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Book Reviews: October 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Monsters, Monster Trucks, Female Icons, and Daniel Tiger

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Elbow Grease vs. Motozilla by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first Elbow Grease, though I’m not sure that I could put my finger on why if you asked me to do; perhaps it just isn’t living up to my expectation now that I have a more favorable expectation for Cena’s books. In the first, Elbow Grease learned the worth of his personality and how to use his skills, and his brothers learned to respect Elbow Grease. Now Elbow Grease is craving some of the adulation that his brothers receive. He decides that they need to defeat the biggest, baddest new truck in the monster truck world, and he devises a plan for he and his brothers with the help of a contraption made by their female mechanic Mel to work together to take down the monster. I don’t know. The plot and the lessons both fell more flat in this one for me, though the length was better, shorter. I really do think that this is just a case of my expectations being too inflated from the success of the previous book.

***

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No More Monsters Under Your Bed! by Jordan Chouteau and illustrated by Anat Even Or. JIMMY Patterson-Little, Brown-Hatchette, 2019.

This book relied too heavily on its gimmick—a patch that according to the tale turns you invisible to monsters—in much the same way that Santa’s Magic Key was an explanation of why a person was giving you a key or The Elf on the Shelf is an explanation of why someone wants to give you a creepy elf plush. It begins by introducing a boy who is scared of monsters and then describing all the different types of monsters that scare him. His parents give him a patch which when pressed turns him invisible to monsters, which erases his fear. Becoming bored without anyone to scare, the monsters move on, and the boy passes on his patch to another friend, who passes it to another, and so on, until it reaches the reader, I suppose, who gets the patch by buying the book. This isn’t really teaching a reason to not fear so much as it is preaching a belief in a token.  It is though I suppose a lesson in sharing tools that have helped you.

**

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

Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did I think like this one just a bit better than the first of Eva Chen’s books. Chen has changed the rules of her magical closet. Now, Juno does not become the women whose clothing she obtains but rather interacts with famous historical women, who gift her clothing and advice on her quest to capture her brother who has trespassed in the magical closet—and it isn’t until I am writing this now that I have to wonder about the implications of a boy intruding on a woman’s private space, a space held open for interactions with other women. Does his interaction with the space change the space and how? Certainly now the conversations that Juno has with the other women have become conversations about her brother, how Juno can catch up to her brother. It does pass the Bechdel test, though the conversations with named women are either about catching Finn or about Juno’s clothes. In her wanders through the closet, Juno gains not only the means to apprehend her brother but a unique outfit for school photo day, which earns her the title “Most Likely to Be Herself and No One Else,” a little ironic since she is quite literally borrowing the fashions of the others.  Her class is a diverse group that includes children of many hues, a child in a wheelchair, and a child wearing what appears to be a patka, a head covering for Sikh boys.  Her teacher, Miss Dahlia, is a black woman, a thing that is more rare in a picture book than you would expect and than it ought to be.  I read an ARC.  The book is out now.

**

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Peek-a-Flap: Boo by Rosa Von Federer and illustrated by Gaby Zermeño. Cottage Door, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2+.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little board book which has suggestions for celebrating the Halloween holiday, labels to make it a primer, and facts about the holiday—a few of which even I did not know. I still love how sturdy these Cottage Door Press board books seem. Most other flaps are cardstock, but these are the layered cardboard that make up board book covers and pages. The illustrations are bright.  This is a Halloween book that is more about how humans celebrate with costumes and candy than centering any of the monsters.

****

Daniel Tiger

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Big Enough to Help adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1, Ages 3-6.

Daniel isn’t big enough to do everything, but there are many things that he can do, and there are some things that he has to do be small to do, like play in his new playhouse. “Everyone is big enough to do something” is the refrain of this book.  Reading this aloud, I avoided the ending catchphrase, which is unfamiliar to me, and any singing (on all three of these).

***

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Daniel’s First Fireworks adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel helps his little sister overcome her fear of the fireflies, which she has never seen, by holding her hand and showing no fear himself. She holds his hand as does his dad as the fireworks start, and they are louder than Daniel thought that they would be.  This is a sweet story about encountering new things and helping others experience new things that might be frightening.

***

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Daniel Chooses to Be Kind adapted by Rachel Kalban and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel asks King Friday what it is like to be king, and Friday declares him king for the day. He gives Daniel a list of things that he needs to bring to the castle at the end of the day. It’s never quite clear what King Friday intended to do with these items. After acquiring them, Daniel gives them all away in the course of the day to cheer up or help his friends. He never acquires replacements for the items that he gives away, which seemed a little odd honestly.  Though Daniel visits shops, he doesn’t seem to pay.  There’s seems to be some economy run on trade of services.  I really don’t remember much of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood anymore, and I have never seen Daniel’s Tiger’s Neighborhood.

