Tag Archives: didactic

Book Reviews: July 2014 Picture Book Roundup


First a quick acknowledgement: The first picture book roundup was posted July 1, 2013.  I have officially been doing this for over a year now; I just hadn’t realized it.  Since I’ve realized it, you might notice a small detail added to the title of this post.  I guess it’s time to start distinguishing by year as well as month.

Also, I ought to apologize.  This month’s is awfully late.  But never mind.  Here it is at last.

Waldo the Jumping Dragon

Waldo, The Jumping Dragon by Dave Detiege and illustrated by Kelly Oechsli. Whitman-Western, 1964.

This one I found in an antiques mall, drawn to it by the dragon on the cover. Waldo is a careless dragon who doesn’t look where he’s going, and because the characters warn the dragon that that heedlessness will get him into trouble, I’m tempted to think of this as a didactic story. He runs into a knight—literally—and the knight decides that he must slay the dragon. The knight chases him, eventually catching hold of the dragon’s neck after the dragon frightens a king and a queen. Waldo, however, just continues to jump from place to place with the knight clinging to him, until he runs into a tree, dislodging the knight, who runs away from the reckless dragon, deciding that he is too dangerous. But before dislodging the knight, Waldo admits that he is a lonely dragon, so his recklessness leads not only to danger for himself and others but also a lack of friends, making it truly unenviable to a young audience. Because he isn’t watching where he is going, Waldo breaks the 4th wall and jumps off of the page. I’ve always been a fan of books that break the 4th wall and acknowledge themselves a book. 



Touch the Red Button by Alex A. Lluch. WS, 2014.

Hervé Tullet’s Press Here has spawned several copycats, including this book and Bill Cotter’s Don’t Press the Button. (There are more copycats than I’d realized. Here’s an online version intended for an older audience.) These books ask readers to interact with the illustrations, and the illustrations reflect the readers’ assumed interaction. It’s a pretty fun concept, and though I recognized pretty quickly that Lluch’s book was a Press Here copycat, I still read it all the way through, then held it out to a coworker for him to play with too. This more than any of the other books I’ve found—including the original—is more complimentary, praising the reader for following directions. But it’s also less original than Cotter’s book.

These will never be good story hour books but will always be good bedtime books. They’re educational. The interactive model makes them books of play for kids and adults too. The novelty of the concept is starting to wear off, but I think that the interactive and playful nature of the books will ensure that they keep selling.



Can You Say It, Too? Moo! Moo! by Sebastien Braun. Nosy Crow-Candlewick-Random, 2014.

This flap book shows hints of the animal behind the flap. It is peppered with animal sounds paired the animal’s name. It’s actually been pretty highly praised, but I found nothing in it to disappoint and nothing in it to blow me away.



Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Good Books, 2010.

Now Smallman seems about as enthusiastic about dragons I am, and I understand that Vikings and dragons have a long history, but there are so many echoes of Cowell and of DreamWorks here that it seems nothing so much as a leech to the How To Train Your Dragon franchise’s fame (the movie was released about six months prior to Dragon Stew’s release). In Cowell the bathroom humor of middle-grade boys is age-appropriate. In a children’s picture book, it seems grotesque (though I do recognize that my disgust is also mixed with my outrage at the book so blatantly coasting on Cowell’s success without acknowledging it). For an older audience, I’d love it, and maybe for, say, ages 7-8 (ages which are within the realm of picture book marketing), it would be great. It’s an exciting adventure about bored Vikings who decide to go and hunt a dragon for their stew without knowing what a dragon looks like, battle their way past sea monsters, eat all of their teatime sardine sandwiches, land on a dragon’s island with the help of a killer whale, examine a pile of dragon poo, and then are confronted with the dragon itself, who rather than allowing himself to be chopped up for stew, sets their bums alight. It might be a delightful picture book, but it’s not one I’m likely to read to my children while they are young enough and incompetent enough readers for picture books—and by the time they’re ready for it, I hope we’ll be reading chapter books.



The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973.

