Tag Archives: Craig Manning

Book Reviews: November 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Sing Along

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Snow Blows White

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The Soundtrack Series: Let It Go by the Disney Book Group. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

You probably almost all know this book by heart already. This is the lyrics and illustrations to match the original animation of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Nothing really spectacular here, but if you need the lyrics for, say, a sing-along story time, it is a helpful book to have on hand. The book comes with a CD of the single. According to the description, the CD is a karaoke, instrumental version, and a sing-along version of the song. It’s a good song, but I’m not sure that the picture book is a necessary publication. I was surprised how few of my littles at story time did sing along with the book and I (we were a cappella). I had one who definitely knew the chorus, but that was all the backup that I got.

***

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Reindeers Are Better Than People by the Walt Disney Company. Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I had sort of hoped that this would be the lyrics to the song like the Soundtrack Series: Let It Go—only because I was doing a sing-along story time. It was not. I still sang the song for the kids, and I only missed a line. I pulled it up on my iPod and let Jonathan Groff sing us through it once too. It’s such a delightful, short song. Instead of lyrics, this is a very brief introduction to the characters of Frozen, seemingly narrated by Kristoff (I would guess because of his “thing with the reindeer”), two sentences or for each of the main adventurers. The kids at story time laughed at and seemed to very much enjoy the characters that they knew with reindeer antlers.

***

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Anna, Elsa, and the Secret River by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Denise Shimabukuro and Elena Naggi. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a new adventure for children Anna and Elsa. Note: I have not yet seen the new film, but I don’t believe that this particular adventure is portrayed in the film. Anna convinces Elsa to chase after a magical river that might provide answers to why Elsa is born with magic mentioned in a lullaby. The sisters use their senses to search for the river, but the sun begins to rise before they find it. As soon as they decide to return to the castle, they wake in their beds, but was the adventure a dream or did they really venture out of the castle and into the woods? The illustrations in this are beautiful, and Rosenbaum does a good job capturing the personalities of the two sisters as I understand them from the first Frozen film. The introduction to the senses—sight, smell, hearing—was a nice touch too.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and sample.The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  Penguin Workshop-Penguin Random, 2019.

In previous Crayons books the crayons have written to Duncan.  Now the crayons are the recipients, receiving letters and postcards and gifts from friends and family in a sweet celebration of reaching out to loved ones at the holidays.  The book has the same offbeat humor and insightful comments on our use of colors that the previous books did.  Many of the characters are from previous books, their adventures expanded here, and I think the book made less sense as a standalone for that reason.  The concept of the crayons and their letters was not well explained in this book (I’m giving it five stars anyway but suggest reading The Day the Crayons Came Home first; meet Esteban).

I grew up with my mother’s love of the interactive picture book, The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg.  This book reminded me of that with its letters and postcards and gifts in envelopes attached to the page while the envelopes’ contents remained separate, able to be taken from the book and read.  This book includes ornaments to hang on a Christmas tree, games, and a gluten-free cookie recipe to try in addition to letters and postcards.  There was also a Hanukkah greeting and paper dreidel to make!  Reading it could easily be spread out over a day or several days if one stops to interact with all the contents.

I had a small audience for this one, but they did better with this story than they have with the length of any of the other Crayons books.  I struggled to balance the book and the separate pieces.  If you’re reading it aloud, make sure you have somewhere to lay the book down to hold up the envelopes’ contents.

*****

 Click to visit BN's website for links to order, summary, trailer, and reviews.

Jack Frost vs. the Abominable Snowman by Craig Manning and illustrated by Alan Brown. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I am excited to have an introduction to choose your own adventure style stories for such a young audience, although the Choose Your Path series name is more fitting. The endings for this story cannot change; there is only one. A reader can however choose which character to follow through the story. There is a lesson here about not having to be locked into one way of reading. When I let my story time children choose their path, they did miss one adventure with Abe the Abominable Snowman, so if they read it a second time, there might be a surprise for them. The instructions to turn to this or that page were included in the rhyming text, and sometimes that felt awkward, but reading it aloud without any prep time, it was nice to have a catchy way to explain to the audience how we could choose between following either of the two racers.