***

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: September 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Good Books

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Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jamie Kim. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text and the illustrations in this picture book are both beautiful! This sentiment is beautiful! A little girl, frustrated by repeated questions that imply that she and her family are not from “here,” asks her abuelo’s advice on how to answer them. Her abuelo gives her a beautifully lyrical answer: She is from each of the strong and brave ancestors before her, she is from the beautiful land that they came from, and she is from the love of her family, “my love,” her abuelo says, “and the love of all those before us.” I assume that the girl like the author is Argentine American, but there is no specific reference to the country. There is mention of the Pampas, but the lowlands stretch across several countries in South America. This is a book about feeling proud of one’s heritage and provides a comfort and an answer to the too often asked question. I don’t share Méndez’s heritage, but I was still stirred by Méndez’s words and sentiment and Kim’s illustrations. I think I would be even if I had never met the first generation of my family to immigrate to this country. I think this book will stir something in everyone. I do think, though, that more than the text, I will remember the sentiment and the illustrations.

*****

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How I Met My Monster by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Flashlight, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is the third in a series of books but the first one that I have read thoroughly enough to write a review for this blog. The illustrations in this are so wonderfully saturated and detailed and fun. This book reminds me somewhat of Monsters, Inc with its concept of monsters learning the rules for haunting a child at night. These monsters don’t seek the child’s terror, though. Instead their goal is to keep the child in bed until they are asleep, an aid not a trial for parents. A class of small monsters and their teacher emerge from beneath a boy’s bed and try to frighten him into bed, but the boy doesn’t find them particularly scary, mostly funny, though one, Gabe, is kind of awesome and just a little scary with his long claws, gurgling stomach, and feigned penchant for human toes. The boy enjoys being just a little scared though. The book ends with Gabe proclaiming that this seems like “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and an illustration of Gabe curled up beneath the boy’s bed, looking like an overlarge canine or feline. This was just the right length for my group of three littles at story time. Anything longer would have been too much. They enjoyed counting the eyes under the bed and shouting out the colors of the monsters. They wanted the monsters names sooner than the story supplied them though.

****

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A Busy Creature’s Day Eating! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Here’s an unusual alphabet book, which begins with breakfast food and, the creature running out of food, devolves into eating all sort of unusual things like Furniture, Gravy, a Hoagie, Ice cream, and a Jacket. And then at O, the creature begins to feel sick from its unusual diet and runs to the Potty. It is cared for, given basic foods to calm its stomach, Vomits anyway, is kissed by its guardian (XO-XO-XO), and sleeps away the ache: Zonked. The story is completely gender-neutral, which is a nice change, with no actual indication that the guardian is a biological parent. I liked that this included unusual words beside those more typically used in alphabet primers. I liked that this has a storyline. So many alphabet books are list books without a story. I have read clever alphabet primers before: Animal Homes ZXA: an Out of Order Alphabet Book, Animalphabet, and even A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book and Arctic Bears Chase. This is still perhaps the only one that really tells a story, though, a story that makes sense (Arctic Bears tries to build a story from one sentence, but it is a fairly nonsensical story). For what this is, this is a very good, a very unique book. I am surprised that no one that I know of has done this before, but no one that I know has done it. Willems does it with characters’ exaggerated expressions and humor in the text.

*****

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: December 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Insects, Romance, and a Snowman Gone Rogue

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Never Touch a Spider by Rosie Greening. Make Believe Ideas, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This came out as part of a series of similar books by Make Believe Ideas: Never Touch a Dragon, Never Touch a Monster, Never Touch a Dinosaur. These books are bright. The textures, made of rubber or some rubbery substance, are unique. I actually like that these are just fun; there’s not really any kind of educational element to these. They are silly. It makes a rare change in a touch-and-feel book—in touch-and-feel books. I admit that there’s not a lot of maybe value to this, but I enjoyed the laugh, and I enjoy the textures.

****

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Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. Little Bee-Bonnier, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Stevie Lewis has done an amazing job with these illustrations! They are so vibrant. My favorite by far is the page with the prince and his knight lounging together by the town fountain, watched by the joyful townspeople. Their pose says so much about the casual, comfortable love and trust that they have for one another. The kingdoms that the royal family travel to too are colorful. It’s difficult to tell but there seems to be some chance that the prince’s chosen knight is of a different racial background than the prince as well. The story is told in easy rhyme. The prince’s parents are supportive not only of his eventual choice but in his quest for the perfect partner, taking him abroad to meet princesses with whom he does not ultimately end up sharing a connection. The prince is often in stereotypical princess poses, for example leaning on a balcony railing, propping his head on one hand—or caught in the knight’s arms as he falls from the dragon. The story is good. The message is good. The characters are good—like, lawful good (chaotic good?). All around, I love this one.

*****

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How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace & Andy Elkerton. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-10.

This story plays with modern, living snowman “lore,” specifically referencing without naming Frosty of Rankin and Bass’ movie and Olaf of Disney’s Frozen. That was almost my favorite and least favorite part of the book—the references to other snowmen. The midnight snow star is new. The flying is new too. Why the kids want to catch a snowman is never really addressed; though it says in Goodreads’ description that the kids have built him for entry into a contest, I did not pick up on that in reading through the text; maybe if I examined the illustrations more carefully I would have done, but I often read these upside down for the first or second time. The kids’ traps all fail. The snowman is never caught but he creates a larger than life, snow trophy for them—which makes more sense if the kids’ first ambition had been to win a trophy. Some of the rhyming seemed forced, and I’m not overly fond of the direct address to the audience format.

***

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: November 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Valuing Women and Two Holidays

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Women in History and Today

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My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.

****

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

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.My First Little People, Big Dreams: Audrey Hepburn by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.

