Tag Archives: fairy tale

Book Review: Depth and Darkness Beneath the Fluff in Once Upon A Marigold

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157055Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris is a story of family, friendship, love, magic, and fate. For months now my roommate whenever I’ve said that I need something lighthearted and fluffy has thrust this book at me, and several times now I’ve ignored her. This time, it came to mind when I was looking for such a book, and I requested it from her.

Once Upon a Marigold plays with fairy tale and fantasy character tropes but maybe not with gender as much as I would like. As trope-bent fairy tales go, it is more original than many if still fairly predictable, and that I greatly appreciated.

The protagonist is a young boy found by a bachelor troll in the woods, who tricks that troll into keeping him rather than returning him to his overbearing family and rule-dominated childhood. Chris grows up into a clever, helpful, inventive teen, who begins to realize that there is much of the world that he has not seen and is especially interested in the royal family upon which he spies through his telescope. He is especially interested in the bookish, brunette princess who lives under the curse of being able to read the thoughts of anyone who touches her—so that most people avoid doing so.

He strikes up a burgeoning friendship with the princess via carrier pigeon, but this only increases his desire for interaction with other humans. He leaves his adoptive father for the castle in search of a human experience, where he encounters both the best and worst of humanity and uncovers a dastardly plot that he feels that he—as a good friend—must foil.

Without giving too much of the plot away, this is a story of improbable happy endings—that are still fairly predictable, because this is not the type of story that I ever worried would end unhappily—and I think that would have been true even if it hadn’t been touted to me as lighthearted and fluffy.

There’s enough intrigue and enough danger here to keep me interested, enough that is difficult—marriage arrangements and broken families—that I would avoid giving reading it to a very young child, but it might be a good book for those on the cusp of middle school, just beginning to explore what is more dangerous and what is more disturbing but unwilling yet to relinquish princesses and magic and happily ever afters. Whether or not such children exist, I’m not sure.

This is the first in a series, but neither my roommate nor I yet have the second. The story stands fairly well on its own, only the prologue leaving the spiderthreads of a new story loose and grabbing.

****

Ferris, Jean. Once Upon a Marigold. New York: Harcourt, 2004. First published 2002.

This review is not endorsed by Jean Ferris or Harcourt, Inc or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Reviews: February 2016 Picture Book Roundup

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9780374346904Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright. Farrar, Straus, Giroux-Macmillan, 2015. First published 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 2-4, Grades PreK-K.

A sequel to Love Monster and less problematic I think than its predecessor, in this story Love Monster finds a box of chocolates on his doorstep upon returning home. He wants to eat the chocolate but realizes that he should share the chocolate. But if he shares the chocolate there may not be enough. His friends may take the piece of chocolate that he really wants. Ultimately, Love Monster decides to share and to confess his selfish thoughts to his friends—who laugh and explain that they left the chocolate; they ate all but one piece, which they wanted to save and share with him, and if he’d opened the box, he’d have seen the chocolate and the note saying that they had missed him.  Readers are reminded that honesty and generosity reward and that friendship and chocolate are better when shared.  The gut-wrenching guilt that Love Monster experiences over his selfish desires seems maybe a bit condemning but that guilt is not thrust on Love Monster; it is rather a byproduct of his own conscience, which for me makes the book less condemnable.

****

9780670013272Llama Llama Nighty-Night by Anna Dewdney. Viking-Penguin Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This simple board book takes Llama Llama through the routine of getting ready for bed with the same catchy rhymes and endearing illustrations that are used in the picture books for older children. The cardboard pages, shorter length, shorter sentences, and simpler ideas all show that Dewdney understands the younger audience as well as she can captivate kids just a little older. Llama Llama is one of my favorite modern series, so this book might get some extra brownie points for including one of my favorite characters. Dewdney is a powerful illustrator and good writer.

****

please-open-this-book-9781442450714_hrPlease, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.  Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I feel like I’ve been reading—and loving—a lot of books that break down the barriers between the characters and the reader, the fictional world and the real. In this one, the characters are relieved that someone has finally opened their book because the last person to read it closed the book with them still inside, injuring several of them. The characters complain about their lot, all the while trying to convince the current reader never to close the book, even bribing the reader. I am of two minds about this book: I can see the argument that this book will leave kids wracked with guilt about closing another book ever again, which will lead to a mess of open books on tables and on the floor. On the other hand, I giggled at its silliness and read it at a story time, and it is one of the only books that I have ever sold because of a story time to someone who was at that story time. The mother who was there thought that her child—the older one who was not present, but I suspect was a young elementary age child—would love it, and bought it out of my hand when I’d finished reading. So, really, if parents are okay with this book, I don’t see why I should worry about it.

****

407429The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. Scholastic, 1992. Intended audience: Ages 5-8, Grades K-3.

