Tag Archives: Carol V. Aebersold

Book Reviews: February Picture Book Roundup

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Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell and illustrated by Coe Steinwart.  CCA and B, 2013.

This is a sequel to The Elf on the Shelf, which I reviewed in November’s roundup, and again I read this book at a story hour event.  This was a much more fun story hour event—though admittedly, it’s possible it was more fun because I’ve had more practice with story hours since.  Like The Elf on the Shelf, this book is used to explain a toy more than as a standalone book.  The book explains the elves’ birthday traditions and how a child’s elf can with Santa’s help return to the child’s home for the child’s birthday.  The elf will decorate a birthday chair for his or her child and watch the events.  The elf’s purpose here is more celebratory than policing and that is a welcome relief from the inherent creepiness of the elf on the shelf’s concept.  I thought overall that this was a better book than The Elf on the Shelf, but it was still nothing stellar.  I wonder how many children would actually be excited to see their elves some time other than the Christmas season, even donning a costume to look like a cupcake and so distancing themselves from the Christmas season and their regular role as police.  I just don’t understand this tradition.

**1/2

Love Monster by Rachel Bright.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-MacMillan, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 2-4, Grades Pre-K-K.

This follows the outcast Love Monster, who does not feel as cute and cuddly as the other residents of Cutesville and is not as loved as the other residents of his town.  Love Monster searches all over but only really finds someone with whom he can be comfortable when he has given up hope and ceased to look.  The text and illustrations are clever and bright as the author’s name.  Others’ reviews have talked about the ill-ease that the readers feel at the moral that Love Monster cannot be loved or find love with others who do not share his peculiarity, but that same moral reminds me of the quote by Dr. Seuss:  “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love,” and since I feel that that particular quote very aptly sums up my friendships, I don’t mind the idea as a premise for a children’s book.

****

Forget-Me-Not: Friendship Blossoms by Michael Broad.  Sterling, 2011.

Too small, too big, too young, Forget-Me-Not the Elephant is rejected from the groups of friends already gathered together at the watering hole where his herd arrives.  Rejected, he finds himself beneath the bare trees, where he meets Cherry the Giraffe.  As the days pass by, the trees grow and change as do Cherry and Forget-Me-Not.  When the spring comes and pink blossoms cover cherry trees beneath which Cherry and Forget-Me-Not meet, the animals that had originally rejected Forget-Me-Not come to him to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but Forget-Me-Not has learned the meaning of true friendship and though he does not reject the others as they once rejected him, he cleaves to Cherry.  This is a sweet story of friendship with beautiful illustrations.  It is a sequel to Broad’s Forget-Me-Not, which I’ve not read.

****

Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 2002.  First published 2000.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m realizing that Eric Carle as much, as I remember him as this brilliant storyteller, writes bestiaries more than he writes stories.  A child could learn the names of many animals from him, but there’s just not much story there.  This one is particularly devoid of plot, having no real protagonist (unless it be the speaker).  The book ends with reminding the child of the mother’s love.

**1/2

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This story reminded me a particular person in my family who will remain unnamed to protect her identity—and myself from a shotgun and a shovel.  Small Bunny does everything with Blue Blanket, Small Bunny needs Blue Blanket, and Blue Blanket helps Small Bunny to do everything he does better.  But all that attention has made Blue Blanket dirty, and Small Bunny’s mother finally takes Blue Blanket away to be washed, promising that Blue Blanket will be a good as new when it is returned to Small Bunny.  When Blue Blanket comes back, however, it doesn’t smell or feel like it did, so Small Bunny has to use Blue Blanket as he used to do till Blue Blanket becomes the same dirty blanket that he loved.  It’s a sweet story.  The drawings are simple in style and color, very enjoyable, and surprisingly expressive for being so simple.  I think it’s probably important that there are books like this that say that the security object is okay and promise that that the object will not be hurt by a washing, but there are already a great number of these stories, and I don’t think that Feeney’s ranks among the most memorable.

***

How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop and illustrated by Gwen Millward.  Simon & Schuster, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I read this too for a story hour book, and I’m glad that it was there on the table displaying books for Valentine’s Day because it avoided romantic or familial hugs and kisses, which I would rather leave to families to read to one another while I read something more platonic.  I liked the build of how to hug different animals before getting to the promised porcupine (though I was a bit displeased that no one wanted to hug the skunk; doesn’t the skunk want hugs?).  I liked the different ways in which the protagonist tried to make the porcupine more huggable because some of them (particularly covering each spine with a cushioning marshmallow) made me laugh, though I am glad that he needed none of these techniques, that the porcupine did not need to be altered in any way to be hugged.  It’s an enjoyable little book.  I wish I had gotten a copy in my cereal box.  I will have to look for last year’s winner in April 2015’s boxes.