****

Seasonal Stories

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Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.

I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.

*****

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Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.

****

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Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018.  Originally published 1953.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.

***

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Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.

****

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Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.

***** 

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: August 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Science, Eating People–Or Not, and a Kitten Like Me

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Science!

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Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There was a lot to love in this story about Sophia, her pet giraffe Noodle, and the problems that Noodle causes for Sophia’s multi-generational, interracial family, in which each character has a pretty stunningly unique voice for characters in a picture book. It opens with Sophia being “happysad” which I love because it acknowledges an oft-felt but not oft-acknowledged emotion. Noodle snores, and Noodle’s kisses with his long, blue tongue are sloppy and wet and particularly irk Grand-mamá, whom Noodle seems particularly fond of—in the way that cats will always find the one person who doesn’t want to pet them. Sophia’s Mother, whom I suspect from the language that she uses and that the authors use to describe her actions works in the courtroom either as a lawyer or judge—probably a judge—“render[s] her verdict. Noodle is guilty” and she “order[s Sophia] to find a perdurable solution.” Several times in this book the adults drop some heavy words. ‘Perdurable’ is not a word that I knew when I read this book, and I’ve near 30 years of life experience, an English degree, and a penchant for books with lofty language. Sophia tries several ways to silence Noodle’s snores or to make them more palatable, consulting the Internet for ideas, building contraptions herself, and consulting experts in the field, including an acoustic-engineer who tells Sophia that Noodle’s “neck-to-lung-capacity ratio creates a giant echo chamber.”

Noodle’s sloppy kisses are always preceded by the same phrase, which was fun to repeat but also let the anticipation build before the blech! of usually poor Grand-mamá appearing covered in giraffe spittle. “His eyelashes danced a little fuzzle, then his nose swooped in for a nuzzle.”

This is apparently a sequel to a book called One Word for Sophia that I’d not heard of previously but now want to find.

****

Click to visit the series' page for links to order, summary, audio sample, and all kinds of extras.

Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was pleased to see a surprisingly honest comment from Derting on Goodreads admitting that her four-year-old grandchild struggled to make it through this book. My story time audience was a bit squirmy through this long story too—but they made it, and they made it through Two Problems for Sophia on the same sitting. Assigned to complete a research project, Cece with her friend and assigned research partner Isaac set out to experiment on Cece’s dog Einstein to see if dogs eat vegetables. They try offering Einstein vegetables in various forms, which he won’t eat, causing Cece to question her credentials as a scientist, but she persists, and eventually they do find a way to get Einstein to eat veggies. I’m not sure about the ethical implications of trying to get your family dog to eat foods outside of his normal diet without consulting a veterinarian first—I don’t recommend doing it at home—but I have known dogs who like carrots, so I’m fairly sure that this experiment won’t harm Einstein. The book ends with a glossary of science terms and scientists.

***

 

ABCs of Physics by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2014.

General Relativity for Babies by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2016.

Quantum Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2013.

My dad is a high school math and physics teacher, and I sent these along to him not long ago. The one on quantum physics, he says, peddles an already discredited model—which I sort of knew; I think Niels Bohr’s model was being phased out of classrooms when I was in high school around 2006/2007—but before it starts discussing where in rings an electron can be around a nucleus, I think it’s solid—though he would know far better than I. I particularly liked the ABCs of Physics. There was more to this book than there was to the for Babies titles. Not only is it an alphabet primer, but the words used to illustrate the letters are all related to physics, with three levels of information for growing toddlers: first the word, then a simple one sentence explanation, then a longer, more in-depth sentence or two at the bottom. I like the simplicity of these primers.  I like that Ferrie takes on such hard concepts and thinks he can impart some understanding of these topics to infants and toddlers.  They say if you can’t explain your subject in terms that a complete outsider to the field would understand, you don’t know your subject. Imagine explaining it in terms that a toddler could understand! I think general relativity was more clearly explained here than I’ve seen it elsewhere. I may not be a toddler, but I get it. Or I get the small part of it that Ferrie is discussing in these books.

****     ****     ***

That is Frowned Upon in Most Civilized Societies

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and activity sheets.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This book came out in June, and I’ve already read it three times—twice in story times. It keeps getting better. I really enjoyed reading it aloud this most recent time. I feel like I got the inflection right on the narration and the dialogue. This competes with Be Quiet! for me as a favorite Higgins book, but this is so much more accessible to my story time audience than is Be Quiet!. This is a back-to-school book with a female dinosaur protagonist and a multiracial classroom full of children, including a hijabi sitting beside a boy who appears to wear a yarmulke. Penelope Rex is your typical T-Rex. She’s excited and nervous to go to school, but she has a big lunch packed by her dad, and a new backpack with ponies on it (ponies are her favorite because ponies are delicious). She was not expecting to be part of a classroom full of children, and upon discovering this, she eats them all whole then spits them out at the behest of her teacher. That does not endear her to her classmates, and every time she tries to be nice, her appetite betrays her. She saves a seat for her classmate, Griffin Emery—but that seat is on her now empty plate. She tries to play with them on the slide—but waits at the bottom with an open mouth. Her parents spot the problem quickly when she complains that she hasn’t made any friends, and remind her not to eat her classmates. “Children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier.” Penelope can’t control her appetite and keeps eating kids. Because all the children are afraid and won’t be her friend, she tries to befriend the class goldfish, Walter—who bites her finger. Knowing now how terrible it feels when someone tries to eat you, Penelope learns to control her own appetite. She stops eating her classmates, and she does make friends.