This book is nearly as old as I am and has been in my possession for probably nigh twenty years now. It’s still funny. These extremely fractured fairy tales are narrated by Jack of “and the Beanstalk” fame and interrupted often by a very frustrated little red hen. Many of these stories lack the magic and the change that comes at the end of most fairy tales: The ugly duckling just becomes an ugly duck; the frog prince is just a frog lying about a curse; the stinky cheese man is chased by no one. The morals of the fairy tales are lost too. But it’s in the unexpectedness and refusal to adhere to the trope or tale type that these tales succeed. There is quite a bit of fourth wall breakage too: on the back cover, the hen complains, “Who is this ISBN guy?”; the giant wants to tell his story and does so in a hodgepodge of sentences cut and pasted from other tales; Jack accidentally tells the whole of “Little Red Running Shorts” in his introduction and Red and the wolf walk out on him, refusing to tell it again. The hen is my favorite character, but my favorite stories are “Chicken Licken” and “Jack’s Story.”  The mixed media illustrations often work in close tandem with the text, making this more picture book than picture storybook.

*****

24968109What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss. Random, 2015.

This is the first of Dr. Seuss’ posthumous books that I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it. It started out seeming a little too ordinary for what I expect from Seuss and a bit slow for that, the siblings debating between a puppy, a kitten, a goldfish, but it did devolve into the ridiculous and imaginative animals that are wonderfully Seussian (and yes, that is a word, in the Oxford Dictionary and all). The whole plot revolves around a brother and sister needing to choose just one pet, for which their father will pay. In the end, they decide on the perfect pet—but Seuss never tells us which pet that is—which I loved. This will never be a favorite Seuss book of mine—not with the mess of wonderful books of his out there, but this was lighthearted, nostalgic, silly fun.

****

576a1851142468e1c25a977f2dfa976fRaven’s Light: A Myth from the People of the Northwest Coast by Susan Hand Shetterly and illustrated by Robert Shetterly. Atheneum-Macmillan, 1991.

This is an old book of my roommate’s from which the dust jacket is missing and the binding on the pages has come undone, so I don’t actually know what the cover looks like. The cover that I found is someone’s Pinterest pin off of an image that has now been removed from Amazon, though it looks like the right style certainly, and I wanted to give you some idea of the illustrations. I am not familiar with this myth outside of the book. In this story, the raven flies over a dark, landless, unpopulated sea with a heavy sack and a pebble. The pebble when he drops it into the sea becomes land and from the sack he pulls out all of the creatures including people. A tear in the sky attracts his attention. Through that tear is the bright land of the sun. Raven turns himself into a leaf and is ingested by the beautiful daughter of a chieftain there. He is born again as her winged humanoid child. He grows up among the people there, protected by his mother. Eventually he steals the sun from the chieftain, his grandfather, and brings it to his own dark kingdom. A young girl accepts his gift and releases the moon and sun.

I am always interested to learn new myths so I enjoyed this story, and I enjoy knowing about these books to share with others who are interested. This story is different from most that I’ve heard too, most of which seem to involve humanoid gods/creators, usually either pitted against one another or in amorous relations with one another (sometimes both), who consciously or accidentally create land and create life but never because they are tired and overcome.  I’m familiar with the raven as a trickster in some American folklore and as a symbol of death and ruin in Anglo-Celtic folklore and mythology, but this I think is the first I’ve seen of a raven god/creator.

Susan Shetterly doesn’t explain so much as she reports. The text is colorful and descriptive with powerful words. Susan Shetterly relies on that and on the characters themselves more than she does on an authoritative narrator. Myths for adults can often be too bogged down by scholarly articles and footnotes. Myths for kids can be too pedagogic or too anxious about not undermining the storytellers’ own beliefs. This telling nicely avoids both types of heavy-handedness, and really comes together as a story.

****

9781627794046Hedgehugs by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper. Henry, Holt-Macmillan, 2015. First published 2014.

This is a precious friendship story about two hedgehogs who just want to express their love for one another in the fashion of humans—with a hug. But hedgehogs are spiky, and hugs between them are uncomfortable. They try several types of seasonable armor to protect each other from their spikes (providing a teaching opportunity about the weather changes and seasons), but none is successful until they find a few socks fallen from the laundry, which when donned protect them from each other’s quills and look absolutely adorable besides. This book also claims an explanation for all those socks that seem to go missing in the wash.  Really, it’s just adorable.

****

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.

Challenge: A Quest!

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I’m going on an adventure! (And there’s going to be magic, and royalty, and an epic quest, and a dark lord at the end.)

I’ve borrowed this book tag from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master.

Step 1: Choose eight non-fantasy books from your bookshelves. (I’m bending the rules already. I haven’t got a lot of non-fantasy novels in my collection. Though I could probably dig up eight, I may not remember their plots all that well; it’s probably a lot of classics. I’m choosing the last eight novels that I read, two of which do happen to be realistic fiction.) If you choose fantasy books, no one will come after you with pitchforks, but you’ll probably laugh less.