***

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Cookies for Santa: The Story of How Santa’s Favorite Cookie Saved Christmas. Illustrated by Johanna Tarkela. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebooks Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

This was a pretty long book for story time, and required me to skip a bit of the text—though, again, I didn’t get to prep. With more time before reading, I might have been able to trim it more effectively. I barreled through to the ending, but the kids’ attentions were wandering. This is yet one more picture book trying to begin a new Christmastime tradition (like Elf on the Shelf, like Santa’s Magic Key), though this is my favorite of the traditions that picture books have yet tried to begin—and may already be a tradition for many. This tradition is to make a particular type of cookie: Chocolate Krinkle Cookies.

The Kringle family cookbook, which Santa uses every year to make cookies for his helpers and family, is missing. Santa cannot get the recipe right without. He has no cookies to share as he usually does. His helpers and family feel unappreciated and become uncooperative, not helping him prepare for Christmas any longer.

Meanwhile in a library, Abigail who reads cookbooks for fun, finds the Kringle cookbook. She brings it home, and the odd ingredients in the cookbook confuse her family.

In a televised address, Santa confesses to feeling like he should cancel Christmas because he is so upset that he lost the cookbook. Abigail and her family realize what they have, and rush to the America’s Test Kitchen studio to get help with the recipe, not having time to mail the book back to Santa in time for Christmas. The cooks there figure out substitutes for all of the magical ingredients. They televise the recipe and encourage the world to bake the cookies that Santa could not and leave them for him.

On his rounds, Santa finds the cookies left for him, and cheers up considerably. Abigail and her family leave the book for him in addition to the cookies.

In addition to being long, I didn’t really like any character in this story. Santa is not jolly. He, the elves, reindeer, and Mrs. Claus are too focused on the gifts that come with the season. The insertion of America’s Test Kitchen was clunky and clearly an advertisement for the company. I think reading aloud I actually left out the trademarked brand, and I think that the text ought to have done too.

The story I think would have been better without the inclusion of Abigail and her family and without the inclusion of America’s Test Kitchen, perhaps instead a story about Santa losing his cookbook and his family and friends reminding him of the Christmas spirit. The idea that the world gets to give back to Santa is sweet, though.

I could never decide whether I was imagining that the stack of these books smelled a touch like peppermint and chocolate, though they are not advertised as scented.

Kirkus suggests a chance that Abigail and William’s mom might be Asian, but I’m not sure that I see the same.

The book does include the recipe in the backmatter.

**

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Cookiesaurus Christmas by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans and illustrated by AG Ford. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I did not realize that Cookiesaurus was a series until I began to research for this review, though this is only the second in the series. Cookiesaurus, whose pleas and excuses make up the text of the story, wants to be the cookie left out for Santa. He knocks other cookies off the plate, making several messes and hurting his friends. Near the end, he realizes that his friends have been hurt by his actions and apologizes and helps the cookies back onto the plate. As a reward, he is chosen to top the Christmas tree. The style of writing reminds me of Mo WillemsPigeon books.

***

Making the World a Kinder Place

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Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebook Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is an interactive book on the line of Don’t Touch the Button! and Press Here. My audience member was shy and nervous about participating. The text reads like instructions for an app game, especially “Use your finger to drag each [ingredient] to the counter.” The end result of these interactive instructions is a batch of cupcakes for a “special day.”  This is a way to “bake” together with a little one without the mess, but the result is only “cupcakes.” I can’t eat “cupcakes.” I can see where a family might use this one though, to make a little feel as though they had been included in the baking process.