*****

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

Eat Pete by Michael Rex. Nancy Paulsen-Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

When a monster comes in through Pete’s window, Pete isn’t scared; he invites the monster to play with him. And though the monster came to eat Pete and wants to do so, the games that Pete suggests look fun, so he puts off his appetite for little boy and joins Pete in his games. Though he lasts through several games, the monster’s desire to eat Pete does win, and he gobbles up Pete whole. Without Pete, though, the games just aren’t much fun, and the monster relents and spits Pete back out. Pete tells him that wasn’t very nice, the monster apologizes, and Pete suggests that they play another game—a wonderfully forgiving child is Pete. The monster though doesn’t want to play. The book gives the impression that the monster is again struggling with his desire to eat Pete, but the anticipation dissipates not with a repetition of the phrase and the monster’s slathering look of hunger, but with a hug between the two protagonists; he wants to… hug Pete.

****

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

People Don’t Bite People by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Molly Schaar Idle. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3

In singsong fashion, this book spells out the things that it is good to eat, but admonishes against biting people. “It’s good to bite a carrot. It’s good to bite a steak. It’s BAD to bite your sister! She’s not a piece of cake.” “People don’t bite people. It’s nasty and it’s rude! A friend will never bite a friend. BITING IS FOR FOOD!” It’s a kind of judgmental book. I mean, I know you shouldn’t bite your hair or your nails, and the book acknowledges that these are lesser sins than biting another human, but… all in all, I think this book was perhaps just too didactic a story for a general story time. It would be a fun addition to Martine Agassi and Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen’s Best Behavior books (Teeth are Not for Biting, Hands are Not for Hitting, Feet are Not for Kicking, etc.)—and it is a fun text—but just… not fun, not silly enough—not for general reading without the express purpose of imparting a needed lesson.

***

And Look! I Found Me!

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

Katie the Kitten by Kathryn and Byron Jackson and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 1976. First published 1949.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

I had to read this book—and I actually bought it—because I am a catlike Kathryn who once went by the nickname Katie. The illustrations and adventures of this little kitten are fairly realistic. She sleeps, wakes up, chases a fly, hisses at a scared dog, but is scared of a mouse, chases a toad, chases a bird, hops on a table, but falls off into a pail of water, drinks milk, eats a fish, and curls up to sleep again. She’s just cute. She’s a kitten. And she’s a playful, clumsy kitten. The text uses simple words, and some rhyming but overall the text does not rhyme; it reads less like a forced singsong and more like just the account of an hour or two of a kitten’s day.  I recommend this for people who like watching cat videos.  Which I think is not-so-secretly everyone.

***

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: February 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Loving Others

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

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls.  Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades 3-8.

I remembered Selina Alko from Why Am I Me? and was excited to see her explore this fairly local, historical story. She handles it with poetry and mostly with grace—though she does call Mildred’s skin “a creamy caramel” and later speaks of “people every shade from the color of chamomile tea to midnight;” I think we’re trying to move away from comparing anyone’s skin tone to food, the likening of POC to consumables.  For those who don’t know of the Lovings, this is the family that brought to the Supreme Court Virginia’s ruling that they could not be legally married because they were neither both pale- nor both dark-skinned.  The Lovings wanted to live in their home state of Virginia, but refused to give up each other, their love, their family for the sake of their state.  The Virginia law banning interracial marriage was deemed unconstitutional.

****

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

Click, Clack, Moo: I Love You by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin.  Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is a Valentine’s book from the Click, Clack, Moo series. Farmer Brown shows his love in his care of the animals and the farm. Little Duck decorates for the Valentine’s Day party and makes Valentines for everyone. The chickens and the pigs bring potluck dishes, but the sheep bring nothing. A fox hears their party and invites herself. The farm animals are terrified. All except Little Duck. Little Duck hands the fox her last Valentine, the fox hands her one back, and they dance together “yip, quack, yip, quack, yip, quack, quack!” Their dance inspires the other farm animals to interspecies dance as well. This is a great Valentine’s story with a message that isn’t all hearts and roses and candies. It’s about finding friendship and fun among those who look different from oneself, about being welcoming to others, even when you don’t know them. Yipping like a fox is a lot of fun aloud too.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

The Peace Book by Todd Parr.  LB Kids-Little, Brown-Hachette 2017.  First published 2004.

Parr’s The Peace Book is all about good stewardship of the earth and care for all humanity. Peace is keeping the water blue. It’s saying sorry when you hurt someone. It’s helping a neighbor. It’s exploring other cultures. It’s fixing societal problems like homelessness and hunger. Illustrated in Parr’s very bright, simple style, this is a book for everyone! Seriously, there’s as much if not more in here for adults than the kids. It’s a good reminder of the simple ways that we can bring peace to others and to ourselves and to the world, and also of the big things that we need to work towards fixing. “The world is a better place because of you.” Was that a hijabi too, Mr. Parr?  Not a lot of story to this one, but a lot of good, needed sentiments.