Step 2: Draw the names of those eight books out of a hat in random order then answer the following questions:

0-545-22224-9What word does the title of your first book begin with? If it’s “the,” your quest will be made with the sole aim of destroying a magical object which becomes addictive to anyone who holds it too long. If it’s anything other than “the,” you’ll simply be looking to find a magical object which is rumored to be able to save the world or maybe grant one wish to the discoverer.

Book 1: No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve.

Looks like I’ve stumbled into a fairy tale with a wish-fulfilling object.

While you’re holding your first book, open it to a random page. The first object you see on the page has just become magical. This is what you’ll be destroying or seeking out, depending on the previous question. Are you in trouble?

The first object I saw was a path. I kind of like the idea of the path. This magical path through the mountains will lead you to your heart’s desire maybe.

25851271Where is your second book set? This is where you must go either to destroy your magical object, or to find it.

Book 2: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.

I’m searching for this magical path in eastern, small town USA, probably nearer the coast.

7736182Open your third book to a random page. The character whose name you see first ages up to around 700 years old and becomes the wizard who starts you on your quest. On a scale of Gandalf to Dumbledore, how grumpy is s/he?

Book 3: The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.

The first character I see on this page is Drew. Really? All the awesome people who could show up, and it’s Drew? She is actually likely to be a fairly unpleasant 700-year-old wizard. She’s a fairly unpleasant teenager. Why does she send us on this quest for the wish-fulfilling path? Probably she doesn’t mean to. Probably she tried to find it herself, and never succeeded, and mentioned it in passing while grumbling over her unfulfilling 700 years.

21060Open your fourth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is the soldier who has joined your party for mysterious reasons. S/he may possibly be rugged, taciturn, scarred, carry a named weapon, or any combination there of. What’s his/her secret?

Book 4: Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith.

Well, the first name on the page is Merinder’s, which is a family name, but at this point in the story refers to the tyrannical king, Galdran. There’s someone speaking, though I don’t remember whom, to the “I” that is Mel, but I’m probably stuck with Merinder, huh? If I had to guess, Galdran’s secret is that he is a terrible fighter, really, and on the run from a coup that toppled his rule and would have his head if it found him.

8755776Open your fifth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is now royalty. Possibly an heir to the throne, possibly just a second or third child allowed to go on adventures with Mommy and Daddy’s money. Every quest needs one. How useful is s/he?

Book 5: The Mortal Instruments, Book 5: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare.

The first name on the page is Hodge’s. Poor, dead Hodge’s. Jocelyn is speaking. If I took Merinder, I probably should take Hodge, but it’s been so long since Hodge was among the living that I don’t remember a whole lot about his character other than what roles he played in the plot. So I’m taking Jocelyn. And she’s an awesome princess. She’s probably running away from a marriage that she doesn’t want and has been adventuring since escaping. Whether or not there’s a child left with some wizard may be a question for a campfire confessional.

1513207Open your sixth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first joins the party and immediately starts a not-so-friendly rivalry with the royal member of your party. It is never relevant to the plot. Why don’t they like each other, and what nicknames do they give each other?

Book 6: The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book Two: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.

Will Stanton doesn’t like Jocelyn Fairchild. Her wild red hair and wild laugh remind him of Maggie, and she carries too many secrets, which only add to his distrust of her. Jocelyn doesn’t like Will. Will claims to defend humanity but he seems too gentle and carries no weapons. Jocelyn thinks that Will is all talk. Jocelyn’s insults are probably more acerbic versions of “boy” and “child” (because I’m not very good at inventing biting insults).  Will is usually above name-calling. But he will snip at her. He calls her wild and irresponsible and reckless, and generally treats her like a child.

9780142402511Open your seventh book to a random page. The character whose name you see first has exactly two useful skills: cooking and extreme loyalty. Of course, this makes him/her the most important member of the party.

Book 7: Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Colonel is extremely loyal and a good cook. Ehn. Yeah. I can see that. But he’s secretly extremely intelligent and good at making plans. He’ll be a good one to have forgotten about in a fight.

26143217Open your eighth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first now has all the dark powers you can imagine. S/he is the ultimate Dark Lady/Lord. Are you in trouble?

Book 8: The World That Forgot How to Dance by Olivia Berrier.

Ellsie is our Dark Lady. She performs magic by dancing. A few quick steps and she encases us all in a ring of fire or a tangle of chain. Her dancing has gotten even better since the end of this book. And with Lester beside her, she’s revived some of the old, darker magic—all in the attempt to revive magic and bring magic and magic-practitioners out of hiding. Somewhere her ideals must have gotten a bit skewed. There’s some very interesting backstory I’m sure as to how she became a villain and why she wants to keep us all from reaching the magical, wish-fulfilling path. Maybe it’s magic only works once and she wants it to work for her? She’d be a fairly formidable foe, really, but I have some fairly powerful friends in this fight—Will and Jocelyn specifically. Galdran and the Colonel will be less help—though I think the Colonel can engineer a rescue plan pretty well. He just might get tripped up not quite knowing how to combat magic.

Book Reviews: January 2016 Picture Book Roundup

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Next Month’s Holidays:

February 2: Groundhog’s Day

9781619632899Groundhog’s Day Off by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Brett Helquist. Bloomsbury USA, 2015.