****

The Kiss That Missed by David Melling.  Barron’s Educational, 2007.  First published 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I loved this book.  A preoccupied king, too busy with his own concerns, blows a kiss towards his son as he passes the door, but the goodnight kiss misses and is blown out the window.  A clumsy knight is summoned to follow and retrieve the kiss.  The knight must pass through many perils, but the kiss that he pursues subdues the wild beasts just as they are about to attack the knight.  The bright, expressive illustrations add humor to the already humorous text.  The king learns his lesson about taking time out of his schedule for his son, which is wonderfully encouraging and I think is as good a lesson for parents as it is a promise to the children.  It plays with the fairytale clichés creatively and well.  There’s a great deal of tension between pages—something actually rather difficult to achieve with picture books, but the monsters were painted so ferociously and the danger came so near that as I was reading I felt my heart patter a bit faster.  Without much text, characters are given a rather great deal of personality.  This is one I want to add to my library.

*****

Best Friends Pretend by Linda Leopold Strauss and illustrated by Lynn M. Munsinger.  Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2014.

This was a request from one of my visitors to the story hour.  The cover led me to believe that there would be more glitter and more shine, and first let me say that the absence of these between the covers was a letdown.  The rhyming text takes the two girls through a number of professions and roles that they pretend to take on.  I suppose I am glad that the roles portrayed are gender neutral and end with a “women can have it all” feminism, and I am also thankful for the interracial friendship, but I was not wowed by either the text or the illustrations.

***

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman.  Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2012.  First published by 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3.

I was prepared to hate this book for its mushy-gushy ickiness, but maybe because my extended family had recently welcomed a new baby into its midst, I loved it.  The message is such a sweet one, and you can tell from the covers of any of her books that Tillman is a singularly gifted artist.  These are inspiring words to share with children of any age, and the rhyme and rhythm make me suspect that they are words that might easily sink into a subconscious to be recalled when they are needed.

*****

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon.  Walker-Penguin, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

In January’s roundup, I reviewed the book that kickstarted this series: Penguin and Pinecone.  I loved Penguin and Pinecone.  I was a little bit less enthused about this sequel, possibly because it ditched the message of friendship in favor of a romantic storyline that really is not ideal for the audience to which this picture book claims to cater (which, yes, I recognize many of the films for kids of this same age do, but Disney gets something of a buy for having started with fairy tale retellings).  Also, here the paraphernalia of knitting is a bit too prominent.  It feels forced, forced into the plot and superseding the plot to the detriment of the plot.  In the first book, knitting is a background theme, a way to show the passage of time, and a plot device; here it is more than that, too much.

**1/2

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Book Reviews: November Picture Book Roundup

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Most of this month’s picture books came into my hands for one story hour or another that I was expected to lead.

The Elf on the Shelf by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell.  Illustrated by Coë Steinwart.  CCA and B, 2007.

Let’s start with a little too early yet Christmas spirit.  This was a required book to be read for a particular story hour.  I found out about The Elf on the Shelf tradition last year when I joined the retail world for the holiday season.  I had never actually read the book, but the concept to me is more creepy than not.  The elf watches children during the holiday season and reports their deeds nightly to Santa.  The elf is known to leave the house because he is found in a different location or position each morning.  Some parents seem to use the elf as another pair of eyes to watch the children for good and behavior, and some parents have reported that the elf being in the house does affect the children’s behavior.  Some use the elf as a hide-and-seek game.  The book itself explains the game and the idea to kids in a rhyming fashion.  The writing itself I found honestly mediocre, but was pleasantly surprised by the rhyme.  It’s a quick read, and the children seemed engaged, though our turnout was small.  Half of the listeners were above the intended age for the reading or the book and while they were engaged they also poked some fun at the holes in the concept.  Parents should be warned that the elf does ask good boys and girls to say their prayers in case there are any who might find that offensive, though this book otherwise stays within the now secular traditions of Christmas.

**1/2

Barnyard Dance Lap Book by Sandra Boynton.  Workman, 2011.

Sandra Boynton is extremely popular, and though I’ve read only a few of her books, I’ve been pleased with all of them.  This classic of hers seemed a safe bet for a story hour, and it was a big hit.  The kids had been surprisingly riled by a reading of Mo Willems I’m a Frog! (see below), and at this point I went with it, and asked the audience to just join me in dancing, though I had surprisingly little audience participation for this one.  The book aloud actually reads like a square dance call.  It was a very quick read.  Too quick maybe, I wanted to flip it over and start again, and see if I couldn’t coax some of the kids to do-si-do with me.  But then, how does one, in an average setting for a read aloud or read alone “bow to the horse” or “stand with the donkey”?

****

Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter.  Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2013.