****

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

We Belong Together by Joyce Wan.  Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2011.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Mostly this is a fun exploration of pairs and wordplay. Like peanut butter & jelly, like pen & paper, like a pair of mittens, with smiling, rosy-cheeked characters illustrating each pair. There’s really not anything in the way of plot, but the wordplay is a nice addition to a sappy sentiment of perfect togetherness.

***

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

Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by Roy McKie.  Penguin Random, 1961.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This is a fun counting book with three characters each bragging that they can carry more apples on their head, the challenges getting more and more outlandish as the number of apples and the number of participants in the game increase. Being Seuss, of course the text rhymes. The three do get their comeuppance for breaking and entering and raiding the fridge of a mother bear. The bear chases them outside, where gulls try to take the apples from the boasting friends.  The friends’ fun, their sticky fingers, and their boasting anger the other peripheral characters, who chase them trying to knock down the apples.  An accident creates more opportunity–a wealth of apples–and provided with more apples, the game expands, the ones who were trying to stop it, finding themselves happy participants instead. What a strange economics lesson. Mostly this book is just silly, but it’s one of those that I think you can read more deeply into if you want to do so.  Hoarding toys is going to make others angry with you. Supplying enough toys for everyone is the way to peace.  A surplus of resources makes everyone boastful, wasteful, playful rather than responsible.  Am I reading too much into this?

****

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

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by B. Tobey.  Penguin Random, 1965.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

A little blond boy wishes for various animal body parts. He has creative uses for each, but each of them gets him in trouble in some way or another. What he has against Big Bill Brown I don’t know, though it seems he might bully the protagonist–certainly the protagonist imagines that Bill would do so if the protagonist were to possess a long tail.  Still the vindictiveness of the protagonist’s references to Bill were somewhat unsettling to me, even if I can understand a bullied individual’s fixation, born of fear and constant threat, with his bully. The protagonist learns a lesson about being disliked and dehumanized for looking different. As a Which-What-Who with all the different animal parts on his body, he thinks that the townspeople would turn against him, be so scared that they’d call the policemen, who would catch him in a net and bring him to the zoo, where he’d be forced to eat hay in a cage. It’s a lesson too in self-love. The boy ultimately decides that since each new feature, each change that he could make to his body brings him grief in some fashion or another, the best thing to be is himself, just the way that he is already.

I was excited to read this one at this year’s celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, because I remembered really enjoying it as a child, but I have to admit that it fell a bit flat as an adult, maybe because I failed to pick up as a child on the darkness of humanity that these characters display.

***

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.

People of Color in the Books I Read in 2017: Part 1: Picture Books

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I read 68 books that included people of color this year, which sounds impressive compared to last year’s 44, but that is only 27% of the total books that I read this year. However, of those 68, 34 had a person of color as a protagonist—a full HALF, 14% more than last year! But again, those 34 are only 14% of all of the books that I read this year.

Did those numbers go up from last year? Yes, yes they did, but not by enough, never by enough. The percentage of books that I read with any mention of people of color increased by only 1%, but the percentage of books with people of color as protagonists rose by a full 9%.

This year’s books are listed roughly in descending order of their average rating on Goodreads.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle, 2015. An African American man, a trash collector, based on a real man from New Orleans, is depicted as heroic for his unbreakable spirit and his infectious enthusiasm.

Hello Lamb by Jane Cabrera. Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Protagonist may be a stretch, but only one human baby is represented, and she is represented with darker skin. She shares the stage with animals.

The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. HarperCollins, 1997. Every character in this tale is Chinese.

Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel. Candlewick, 2017. The whole cast of this sweet tale about independence and making decisions and compromise are of African descent.

Round by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. The characters appear to be of Asian descent.

Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. A young, female scientist of African descent closes up her lab while harried to publish by a grumpy, old, white man.

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan. HarperCollins, 2017. The illustrations draw heavily on Indian tradition and the story seems to be set in India.

Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017. An African American girl, Lennox, competes with a white boy, Jonah, for dominion over a playground populated by a diverse collection of children. Augustine, a white girl with red hair, emerges as their rival after the dust of their dispute has settled.

If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2017. Magnolia appears Asian, probably Chinese. The story time crowd at the library is diverse, but the librarian is male and white.

A New Friend for Sparkle by Amy Young. Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2017. Lucy, a young, African American girl learns to share her new friend, a white boy, Cole, with her pet unicorn.

A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhané Wallis and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Simon & Schuster, 2017. This is a story written by and about Wallis. She and her family are all African American.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. When humans are depicted, the crowd is wonderfully diverse, people of many different backgrounds represented, including women in hijabs, African Americans, a Native American woman, Asian Americans, and Latinx Americans, but this is a celebration of America more than anything else, America is the protagonist.  Kadir Nelson is an amazing realist painter.

Baby’s Big World: Music by Rob Delgaudio and illustrated by Hilli Kushnir. BoriBoricha, 2017.  In this exploration of music for toddlers, the cast is diverse, and an African American girl is featured on the cover.

Do Not Take Your Dragon to Dinner by Julie Gassman and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017. Diverse children, including a young hijabi, lament and then school their dragon friends in table manners, though ultimately the story resolves mostly around a white family. 

Skin Again by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris aschka. Jump at the Sun-Hyperion-Disney, 2004.  This picture book celebrates self-love and love for others and encourages looking beyond outward appearance.