***

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Sunny Day: A Celebration of Sesame Street by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Selina Alko, Brigette Barrager, Roger Bradford, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ziyue Chen, Joey Chu, Pat Cummings, Mike Curato, Leo Espinosa, Tom Lichtenhelf, Rafael López, Emily Winfield Martin, Joe Mathieu, Kenard Pak, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, and Dan Santat. Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text of this book is the lyrics of the theme song that opens episodes of Sesame Street. Each illustrator gets a single page spread. The book celebrates diversity. As a bookseller, I enjoyed the challenge of identifying each illustrator and have yet to convince myself that I have solved the puzzle. I believe the illustrators are listed in the order that they appear, but I would have to double-check that. The text works best, I think, as a sing-along, but there was a verse that neither I nor the young parents at my story time remembered.

***

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People in Your Neighborhood by Jeff Moss and Sesame Street. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I remembered this song only after looking it up, and I did not find this exact version of the song. I was able to sing the chorus for story time but not the verses. The book does come with a CD, but reading a book intended for sale to another, I did not use it for story time. The book introduces children to several professions including postman and fireman. The book suggests that putting on the clothes of such a profession makes one such a professional.

This book has been available at Barnes & Noble for several months now, at least since November when it was a required story time read, but it appears that it will be getting a wider release in February 2020.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, info about Thunberg, info about the 350.org, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Frances Lincoln Children’s-Quarto, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Greta Thunberg, Time’s Person of the Year 2019, is in another picture book. This one makes fantastic her battle against the giant corporations—here literal giants. Greta lives in a forest. The forest animals come to Greta to ask for her help because the Giants are destroying their home. Greta makes a sign and stands in the Giants’ way. They bowl past her, but other human inhabitants of the forest watch, and slowly begin to join her protest until the Giants are forced to pay attention to the crowd. In this story, the Giants mend their ways and begin to live more sustainably, making the forest better for all those who live in it. The giants are portrayed as being greedy and busy but blind to their destruction rather than heartless. I really like the illustrations in this one. I like the hope in this one even if I believe it to be misplaced.  Greta is portrayed though as more magical than she is, given the ability to speak to animals, and that is a dangerous line to walk, but then, this is clearly a fantasy if the antagonists are literal giants so a heroine who can talk to animals is not unusual in such a story.

*****

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 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Living in Community

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Almost all of these books—and there are a lot of them this month—come back to the idea of community, living together with your fellow creatures, sharing resources, and showing kindness.  One exception is Another Monster at the End of This Book, where two friends argue over the course of action that they should take, one excited for the promised thrill and the other frightened of the promise.  The other exception is Hamilton’s The People Could Fly.

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The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader copy of this book, which comes out April 2. This is a story about sharing. The Little Guys are tiny creatures like acorns with stick person legs and arms and bulbous, orange noses that travel in a pack. The pack makes them mighty. They are unstoppable through the power of teamwork, able to cross dangerous terrains and “beat up” any animal that they encounter. On their quest to find breakfast, they steal and hoard the forest’s resources—“every… thing…”. But being too greedy results in the creatures tumbling into the forest stream. The animals that they have stolen from band together to help the Little Guys. The Little Guys realize that caring about only their own pack isn’t enough, that they are not as indomitable as they had thought, as the whole pack would have been lost if not for the care of others.  They learn that they need to work with the larger forest community, made up of all of the different creatures that inhabit the area. The text itself is fairly simplistic, told in the plural first, the boasts of the Little Guys. The illustrations tell the larger story.

***

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The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Knopf-Random, 2004.

I bought this book for a graduate class in 2007, and then found out that there is a collection of folktales edited by Virginia Hamilton and bearing the same name and that that was the book we were going to need for class. (The collection was published in 1985; this story is taken from that larger work.) I kept the picture book though. This story is a retelling by Virginia Hamilton of an old tale and beautifully, movingly illustrated by the Dillons. Told in a conversational vernacular style, it’s the story of a people from Africa whose beautiful, black wings shed under the cruelty of slavery and the Atlantic crossing, but whose power of flight is unearthed again with the help of an old man in the fields who comes to the hurting people and whispers the magic words to help them remember.  He can’t help all the people fly; not all of them can fly. In the note in the back, Hamilton explains that the power was often associated with the Gullah (Angolan) people. This is a tale of magic, of reawakening.  It’s a tale of the indomitable desire for freedom.  It’s a celebration of African American resilience and strength.