This is a book that won’t come out of its hole but once a year—and that’s sort of shame. It’s a clever, funny little book, about a groundhog who feels underappreciated so he leaves on an unplanned vacation right before his big day, leaving the town in a lurch and holding auditions for someone to replace him. He just wants the media to ask him about something other than the weather—really, he wants to be asked about himself, the personal questions, like what movies he likes and how he likes his pizza. There’s an African American female mayor and the potential for a sequel as the groundhog runs away with the Easter Bunny at the end. This is though I think the sort of picture book that gets a larger laugh from adults than it does from the kids.

***

9781580896009Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar and illustrated by Matt Faulkner. Charlesbridge-Penguin, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Groundhog can never please everyone with his annual weather report. His friends think that they can change his report by currying favor with groundhog. After several attempts to explain that he does not control the weather, he only reports it—all of which are ignored—Groundhog, enjoying the place on the baseball team and the homemade pies, lets his friends think that he will be able to please them all—even when their desires conflict. As the next Groundhog’s Day approaches, Groundhog realizes that he will upset people no matter what he says—he simply cannot please everyone—and he worries that he will lose the friends whom he disappoints. He decides to be honest, to tell them that he’s sorry that he let them think that he could fix the weather for them, but that he liked being liked. I liked that though this too is a book firmly affixed to a minor holiday, the lesson is universal and applicable anytime: though the attention from making false promises may feel good for a while, it’ll eventually sour; also, you should not bring gifts or do favors for a friend because you want him to do something for you, but rather should like him for who he is. The overly flirtatious female hare is an interesting character to include in a children’s book.

***

Next Month’s Holidays:

February 14: Let Me Count the Ways

y648Where Is Love, Biscuit? by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Pat Schories. HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2009. First published 2002. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a surprisingly everyday board book. I worried it would be too Valentine’s to be read anytime, but the story instead asks, “Where’s the love, Biscuit?” and love is found in a soft blanket, in baking cookies, in a knitted sweater. There are touch-and-feel elements on many if not all of the pages. There’s not a lot of story, really, but these were surprisingly refreshing examples on love—especially as it was on display with all of the Valentine’s Day books.

***

9780448489322Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar adapted from Eric Carle’s works. Grosset & Dunlap-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is another book made by hijacking Eric Carle’s works and piecing them together. But unlike the Favorite Words series, this one has… sentences. Sappy text like “you are the cherry to my cake” is accompanied by the caterpillar on the cherry atop a cake and “you make my heart flutter” by the caterpillar as a butterfly and “you are the bee’s knees” by a swarm of friendly bees. It’s a sweet book to read to a beloved child or maybe to give to a sweetheart, but there’s not a lot of substance there, and I really do feel a little queasy over these Frankensteined books made from Carle’s illustrations.

***

ILYM_jacket_Final:Layout 1I Love You More by Laura Duksta and illustrated by Karen Keesler. Sourcebooks, 2009. First published 2001.

This book features a pretty cool and inventive structure. One side reads as the mother’s response to her son’s question: “How much do you love me?” Flip it over and read the son’s response to his mother when she asks the same question. The middle page bridges the two responses. The text itself is pretty… gooey. Especially on the mother’s side it sounds like that old country song: “deeper than the holler, stronger than the rivers, higher the pine trees”: “I love you higher than the highest bird ever flew. I love you taller than the tallest tree ever grew.” The son’s response is a bit more inventive and includes all the things that boys stereotypically like best: “I love you further than the furthest frog ever leaped. […] I love you louder than the loudest rocket ship ever blasted.” If you’re looking for an ooey-gooey, I-love-you-so-much-book this is a great option.

*****

9781619639225I’ll Never Let You Go by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Alison Brown. Bloomsbury USA, 2015.

This is another mushy, gushy, read-to-your-child story. The illustrations are of different animals with their parents, and the style is whimsical, the creatures reminiscent of plushies with their soft lines and simple faces.  The parent promises to be with the child through all of its highs and lows: “When you are excited, the world joins with you, You bounce all about—and look! I’m bouncing, too!” (We won’t talk about those commas.) “When you are sad and troubled with fears, I hold you close and dry all your tears.” Reminiscent at once of Nancy Tillman’s Wherever You Go, My Love Will Find You and Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, I think that this book personally lives up to neither, but is simpler than either, and might be a better book than either to read with a child rather than to one—that being said, the text is very much meant to be a parent speaking. There are really just so many books about a parent promising to always love a child that it’s difficult to be outstanding in that category.