A wordless picture book! A wordless picture book from the ‘70s! So it’s a much older concept than I’d thought. I stumbled across this book in a local used bookstore. I was at first attracted by the title and then because the illustrations reminded me Wesley Dennis’ artwork. Dennis illustrated all of Marguerite Henry’s books, so the style was familiar and warm as a childhood security blanket. When I realized after several pages that no text was forthcoming, I became more intellectually interested.

In this tale, a farm boy with his head in the clouds spies a Pegasus. The boy tries to tell his father, but his father doesn’t believe his wild tales, and the boy’s punishment for his perceived tale-telling is a spanking. The boy sees the Pegasus again, however, and this time befriends it rather than fleeing to tell his father. Once friends, he and the Pegasus travel the world, helping other children, delivering sunflowers to young, lonely girls—acts of kindness and bravery and chivalry, sure, but I can’t really cheer the depiction of children of other ethnicities and cultures, as they are shown to need the help or love of the superior white man and his flying horse. (I’m a product, aren’t I, of my generation, as much as this book is of its time?)

[SPOILER] Like so many good horse stories, the boy is hurt riding, and he thinks that he has lost the horse. The injury softens the father. The book ends with the boy receiving a pony who is the doppelganger for his lost Pegasus as a gift from his previously hard father. [END SPOILER]

But aside from that, these illustrations are pretty beautiful, particularly the landscape and animals. I could hope for a little more emotion from the human characters but not from the animals. The format delights me. There’s room for creativity but enough to have—I think—a fairly similar story and enough illustrations to make the story coherent as well so that it is a feat of storytelling in picture format.


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

Book Review: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Cures Misbehavior with Laughter


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

All right.  Now it’s April 2.  Here’s the blog post you were actually owed yesterday before I decided I’d rather post a prank.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a name that strikes bells in the scattered memories of my childhood. A friend if not a favorite of my sister’s, I have vague recollections of invading her room to hear the tales or pieces of the tales. Until our recent reintroduction, I could not have told you much about the woman, however. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an older woman who never could reconcile herself to the world or company of adults (a sentiment that I can relate to now in a way that I couldn’t have during any earlier encounter and would make me smile as a parent reading these tales to my children). She is eccentric, living in an upside down house with a menagerie of interesting pets. But the children love her, and she is friends with them all. Her house is a sanctuary for them. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle becomes known among the parents as a woman with a cure for every misbehavior. The series tells short tales of the successes of her cures. This first novel of Betty MacDonald’s series, called simply Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, tells of the cures for children who think that chores are a cruel personal punishment, who won’t pick up toys, who always answer back, who are selfishness, who won’t wash, who never want to go to bed, who will only take tiny bites, and who fight and quarrel.

The stories have an element of ridiculous humor. MacDonald relies heavily upon exaggeration and a stretching of the possible. It would take a very long time, for example, for a child who does not wash to acquire enough soil for radish seeds to begin to take root upon her skin. I know of very few parents who would be able to accept Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s advice as wholly as do these desperate parents, and though I think that some of the cures might work, some border upon cruelty themselves and child endangerment.

This is a very interesting tale because it pits child against parent without either being vilified (the children always being described by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as essentially good but behaving badly in this one way) and effects victories for the parents by letting the children do, often as not, exactly as they please. It is the sort of ultimate example of laissez-faire as a method of governing. Children I think will be attracted to this call to let children be children and do as they please as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s kindness and oddity. Parents will be pleased with the lessons.

I should take a moment to note that this is a book from the 1940s, physical punishments such as spankings are looked upon more casually than I would consider them, and the dynamics between the two parents are not the examples to which we aspire today. Often, the mothers are women who stay at home to mind the children, cook, and keep house. The fathers are, if sometimes physically present and almost always attached to mothers, often emotionally and mentally absent. For that, MacDonald does a good job of making each nebulous father of a slightly different personality during his small amount of page time.

This was a quick and light read all in all.


MacDonald, Betty. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Illus. Hilary Knight. New York: HarperTrophy-Harper & Row, 1985. First published 1947.

This review is not endorsed by Betty MacDonald, her estate, Harper Trophy Books, Harper & Row Publishers (later bought by HarperCollins Publishers LLC).  It is an independent, honest review by a reader. Editions now available from HarperCollins are illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.