*****

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

The Bad Seed by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

John Jory takes on the nature v nurture debate in this picture book. The Bad Seed had a rough life. He ended up in a bag of sunflower seeds, chewed upon by a human, and spit out, crash landing beneath the bleachers, and living for a while in these grubby surrounds. He becomes depressed, never smiling, without purpose. He breaks all the social mores and the rules. He hears the other seeds call him a “bad seed.” But he makes a decision to turn his life around. He decides that he is going to begin apologizing and saying please and thank you and holding doors, trying to be more pleasant in his interactions with others. He is going to try to change his mindset and his actions too. He’s not perfect, but he’s trying, and the other seeds are beginning to acknowledge that “he’s not so bad anymore.” It’s definitely an oversimplification of recovery from trauma and depression. It’s not that simple to turn a life around, I don’t think, and I hope no one takes it as a formula for healthy recovery. But it is nice that Jory acknowledges that the Bad Seed doesn’t need to be perfect to improve, that he is not bad if he fails, that his situation is improved by trying.

***

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The Good Egg by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book seemed to be written almost more for adults in the room—but then I was the kid who would have benefited from this lesson at a younger age too. This Good Egg does all the right things for the sake of being good, though he does not always excel at helping as when he paints the house with abstract stokes of multiple colors. But under the pressure of being good when all of his carton-mates are bad (when his carton-mates constantly misbehave) is causing the shell around his crown to crack from the pressure. He leaves his carton to find some peace, and to allow himself to heal, to escape the pressure caused by being at odds with his problematic friends, but he finds himself missing his carton-mates. He has to learn that he doesn’t always have to be good, doesn’t always have to follow every rule and all social mores, and that he doesn’t have to hold everyone to his own standard of excellence. He learns to relax a little bit, and that being good, doesn’t have to mean being perfect. He learns that breaking the rules doesn’t necessarily make you bad.  Now, there is some danger in this message too.  Not only that of caving to peer pressure, but returning to a toxic environment is not necessarily healthy even when one misses those familiar faces, and ignoring others’ toxic behaviors in order to be able to maintain one’s own peace is not always ethical or healthy.  This like the message of The Bad Seed I think needs to be taken with caution. John Jory’s text here follows the same formula that he used in The Bad Seed.

***

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Pirate Adventure by Karen King and illustrated Ben Mantle. Top That!, 2017.

I was actually truly delighted by this little tale. The pirate captain’s nephew Pete is coming aboard whether or not the crew likes it—and they don’t like it.  They see Pete as small and weak, the ship as no place for a boy. Pete does all the things that a ship’s boy is supposed to do, all the manual labor that is often glossed over in children’s picture books about pirates, which are often all about adventure and feature smiling pirates or ones who are grumpy and growly but in an endearing way to a rough-and-tumble child. When Captain Jim falls ill, Pete is put in charge of the crew and finishes the Jolly Roger’s treasure hunt. The pirates forget their dislike of Pete when they find the treasure chest. Here in the US, the book is available in Barnes & Noble’s bargain section. I did not (yet) buy the book to try to build the pop-out pirate ship.  It seems to have had multiple titles including Treasure Island and Pirate Pete’s Treasure.

*****

Sesame Street

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We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 1992.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book highlights different body parts in illustrations meant to look like a collection of instant photos. This page talks about the differences between the features in each of these photos: old noses, baby noses, round noses, big noses, small noses. The next page reveals a busy tableau of diverse characters, human and Muppet, and talks about how each of these features that appear different perform the same functions (“our noses are the same. They breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff”). Beyond that, the book confronts ableism. Some may need to wear helmets to protect their heads. Some need to take more time to form words with their mouths. Some won’t talk much. Some won’t talk at all. Some need glasses. Some are blind. One character is in a wheelchair but playing basketball with friends. It advocates asking for a break from a teacher if it’s needed.