***

Making New Friends

9780399167737 Peanut Butter & Cupcake by Terry Border. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

What bothered me most about this book was the title, so this should be a pretty positive review. I understand that a title like Peanut Butter and Jelly would be more likely to get lost in the noise, but Peanut Butter and Cupcake is misleading. Cupcake’s is only a two page spread and a mention, and she’s not very welcoming to Peanut Butter, inviting him to watch her play, but warning him not to play with her (what’s more, the cupcake on the cover is by far the tastiest-looking cupcake in the book). The premise is this: Peanut Butter, new to town, wants to play but knows no one and his mom is too busy to play with him, so she sends him out to wander the town and try to make a friend. Peanut Butter approaches various other foods and gives a speech about how he has a ball and wants to play “maybe now, maybe later—or even all day” (that I can remember three days later that repeated phrase says quite a bit for the memorability of the writing—and the number of times that I read this phrase aloud). The illustrations are at least as impressive as the text—and probably more so. Done as posed photographs with food and props (paper clips for feet and hands, for example), I can only imagine how long each illustration took to get right. Clever puns pepper the text and pictures alike: Hamburger walks a pair of wiener hot dogs. Soup spells out his responses to Peanut Butter’s pleas. Cupcake plays in a sandbox of sprinkles. French Fries has to catch up with Hamburger and his hot dogs (read the sentence aloud if you don’t see the pun). Jelly eventually finds Peanut Butter and the two of them play together. The other neighborhood foods see the two of them having fun and Peanut Butter and Jelly let them all join in, taking the high road, so that everyone is enjoying themselves and each others’ company.

****

9780805098259Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillian, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

In October I was besotted with Mike Curato’s sequel to this book, Little Elliot, Big Family. Then I’d done some digging and peeked at some of the illustrations from this book found on Curato’s website. I predicted that I would love Little Elliot, Big Family more than the original—and I think that that has proved true, though maybe it’s because Big Family was the first that I found. The problem in Big City is probably more relatable to most kids.  In Little Elliot, Big City, Elliot is small and can be lost in the crowds of New York and stand unseen at the counter at the cupcake shop. He is feeling dejected when he spots Mouse, smaller even than Elliot. Mouse is hungry—hungrier than Elliot—and cannot reach the pizza slice in the park garbage bin. Elliot helps Mouse, and the two of them become friends. Together they are tall enough, and Elliot is able to buy and share his cupcake. It seems trite in a way, that Elliot’s trouble revolves around and is ultimately resolved by the acquisition of a cupcake—even if I sort of understand that that cupcake is more the culmination and physical manifestation of a heap of other troubles resulting from being too little. The illustrations are still gorgeous: vibrant and smooth, though showing less of the diversity of the city that is so wonderfully captured in Little Elliot, Big Family (though the diversity is there).

****

24819508Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2015.

My two audience members were not yet one and not yet two. This story was really too long for them, but we read it the first Wednesday after the Caldecott and Newbery winners had been chosen, and I had this, Matt de la Peña’s The Last Stop on Market Street, and Kevin Henkes’ Waiting (a Caldecott honoree) in a pile beside me. My not-yet-two year old picked out this one, and we made a pretty valiant effort to get through it (I read maybe the last two or three pages to myself, but over the course of a half hour, we made our way through the rest of the story before the kids’ interest was entirely lost to the toys behind me). Finding Winnie tells the true tale of Winnie, an orphaned bear cub from Canada, who is saved from the trapper by a soldier and accompanies his brigade to England, where they will train to fight in World War II. Winnie stays with the soldiers until they are called away to the front, then she is left in the care of the London Zoo, where she is befriended by Christopher Robin Milne, whose father A. A. Milne was inspired by their friendship to introduce us all to our friend, Winnie-the-Pooh. The frame story is told by the soldier Harry Coleburn’s great-granddaughter, the author of the book, who tells the story to her little boy, Cole. As a Caldecott winner, I was supposed to be blown away by the illustrations, which are nice, but I was more taken by the photographs in the back of the book, proving the truth of the tale, and by the tale itself, which seems almost too perfect to be real.

****

You Can Be the Hero Too

the-night-gardener-9781481439787_lgThe Night Gardener by Terry Fan and Eric Fan (the Fan Brothers). Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I was given access through work to an unbound page proof of this book, which is due out on my birthday, actually: February 16 (Happy early birthday to me!). The illustrations are the obvious star of this book—by which I mean, I fell in love with the illustrations almost to the point that the text is irrelevant—not that the text was bad; it wasn’t, but it was overshadowed. The book tells the story of a boy who wakes to imaginative topiaries and wonders who is creating these masterpieces. He ultimately stumbles into an apprenticeship with the Night Gardener. But really, just do yourself a favor and go take a look at these whimsical, marvelous illustrations. Wonder like I do how the color palette can be at once so vibrant and so muted.

