooms and indeed for all children who may encounter bullies (which is all children), I felt Dewdney’s style did not lend itself well to the subject matter, being simplistic and rhyming and fun, while the subject matter was one that is not fun at all.  Gilroy Goat disrupts the classroom and the playground by laughing at and ridiculing Llama and his friends.  His bullying escalates to playground violence.  Llama first stands up to Gilroy but when this fails to curb his behavior, Llama quickly tells his teacher, who puts Gilroy in time-out.  Gilroy returns, the teacher asks if he can be a friend, and Llama extends Gilroy one of the dolls that Gilroy had earlier ridiculed, which Gilroy accepts, playing nicely and participating in classroom activities thenceforth.  Gilroy and Llama part at the end of the day as unlikely friends.  Gilroy Goat perhaps learns his lesson a little too easily, but it is I suppose good to give young children hope that bullies can change (I believe that they can if I believe it is a harder thing for them to learn to curb such instincts than it is for Gilroy), and good to give children an example of how to go about dealing with bullies.  On a side note, Nelly Gnu is a returning character, I do believe, but I am glad to see Dewdney advocating friendship with the opposite gender.

***1/2

Good Morning, Good Night!: A Touch & Feel Bedtime Book by Teresa Imperato.  Piggy Toes, 2004.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  Each set of touch-and-feel pages shows the day of a particular baby animal, first upon rising, then, opening the flap, upon sleeping, with each animal sleeping beside a parent.  The story is told in rhyme and ends with the day of a toddler.

****

The Way I Act by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Janan Cain.  Parenting, 2010.

Barnes & Noble classifies this as a “growing-up” book.  It’s a message book rather than being plot-driven, meant to both teach and reinforce laudable qualities in a child and also to build that elusive self-esteem.  I was not overly thrilled with this book, first because I don’t necessarily like the implied opposite idea that a child is somehow worth less when they do not exhibit these listed traits, some of which are less attainable or teachable than others—or so it seems to me, though I’m no parent—and also because the language and style did not seem to quite suit the illustrations, which while colorful were not particularly memorable.

*1/2

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2010.

Elephant Gerald and Piggie decide to play catch.  A young snake asks if he too can play.  They try to include the snake, but the snake is unable to join them because he does not have arms.  The snake is ready to give up, but Piggie will not.  The friends find a new way to play catch so that they can include the armless snake.  This is a book that encourages the inclusion of new friends, different friends, and shows readers that there are sometimes unconventional ways to solve a problem and be sure that everyone has fun.  All these beautiful messages are of course delivered with Willems humorous dialogue and illustration style, which I love, and his keen insight into the world of children.

****

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.