The 90s fashion styles in these illustrations! I had to Google their names, but I recognize the old comedy sketch duo Laurel and Hardy in the illustrations. I don’t know why the pair appear in the pages of a book from the early 90s.

*****

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Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday Party by Naomi Kleinberg and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book, though a little long, was wonderful. Elmo and his mother prepare for Elmo’s birthday celebration, shopping, making cupcakes, filling the piñata, and setting up games. The text is simple, perhaps at times a little too detailed, but that also serves to spark ideas for the would-be-party-planner/reader (I got some ideas for stuffing my next piñata). Elmo and his friends enjoy the party, but Elmo’s wish when he blows out the candles takes this book to the next level. Elmo wishes to share his birthday joy with others, so they move the party to the nursing home, and continue celebrating, including the seniors there in the festivities. It’s enough to melt my cold heart. Elmo is too good for this world, and I hope young readers learn from his example; the world would be a kinder, better place. The paperback includes stickers, a crown for the birthday child, and a game to play at a party. It’s a party in a book! Just add cake and friends.

****

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Who’s Hiding? by Naomi Kleinberg. Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Play along as Elmo and other Sesame Street characters lead the reader through Sesame Street. Some of their friends are hiding, and the characters give you clues as to whom you’ll find (“His best friend is a worm.” “He’s green and grouchy.”), but to find out who is on each page, you’ll have to lift the flaps. The illustrations are photographs of the Muppets and actors on the Sesame Street set.

****

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Kindness Makes the World Go Round by Craig Manning and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018. 

Elmo’s mother gives him the gift of a camera on World Kindness Day (November 13 if anyone wants to celebrate) and a quest to go and capture examples of kindness on Sesame Street. Elmo spends the day photographing his friends performing little kindnesses, and then turns around and performs a kindness for his mother. This story is wonderfully sweet, in much the way that is Naomi Kleinberg’s Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday. This though is told in an enchanting rhyme.

*****

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Another Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. SFI Readerlink Dist, 2018. First published in 1996.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

Adding lift the flap elements to this story is an improvement on the first Monster at the End of This Book, but otherwise this book falls rather flat in comparison to the first. I would rather have The Monster at the End of This Book done in this format. In this, Grover and Elmo argue over whether or not to turn the page and come closer and closer to the promised monster at the end, and of course the monsters are just themselves as Grover was the monster in the first book.

***

Song Lyrics

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All You Need is Love by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is not the intended medium for this text. The repetition of the chorus, which itself is the word “love” repeated, just doesn’t read well. For a story time reading, I pulled out a tablet, and let YouTube provide the “reading” by finding a recording of the song by the Beatles. The book illustrates a bear who, woken by the singing of a bird, leaves his forest home, enters the city, and picking up a crowd along the way, interacts with the diverse people there, creating elaborate chalk drawings in the park. Some of the illustrations are bright and colorful certainly, but they would have just as much power I think separate from the book as overwritten with the song’s lyrics.

**

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

What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and illustrated by Tim Hopgood. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

For this one, I also let Louis Armstrong via YouTube do the work of “reading.” This at least has more concrete images to illustrate. The cast is again diverse, with no real narrative this time to the illustrations beyond the text’s wonder of the world. This text at least works better as a narrative, as read aloud.

***

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Puff the Magic Dragon by Paul Yarrow and Lenny Lipton and illustrated by Éric Puybaret. Sterling, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Peter, Paul & Mary did the “reading” for this book via a YouTube video of the song recording. I can’t remember ever having heard the full song before; I’m sure I did do in my childhood, but I doubt then that its story really sank in for me. The text itself tells of a lonely dragon who meets and befriends a boy, who as time passes, stops coming (dies the song implies, though the illustrations suggest he just became a busy adult and parent), leaving the dragon lonely again. The illustrations portray a young girl (presumably Jackie’s daughter), unmentioned in the text, coming to the dragon on the final pages, giving the story at least some hope, though she too will die and the dragon’s loneliness return. I like that Puybaret added to the story, took that extra step beyond 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.