****

9780803737891Skippyjon Jones: Snow What by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed this story and the parents really enjoyed this story, but it wasn’t holding the attention of my audience of three (two of whom admittedly were under one). I warned them and I will warn you that my Spanish is… pitiful. I studied in middle school, but it’s almost entirely washed away now. I don’t think that my poor presentation helped. I fudged my way through most of the Spanish and the Spanglish and probably pronounced a few of the words with more French or Italian than they ought to have done. Does the Spanish and Spanglish keep me from enjoying the story? In no way. Little Skippyjon is the only boy in a passel of girls, and he is outvoted when it’s time to choose a story. He storms away and invents his own tale of Snow What, where he is once again the famous swordfighter Skippito Friskito, is forced into tights by his friends the poochitos, and is forced to kiss the ice cube coffin of the princess to wake her from her cursed sleep. He cannot escape the tropes of the fairytale, but he can become the hero, can tell himself a story that focuses on the prince instead of the princess. I appreciated that this one had less stereotyping of Mexican culture than some in this series (the original tale) and I appreciated the, well, backlash to the backlash of the Disney Princess tale dominance. As important as it is for girls to see themselves as heroines, it’s just as important for boys to see themselves as heroes.  This story also highlights the great power of imagination.

****

Clever Primers

y648-19780062110589Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2010.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2012.

Sometimes, the best review really comes from the kids. I read these two (and Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses) to a crowd of kids, who knew the stories well-enough to read pages to me, who knew the songs, and sung them for me. When the kids love the stories that much, it’s really hard to dislike them—and honestly, there’s a lot to like. I hadn’t stopped to consider that these are primers for an older crowd with a semblance of plot not usually in primers. I Love My White Shoes is the first ever Pete the Cat story and a color primer, where Pete sings about his love for his white shoes, and when he squashes strawberries, his red shoes, and when he steps in a pile of blueberries, his blue shoes. The refrain “Did Pete cry? Goodness, no. He kept walking along and singing his song” is a wonderful lesson in Hakuna matata. But really, this silly cat really ought to watch out for piles of berries. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is a counting and math primer. He sings another song about how he loves his buttons. The song changes to reflect the number of buttons as one after another pops off and rolls away. Both books play with words to make a surprising ending. Pete’s shoes are wet, but does he cry? Goodness no. Pete’s coat has no more buttons, but there’s still the best button of all left—his belly button! I had somehow missed these books. I don’t know how. I actually prefer the text from Kimberly Dean’s later book, Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, because the text and story is more complex, but the lesson and theme of positivity despite circumstances is still there, but Kimberly Dean’s story lacks the primer aspect, so really I can respect both, and cheer both, and marvel that this is a picture book series that can kids can grow with in the same way that they can later grow with, say, Harry Potter.

****            ****

good-night-ct-cover-535x535Good Night Connecticut by Christina Vrba and illustrated by Anne Rosen. Good Night Books, 2009.

This book is part of a series that I think now covers all fifty states, some cities, some countries, some general locations, some general family members, some fire trucks and mermaids and dinosaurs. I’m a Nutmegger by birth and spent my childhood in the state. Much of the focus in this book is on tourist attractions more than on more general sights in the state, and many of those I’ve never visited, though I know of many of them. Most of the attractions have a short descriptor. While I haven’t seen everything listed in the book, the old stone walls, town green, beaches, and riding rings were a large part of my childhood environment. I bought this board book on a whim in a small store in Kent before leaving the state. Sometimes I just take it out to remind myself of home. This is not stellar writing, but it has nostalgia value, and it would have value as a primer for a vacation or to teach a child about her home state. It’s meant for young kids, kids who are still learning the sounds of turkeys and trains.

**

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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

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Christmas Leftovers

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

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

***

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

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

**1/2

The Critically Acclaimed

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

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

****

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

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

***

FIVE WHOLE STARS

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

 

Challenge: Legal Theft: Little Red Dress (658 words)

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On the hottest day of the year, the skirt of my red dress flutters against my thighs in the breeze manufactured by the fan.

Mam bakes when she’s worried, and she hasn’t let the summer heat stop her.

I long for an excuse to escape the sweltering house.

“Mackie, take these cakes to your granny’s, eh?”

Just the excuse I’ve been waiting for.

I grab the basket that Mam holds out and bolt for the door, barely stopping to slam my feet into trainers and grab my purse. Mam’s calling after me. “Straight there and back.”

The heat glaring off of the pavement is only a little cooler than the heat radiating from Mam’s kitchen, but at least here the hot air moves, blown sideways by the wind between the high-rises.

Granny lives ten blocks away. Not far, really, but far enough to make a good walk, especially with Mam’s cake hanging heavy on my arm. I’ve lived in the city as long as I can remember, but still I love the jangle of it, the auto horns calling to one across the blocks like starlings, the groan and rumble of their wheels on the streets, the hawkers calling out wares, the sights, and smells of hot dogs and pretzels and baking asphalt and steel.

There’s a raw tingle up my spine each time I set out into the crowd knowing that I pass and am passed by people I’ll never see again, who’ll never see me again, but that I know these streets as if they were my own, as familiar as the flat I can navigate in the dark, but always changing, never mine, always their own.

Each street has a flavor. Some are bright and sunny and whitewashed: lemon-scented. Some are cluttered with shop fronts with fluttering, colorful awnings, a café, a flower shop with buckets of colorful blooms spilling onto the pavement and a watchful man who guards the merchandise from the wandering hands of couples and toddlers.