When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Dads from a four families are celebrated.  One family appears African American.  Another may be Chinese.  And maybe Latinx?

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. A community comes together to create a playground.  White, African American, and Asian American community members seem to be represented.

How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Different families struggle to correctly school the dinosaurs in their family in choosing and caring for a pet.  One dino mom seems to be African American… but hers is the dinosaur absconding with a tiger from the zoo.  The mothers at the end with the well-behaved dinos are both white, and I’m not best pleased about that.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Scholastic, 2017. An African American boy begins the book by wondering why he is himself and not someone else, the refrain quickly echoed by a white girl. The city is wonderfully diversely populated by people of many backgrounds, including hijabis, African Americans in more than one shade of brown, Asian Americans, several biracial couples–there even seems to be the silhouette of a woman in a burka and her son in a long tunic, but no one really emerges as a protagonist, per se.

Begin Smart: What Does Baby Say by Sterling Publishing, 2016.  This is a first words primer featuring different babies in the illustrations.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2016. The school is the protagonist, but his first and best friend is an African American man, a janitor in the school.  The school children are diverse: African Americans (in the kindergarten class, Chloe and Max), Asian Americans (Bella), Latinx Americans (one of the Aidens), perhaps even the teach is a Latina?  The school is named after Frederick Douglass.

Curious George: Dinosaur Tracks by CGTV based on characters by H. A. Rey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Curious George’s African American friend, Bill, a teenage or elementary school boy, is both the cause of the mystery and the one to answer George’s questions.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Beauty and the Beast adapted by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Meg Park. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. The beast when he becomes a prince is darker-skinned than is Beauty, of African or Spanish origin?

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Puffin-Penguin Random, 1977. First published 1936. Ferdinand the bull is the protagonist, but every human character is Spanish. This is perhaps not the best portrayal of Spanish culture; while bull-fighting is in fact a part of Spanish culture, it is a violent sport, and there is no discussion of the human characters regretting the violence, only fearing the supposed violence of the bulls.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2014. The secondary character is a young, white girl, but the other children playing with other imaginary characters and the cityfolk are diverse.

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano and illustrated by Susan Banta. Barnes & Noble, 2009. First published 2001. This may a story about appreciating one’s differences, but the story is about pumpkins, the farmer is white, but his patrons are diverse.

Trains Don’t Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. This is a story about trains, really without any protagonist even, more about factual trains, the types of trains and their functions, but the travelers and those the trains pass are diverse, mostly African American or white.

White protagonists with diverse background characters

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. Abrams, 2013. 

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. Abrams, 2007.

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. First published 1977.

Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. 

How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2017.

It’s interesting—and sad—to note that in all these diversely populated classrooms, not one of the teachers is a person of color.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2005. Nancy’s family visits a restaurant where an African American family are also eating.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016. One of the pirates at least is darker skinned than the others and than the protagonists.

Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko and illustrated by Dan Santat. G. P. Putnam & Son’s-Penguin Random, 2017. One of the soccer players is darker skinned than the protagonists or other children.

 

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Reviews: September 2017 Picture Book Roundup

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

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Scholastic, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I sort of already reviewed this book when I was reviewing bell hook’s Skin Again because I read within a month of each other these two books about diversity and seeing beyond outer appearance and skin color. Oops. Alko and Qualls’ use of primary characters and a grounding location (a city) in the illustrations help to make less abstract the ideas that Britt is portraying. It gave the book another focus—the characters and their questions—rather than the focus being solely on the reader and the reader’s perceptions. By posing questions that I think all of us—as adults, yes, but also as children—have wondered, the story has a universality that draws a reader to it—or it did so for me. Universality is certainly some of the lesson of Britt, Alko, and Quall’s book.

***

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

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Marla Frazee’s illustrations are definitely the true champion of this book by Hillary Clinton. The text of the book is simple—what is needed (a vision, teamwork, the proper tools, kindness, sharing, play, and rest) to create a community—but the illustrations make this the story of a community coming together to build a playground because of the vision and dream of a child or three.

***

Click to visit the series' page for links to order, summary, preview, and activity kit.

Pete the Cat and the New Guy by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperCollins, 2014.

A new kid moves into the neighborhood. Pete immediately notices that he and Gus the Platypus are not alike, but immediately accepts that being different is “cool,” which is wonderfully refreshing. Gus can’t do the things that Pete and his friends do. It makes Gus sad, but Pete keeps assuring him that there’s something everyone can do. Finally, they all bond over music.

***

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

Animal Homes ZXA: An Out of Order Alphabet Book by Barbara Gibbon. Mascot, 2017.

There’s so much to this book. This animal and alphabet primer groups the animals by their habitat, very basically defined in the text and illustrated, rather than alphabetizing them and highlights some more unusual animals rather than sticking only to the tried examples. By rearranging the letters, the book and the alphabet are less predictable, and those learning the alphabet can rely less on memorization of the sounds and have to put together more assuredly the shape of the letter and the sound it represents. Including unique animals (zebu, quokka) in the text helps to eliminate the same memorization technique. The illustrations include both lower and uppercase examples of the letters and beautiful animal portraits to associate with each letter. The endpapers are illustrated to show the animals and the letters that they represent reorganized alphabetically so as not to lose that element of instruction, which adds an element of familiarity and closure to the book.