Like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, the book shows a button, gives instructions, and demands interaction because the text implies that the illustration on the next page has been influenced by the actions done to the button on the previous page.  In retrospect, for the larger group that I had, this was not the story hour book to choose, because when, for example, in Don’t Push the Button, it says to press the button twice, having an audience of ten, none of whom wanted to be left out or passed over, the button was pushed really twenty times before its change was effected.  It was, though, a fun read aloud book and enjoyable to interact with and would be great for one-on-one read alouds (bedtime stories).  Structurally, I prefer Don’t Push the Button over Press Here because Don’t Push the Button gives readers a character to follow and with whom to sympathize.  Because the button affects him and not just the page, it seems more of a problem when unlikely things happen because the button is pressed.  In Don’t Push the Button, however, the effects of pushing the button are consequences of rule breaking where in Press Here the effects are caused by following instructions.  Readers of Don’t Push the Button are following the instructions of the monstrous protagonist, but it’s more like giving in to peer pressure than following directions—and I suppose that is a demerit in the pro/con battle between the two.  Regardless of which is better composed, all these poor books will go to an early grave from being prodded and shaken….

***1/2

The Meaning of Life by Bradley Trevor Greive.  Andrews McMeel, 2002.

Whoops.  This one’s not for kids.  But it is a picture book.  Barnes & Noble classifies it as a “gift book,” but it is still by technical definition a picture book, a book with pictures that enhance the text but are not necessarily integral to the text (versus a picture storybook in which the pictures are integral.  I consider that a subgenre of picture books, and many of the books in these roundups headed as “picture books” are actually “picture storybooks” (practically anything by Mo Willems, for example.))  Like all Bradley Trevor Greive books, The Meaning of Life features philosophical ponderings with a quirky, adult humor, topped with black-and-white photographs of animals.  This book asks a lot of questions about human existence and to the readers directly.  It suggests that the love of life is where our focus should be, and asks readers to think about what they are truly passionate about, and encourages them to chase that.  His are, again, books that I enjoy giving out as gifts.  They are enjoyable by most personalities, always fun, almost always leave me with a smile on my face, and good to share.

*****

The Turkey Train by Steve Metzger and illustrated by Jim Paillot.  Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2013. Intended audience: Grades 3-5 (ages 8-12).

I thought this would be a Thanksgiving themed book.  It’s promotionally shelved as a Thanksgiving book.  It is not.  It is about turkeys taking a day trip to a ski resort in Maine.  The turkeys amuse themselves and partake of the provided entertainment on the train then revel in winter sports and activities once they arrive in Maine.  It was a fun read aloud because it was very musically written with a solid rhyme scheme—up until the end when the rhyme scheme breaks, signaling the coming end of the book, a clever device.  The illustrations are colorful and clever with a few puns to amuse the adults (Fowl Play).  I puzzle how a train can travel from Fort Wayne (presumably Indiana?) to Maine in a day and back.  If I were reading the book as an editor, I’d call a logic foul, but I understand not having questioned it for the sake of the rhymes, and because the intended audience is not likely to do so.

****

Hello, Virginia! by Candice Ransom and illustrated by David Walker.  Sterling, 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Candice Ransom is a professor at my alma mater, so yes, I’m likely to be a bit biased.  Hello, Virginia—and I would guess all the Hello, America! books—reads a great deal like one of the Good Night Our World series.  Which series began first I cannot say.  I read Good Night Connecticut before Hello, Virginia! thinking from its title that it would be a Goodnight Moon parody, and so it is Ransom’s book that reminds me of Vrba’s rather than the other way around.  The plot of neither is thrilling.  The plots essentially say hello or goodnight to various sights around each state.  Neither series gives much information about the sights so I would not use either as a teaching tool really.  The books may serve to remind adults about the things that they remember and miss about a state.  I can see a young child exclaiming “We were there!” when a familiar, particular location is illustrated (for example not over the stone walls of Connecticut, but perhaps over the Mystic Aquarium).  Overall, I cannot rate either book highly.

I do appreciate the Hello, America! series’ proper use of grammar in its titles.

***

An Elephant and Piggie Book: I’m a Frog! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

This Elephant and Piggie book was a book that I did not expect to be interactive, but the children in my story hour disagreed.  Piggie was pretending to be a frog, and they all wanted to pretend to be frogs too, ribbeting and hopping around the stage.  I don’t know that I’d ever before read a Mo Willems book aloud.  I was inserting dialogue tags now and again, but it was also impossible to read without at least differentiating the two characters by inflection.  This was a good lesson: one about pretending, that you can pretend, that we can use our imagination, that even adults pretend.  Now of course, you could take the negative view that learning to pretend to be something that you’re not is a bad thing (teens+, see the movie Easy A), but you can also pretend to be unafraid, pretend to be a parent to a doll to learn empathy and responsibility, or pretend to be a frog.  I love Mo Willems’ humor, I’ve said before, I love the strength of his characters, and I love the twist that he puts into the end of this book.

*****