“Flower for you, Red? Free of charge.”

Well, maybe he’s not as watchful of his flowers as I thought. He holds out a red rose. I know I should walk past him, but I love red roses.

“Pretty girl like you must get a million flowers, eh? Where’s your boyfriend? Girl like you deserves an armful of flowers.”

Granny likes roses too.

I take the flower. Its been plucked of its thorns. The stem is smooth and cool to the touch. Its scent is heady. I bury my nose in the soft petals.

“There you are. That’s the smile I wanted to see.” The flower seller flashes me a white smile. “So where is he?”

“Haven’t got a boyfriend.”

“Aw, Red, that’s a real shame. Someone ought to pluck you up. You put that rose to shame. You hang onto that flower.”

“I might give it to my granny. I’m on my way to see her now, and she’s ill.”

“Red, you’re breaking my heart. Tell you what. You tell me where your granny lives. I’ll bring her a whole bouquet of red roses. Think she’d like that? Think that’d make her feel better, Red?”

“I haven’t got the money for a whole bouquet.”

“Discounted!”

“Would five dollars be enough?”

“I can do that, yeah.”

I shift the basket, shift the rose to my other hand and fish out the fiver. He pockets it and starts to gather a bouquet of red roses, carefully selecting each bloom.

“Now you just give me your granny’s address. I’ll make sure these get to her. Make her smile.”

I give him Granny’s address and thank him with a smile.

“You get off to Granny’s, Red. And don’t worry now. We’ll make her feel better.”

I thank him again and continue up the block, humming now and dipping my nose again into the aromatic bloom. The city streets look even brighter, a bit more cheerful with a rose in hand.

Mine was the line stolen this week.

Bek at Building A Door wrote “Heat.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Take Advantage” (768 words).

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Burning Rubber.”

Machete Diplomacy wrote “Drought.”

Book Reviews: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

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Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

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The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

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Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

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

Book Review: Half Upon A Time is a Comfortable Addition to the Genre

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The more time that I spent in the world of James Riley’s Half Upon a Time, first in a trilogy by the same name, the more deeply I became entrenched. I prefer, I admit, to be lost immediately to a world, but I am still impressed that at no point during the book was I thrown out of the world, and that, by the end, I was even marking favorite lines, mostly things that applied aptly to the world of my WIP, but also this wonderful moment of rare recognition within the genre of medieval fantasy: “Old age? I’m fourteen. That’s barely middle age” (282).

The story opens on Jack, son of Jack from the tale of the beanstalk, who lives in a small rural town with his grandfather. His grandfather, an adventure like Jack’s father, wants Jack to be an adventurer and hero too. Jack is enrolled with all the village boys in hero lessons. But Jack, who believes there are no unmarried princesses in the kingdom, has a difficult time taking the lessons seriously—and he’s not very good at rescuing imaginary princesses. As Jack and his grandfather are on their way home from another failed exam in which Jack lets the “princess” die, a girl wearing a tunic emblazoned with small jewels that spell “PUNK PRINCESS” falls from the sky and right on top of Jack.

May denies that she is royalty. She does not know how she has gotten there. All that she knows is that her grandmother has been kidnapped by a man dressed all in green and seven shorter men.

Believing that May is a princess—even the granddaughter of the missing Snow White—Jack is convinced that he has to protect her, and he and the princess escape the village and the unwanted attentions of Jack’s classmates on a demon horse tamed only by a magic harness to begin their quest to rescue Snow White.

On their journey, they fight and make allies among the familiar fairy tale characters including the Big Bad Wolf; the witch in the gingerbread house; a Prince Charming, Philip; Philip’s fairy godmother, Merriweather; Red Riding Hood; and the wicked fairy, Malevolent.

Riley creates a world in which all of these familiar characters exist twisted in a new and exciting way. He invents a history that has not filtered through to our world with the fairy tales, where the Western Kingdoms came together under the leadership of Snow White to defeat the Wicked Queen and her Magic Mirror. Snow White’s team of deadly assassins and specialists, which includes Rose Red, Rapunzel, and the Big Bad Wolf, stormed the Wicked Queen’s palace and defeated her, but none but Rapunzel have been seen since.

That alone makes this a more feminist fairy tale retelling. But also May herself is at least as heroic as Jack, though both, frankly, survive the tale more by luck and succor than on their own strengths or wit. Still, she’s a mouthy and resourceful girl.

Jack is equally mouthy and sarcastic, and also somewhat cynical, falling well into the modus operandi of heroes in today’s YA and teen fiction, joining Hiccup, Jace, Jaron, even Percy Jackson and Augustus Waters.

Riley’s narrative style fits well with that of the authors of those protagonists too, particularly the middle-grade writers, Rick Riordan and Cressida Cowell, who are publishing some of my favorite series.

The pace is quick, Jack and May stumbling into and out of trouble without much rest. Jack and May and even Philip became more likeable the further that I read—though whether that is because I was becoming more ensconced in the world or if I was becoming more ensconced in the world because I was coming to better love the heroes is a question that I cannot answer.