*****

Click to visit the book's page for links to order, summary, activities, and authors' and illustrator's bios.

Princesses Wear Pants by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. Abrams, 2017.

Told in rhyme, this princess Penny is known for her gowns and tiaras, but she prefers pants when she exercises, when she gardens, when she flies her plane, when she judges the science fair, and when she relaxes. A conservative lady, Lady Busyboots, is sure to be at the ball though, and Penny doesn’t want to be subject to her wagging finger. She decides she doesn’t want to go if she can’t wear pants, so she hides her swim trunks beneath her gown. When Penny’s cat, Miss Fussy, falls into the moat, Prince Phillip can’t save her because his suit will get wet; he’s not properly dressed. But Penny pulls off her dress, beneath which she’s wearing her swimming trunks, and hops into the moat to save the cat, winning the admiration of her subjects for her bravery and also Lady Busyboots’ approval of pants as a practical garment. Some of the text is a little heavy-handed in its message of female empowerment through fashion choices, but on the whole I approve. I liked that Penny’s royal duties extended to flying in the air force, judging science fairs, and helping to feed the hungry—duties that really are part of today’s expectations for royalty but which are rarely acknowledged in children’s books. It helped make this princess story feel more modern. The illustrations are bright and playful with many pineapples worked into the details. I’m giving it only four stars though because there were places where consistency seemed to be an issue. In the beginning, Penny doesn’t mind dresses, but she minds them when she should wear one to the ball? And she wanted to wear pants to the ball not swimming trunks.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Ross MacDonald. Hyperion-Disney, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is one of those times when I have to argue with the publisher’s listed intended audience. My toddlers didn’t get it. The audience member who laughed with me was nearer 7 if not older than that. This book is filled with wordplay and math puns, and most of that seemed to sail right over the heads of my toddlers. 7 Ate 9 is a noir detective story, where Private I, a garish pink letter I in a striped tie and a fedora, has to solve the mystery of 9’s disappearance when 6 comes into his office screaming that 7 ate 9. No numbers were actually eaten in the making of this picture book.

***

Click to visit the book's page for links to order, summary, video of the author reading, news, and author's bio.

The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak. Dial-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this and how much my kids enjoyed this because I always enjoy and often judge a book by its pictures. Like Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Book! (one of my favorites), this book explains and then relies on the reader reading everything that the book says—no matter what. So where Gerald and Piggie laugh hysterically at the reader being forced to say “banana,” this book makes the reader say things like “My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt” and “The kid I’m reading this book to is the best kid ever in the history of the entire world” and sing and read a whole page of ridiculous nonsense words. Asides—complaints about what’s coming, comments on the ridiculousness of what’s been said—are included in the text, and while the are fun to read aloud, in places—especially toward the beginning I feel—they are a bit too intrusive. And I want to read the book again, but I’ve just been made to say please don’t ever make me read this book again. Overall though, this was a lot of laughs.

****

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

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy likes fancy things and using fancy words, but her family doesn’t understand. She puts an ad on the fridge for fancy lessons, and the whole family obliges and comes. They dress up in a wealth of fancy accessories and decide to go for a fancy dinner. It’s all going very well till Nancy, carrying a tray of ice cream sundaes, trips and drops the tray, splattering the whole restaurant in ice cream and whipped topping. Nancy’s feeling upset.  They go home, get cleaned up, and have ice cream in their pajamas. She thanks her parents for being fancy, and they all exchange “I love you”s, which can be said no fancier or better way. Nancy’s parents are A+: showing up when they’re requested, showering her with love, appreciating and encouraging her interests. There’s some fancy vocabulary to give this book more of an educational feel. This is all around a good book.

*****

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

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This whole of the book is narrated by Humpty in the past tense as though he is telling you the story while sitting in front of you.  Humpty loves sitting up high on the wall. He likes to be up near the birds. But he fell off that wall.  The kings’ men put him back together again—physically—but they can’t heal the emotional scars he carries from his accident. He’s scared of heights now, and he can’t enjoy the things that he used to. It affects everything, even his sleeping and eating habits. He settles at first for watching the birds from the ground, then creates a paper airplane, crafted to look like a bird, so that some part of him is with the birds.   But accidents always happen, and his plane lands atop the wall from which he once fell.  Instead of walking away this time, he climbs the wall to retrieve his plane.  Having conquered his fears, he cracks apart, and becomes a fully-fledged bird, finally able to fly with the birds that he loves—finally one of the birds that he loves. That first reading, there was something off-putting about the end for both me and for one of the parents who was there when I was reading it.  It seemed less off-putting a second time for me, maybe because I knew it was coming.  I’m not sure how much of the recovery from trauma my toddler audience understood.  The illustrations are amazing—as Santat’s always are—saturated with clever use of space and color with impressive attention to detail.  It’s the sense of off-ness I got the first time–and that was expressed by another at the reading–that prevents this from getting five stars.

****

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

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2009. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob rhyme all the time. Or Ed, Ned, and Ted do. Bob does not. Ed, Ned, and Ted take turns rhyming with one another, but Bob is too distracted by the end that’s coming towards them and doesn’t rhyme. Neither Ed, Ned, nor Ted realize that Bob is trying to warn them and is not playing their game, so they correct him, chastise him for his warnings not rhyming. This is a good lesson on paying attention to your friends, on listening, and on rhyming. The illustrations are simple, really just four fluffy monsters each a different color but surprisingly expressive and a few simple lines on a few pages for setting.

****

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

A Pirate’s Life by Salina Yoon. Price Stern Sloan-Penguin Random, 2007.

This is a super-cute lift-the-flap book about pirates with a surprising number of facts and tidbits of history. Pete prepares you—the reader—for your first voyage, making sure you’ve packed all the necessities, including sunscreen, fresh underwear, cured meat and fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s a list provided and a challenge to find everything on the list on the page. The second double-page spread tours the ship and establishes some pirate rules. The third spread is rhyming instructions to find the treasure and a map. Then, the treasure found, it’s time to party with another scavenger hunt. The last page declares you unanimously the new captain. There are stickers and a captain’s hat for you in your new quarters on the last page spread.

****

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 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Was It Orange?

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I have to issue another apology to the authors whose books I read in July.  July is when I broke my arm.  July is when my head was fuzziest from pain and painkillers.  I may not be able to provide the detailed reviews that these books deserve, but I am reviewing them all nonetheless, and I hope my reviews will pique others’ interest in these books.

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

Barnaby Never Forgets by Pierre Collet-Derby. Candlewick, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 5-8, Grades PreK-3.

Barnaby thinks he remembers the important things—and he does, though his follow-through needs a little work. While in his monologue Barnaby tells the reader all of the things that he remembers, the illustrations betray all the things that he forgets. He always feeds his grasshoppers, but he forgets to close the cage so there are now grasshoppers everywhere. He always remembers ice cream night, but he forgets to close the freezer door. Barnaby admits that he’s not perfect. He has overdue library books, and once he forgot to put the trash into the can, but overall, this bunny thinks that he’s responsible. The action of the book primarily takes place while Barnaby readies himself for school. When he arrives, no one is there. Why? (Highlight to reveal spoilers.)It’s Saturday! And Barnaby forgot his trousers. I really enjoyed the illustrations. I really enjoyed Barnaby as a character, his buoyant personality and his voice. Barnaby’s plight is relatable, though the ending is a little trite, even though it’s sure to get a laugh from the book’s intended audience.

****

Click to visit the illustrator's page for summary, reviews, and sample pages.

Dog on a Frog? by Kes and Claire Gray and illustrated by Jim Field. Scholastic, 2017.

This British trio originally named the book Oi, Dog! but here in the U.S., “Oi!” isn’t vernacular you expect children to know—not yet. Usually cats sit on mats, and frogs sit on logs, and dogs sit on frogs. That’s the rule. But Frog doesn’t like that rule at all, so he’s changing all the rules. His rhymes get more and more ridiculous. The humor of the book comes from that and the corresponding illustrations. The laughs come easily.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2010. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Paired with Jeffers’ ever-delightful illustrations, in this book, the penguin wants to learn to fly. The boy tries to help, but nothing is working. As they are seeking expert advice, the penguin believes he has found his answer, and rushes off without his friend, without a word to him. The two become separated and worry about each other. As the penguin begins to worry about flying—and more importantly about landing—the two reunite, just in time for the boy to catch the penguin. This book is gentler than most. There’s no dialogue. I think that takes away some of the immediacy of friendship books like Mo Willems’. This one probably makes a better bedtime story for that though.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order and sample illustrations.

Cheer Up, Ben Franklin! by Misti Kenison. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

While certainly marketed for toddlers, this book could be appealing and helpful to readers of all ages. In one sentence each, Kenison highlights some of the major players in the American Revolution, the ones that kids will hear more about later in school textbooks. Much if not all of the context is removed, but context is not the point, and for those who want to delve deeper, there’s a paragraph for each character in the back as well as a timeline showing the characters’ parts in the American Revolution. Instead of making this a story about a war, this is a story about Ben looking for a playmate. He wants to fly his kite, but everyone is busy. Betsy Ross is sewing a flag. Alexander Hamilton is counting money. Paul Revere is riding his horse. In the final pages, everyone meets back up, John Hancock signs his name, and they all celebrate with fireworks. I’ve fallen in love with these simple, bright illustrations and these simple illustrations of important figures. I like that women and people of color are included too.  Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? is the next in this series.  Watch for a review of that here.

*****

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

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Watch Me Throw the Ball! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2009. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m sure I’ve read this one before, but I somehow never reviewed it. Gerald believes that throwing a ball takes skill and practice. But Piggie believes that the key to throwing a ball is having fun. Who’s right? Told with a lot of repetition and no contractions, the books in this series make great early readers, and they have plenty of humor in the illustrations and story to make the short story a good and fun one.

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

An Elephant and Piggie Book: I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I broke my arm. And this seemed like the perfect book to read when I did my first story time after coming back to work. Because I love Elephant and Piggie books, and I could relate to Gerald’s story. Gerald’s story gets crazier and sillier as each page goes on. This book sort of downplays the seriousness and the pain and the fear of breaking a bone. It makes it seem almost a silly thing.  For some kids that might be helpful, but this may not be the book you need when trying to reassure a child who has broken a bone of her own.

(I’ve honestly gotten to the point where I can’t rate Elephant and Piggie books subjectively).

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.