I can’t say that this was in any way a life-changing book for me, but it was certainly enjoyable, enough so that I would like to get my hands on its sequels, and it’s a lovely addition to the genre and subgenre. I’ve already recommended it to a few customers.

***1/2

Riley, James. Half Upon a Time. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 2011. First published 2010.

This review is not endorsed by James Riley, Aladdin, or Simon & Schuster, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: April Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read many picture books this April and so as I did in January, I’m splitting the reviews into two groups.

Les Petits Fairytales: Little Red Riding Hood by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott, illustrated by Oliver Lake. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

I’ve reviewed Les Petits Fairytales on this blog before, always positively. This latest will join those ranks. Les Petits Fairytales seek to bring the classic stories down to a toddler level, taking on the style of a primer while still maintaining a story, which is something few primers bother to do. Lake’s illustrations help to offer a cohesive plot that this story even lacks in some tellings for older audiences, making the woodsman obviously a witness to the girl’s entry into the house (though one wonders why the woodsman peeks through the window at girl and “grandma”; perhaps his angle just happened to be right to glance up at them through the window, but that seems unlikely). This more than the other Les Petits Fairytales shies from the Grimm version. There is no explanation of why Grandma is not in her bed, and the wolf is merely stripped of Grandma’s clothes, her clothes returned to her, and the wolf sent slinking from the house. Personally, I can understand the desire to spare children the bloody death of a wolf on the edge of a woodsman’s ax, and I can understand not having Grandma ingested, but I would have hoped that Lake might have found a way to subtly imply these ideas. Perhaps the word “rescue” stumped him. The only images that I can concoct for “rescue” that level with Grimm’s original details is a woodsman raising his ax and looking menacing or the wolf split and Grandma rising from its stomach, and neither, but particularly the first, is an image to give children for “rescue.” Since I too am struggling, I think that you get a buy for backing out of this more gruesome ending, Mr. Lake. Still, barring the difficulties of “rescue,” I’d have liked to see Red in wolf’s fur cape by the end.

****

Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! by Sandra Boynton. Workman, 1993. Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This book reminds me a tiny bit of Seuss’ one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish rhyme; “Dinosaurs happy and dinosaurs sad. Dinosaurs good and dinosaurs bad. Dinosaurs big and dinosaurs tiny. Dinosaurs smooth, and dinosaurs spiny.” This is an opposites book with dinosaurs done in Boynton’s classically adorable watercolor illustrations and with her moments of humors, with dinosaurs crammed in an elevator and dinosaurs singing a dinosaur song with the text broken up and printed below musical notes as if it were a from a songbook. The book breaks the fourth wall by having the dinosaurs gather at the end to say goodbye to the reader.  Definitely more fun than the average opposites primer.

***1/2

Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperFestival-HaperCollins, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

When did the message of Easter become one of helping others? This isn’t the only Easter-themed book I read to suggest so (so does Deborah Underwood’s Here Comes the Easter Cat). So that quibble aside and trying to force upon myself a secular idea of Easter, I suppose I cannot fault the idea of a holiday that reminds us to help others. Pete the Cat has become a well beloved figure. Dean and Dean make helping into a game for Pete, and Pete enjoys the game. With stickers and punch out cards, this might have more merit an activity book than a storybook.

***

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades Pre-K-2.

Erin Stead’s illustrations! The soft wood block and colored pencil illustrations are beautiful, and she so clearly captures my view of late winter. This is a book that I needed towards the end of the winter and beginning of spring to remind me that green was coming after all of the brown. The story is relatively simple, one of planting and waiting for a garden and waiting for spring, but the simplicity of the text complements the soft illustrations, which are highly detailed, telling a great deal of story without text, and that simplicity is wonderfully poetic. This book is really fantastically well crafted. This would be an interesting book to read as a color lesson too, though I imagine most kids, by the time they want to read a book like this one, already know their colors, and rather it would be better paired with lessons on patience and plant biology and life cycle.

****1/2

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013. First published 2010. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3.

I’m going to go ahead and quibble with the listed intended audience here. This is a book I think that will appeal far more to parents than it will to children. This book compares a baby to a very particular CEO, and these are references that are likely to fly over the heads of children but make parents laugh at their poignant truth. Some of the vocabulary in this text is probably beyond most children too. The patterns and colors in this book along with the characters’ expressions really make the illustrations charming.

***

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2010. First published 1985. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book has become a classic and the hub of many spinoffs. I do like the cyclical story pattern. The little mouse does pay for his cookie and milk by doing all of the chores, but this poor kid had no idea what he was getting into when he offered to share his snack. I notice he’s napping himself by the second cookie, but he never does complain about sharing or helping the mouse. The boy here is really like the parent in a parent-child relationship where the mouse is the child. It doesn’t feel like a friendship particularly, and I don’t think that it should be lauded as friendship, though potentially as an example of selfless love. This can be a fun guessing book for kids.  This is a book I would rate very differently depending upon how it’s being introduced.

***