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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.

 

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Book Reviews: November 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Part 1: The Anytime Books

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Mmm, Mmm, Good

cvr9781442443372_9781442443372_hrCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. Antheneum-Simon & Schuster, 1982. First published 1978. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Would you believe this is the first time I’ve read this book, though I’ve loved the movie for six years? I was surprised how many elements of the story found their way into the film, though the film is vividly bright and focuses more on how and who than what. I had a difficult time dividing the picture book from the story in the film, so I won’t comment much on Grandpa’s tall tale about Chewandswallow. This book takes the form of a frame story. After a breakfast of pancakes, during which one pancake is flung too far and lands on a child’s head, Grandpa is reminded of a tall tale that he tells at bedtime. The illustrations differentiate reality and the story: Reality is black and white. The story is colored. Perhaps the best part of the story is the ending where the narrator remarks that in the real world the sun looks like a pat of butter atop the hill, marking the blur of reality and fiction and the ability of fiction to improve reality, particularly with the touch of bright yellow bleeding into the black and white illustration on that page. The tall tale shows great inspiration from oral tall tales, especially at the beginning where Grandpa is describing where to find Chewandswallow and describing how Chewandswallow is like other towns. This is a good, out-of-the-box wintertime story (the kids go sledding) and a good grandparents story.

****

l_9781585369133_fcThe Little Kids’ Table by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle and illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles. Sleeping Bear-Cherry Lake, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-8, Grade 1.

This book is marketed and displayed with the Thanksgiving books, but it’s really not specific to Thanksgiving. In fact, I don’t recall any mention of the holiday, and I know that I was relegated to the little kids’ table on holidays besides Thanksgiving—Christmas certainly, but sometimes July 4th, birthdays, really any holiday where families gather and share a meal. The adults’ table is dressed in all its finery: flowers on the table, matching place settings, and glasses made of glass or maybe even crystal. The kids’ table is a little rowdier—and more fun! They practice balancing spoons (and plates and flower vases) on their noses. The dog gets fed the broccoli casserole that the adults insist will help little kids grow strong even though it’s icky. The adults tell the kids to calm down, to be quiet, but the kids think that secretly the adults wish that they too could sit at the little kids’ table. Being sat at the little kids’ table can feel exclusionary, but this text helps to redeem the idea a little bit. For those families that deem a little kids’ table necessary and those kids who feel hurt by being sat away from the family, this book could be helpful. The text rhymes, but the rhymes are not too jarring. The illustrations are bright, and the family is multiracial without it being an issue.

****

9781484722626_3ed6dElephant and Piggie: I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

A new Elephant and Piggie book! What I really like about this book is that not only did Gerald try Piggie’s spicy, pungent cultural delicacy willingly after some hesitation but that it’s okay that he didn’t like it. That he tries the slop is touted as a mark of their friendship, as an act of love via shared culture, but Piggie is not upset that Gerald doesn’t like her slop, and their friendship continues, even stronger.

****

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Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is another book marketed for Thanksgiving, but why should it be? Friends can share a meal at any time, and one should always thank those who share with them—and again I don’t think that the holiday was mentioned by name. The rhyming text here was actually less smooth than Riehle’s, mostly because of the forced repetition of the clunky “Bear says, ‘Thanks!’” The order of the words there is less natural, though I understand the desire to end the phrase and thereby put the emphasis on “Thanks!” particularly in a Thanksgiving spinoff. Bear wants to have his friends over for a meal, but his cupboards are bare (see what Wilson did there?). Perhaps they’re psychic because they start arriving all at once with food without being invited to do so within the text. Bear thanks each of them in turn, but he is distressed because he has nothing to offer them in return. They assure him that his company and his stories are enough, and they all share a woodland feast in bear’s lair (because “lair” rhymes with “bear”). Chapman’s illustrations are beautifully soft and gentle, helping to sort of smooth over some of the roughness I found in the text of this book.

***

Cats! y648If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. HarperCollins, 2008. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Following the circular, if/then style as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, this cat is given a cupcake, but spills the sprinkles, and gets hot cleaning up, so is brought to the beach, after which ultimately the sand in his swimming trunks remind him of sprinkles and of cupcakes. It’s a silly story, made sillier by the idea of a cat at the beach. When I was reading this, I really wanted a cat book, and I didn’t feel like that was what I got, but this remains a fun, silly story and well written.

****

24000733Pepper & Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon. Orchard-Scholastic, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

A customer actually pointed this book out to me first. She had read a review and wanted to see the book for herself. The illustrations are pretty cute: black background with a white kitten with big orange eyes and a gray cat with big green eyes and a chestnut dog. Pepper, the gray cat, likes Sundays. He likes Mondays too and Tuesdays. These are lazy days, days when he can just enjoy the quiet house. But then a kitten arrives, and his days get worse and worse as the kitten causes chaos and Pepper is asked to share. Then Pepper and Poe create such a mess that they are about to get in trouble, but both simultaneously blame the dog. Scholastic describes this as a sibling story—but I’m not sure that blame your eldest sibling for trouble your fighting has caused is a good tactic to suggest to ease sibling tension. I don’t know that most kids will read this as a sibling story, though. The cats in the story are very catlike.

**

We Can Do It!

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

Iggy begins building very early. His parents are impressed and fairly supportive (except when he uses dirty diapers). The rhymes are a bit forced, but the story still has a good rhythm. When his teacher, Miss Lila Greer, refuses to even talk about architecture in her classroom, Iggy’s interest in school is killed, a fate I think too many will relate to. On a class picnic, the class is stuck on an island when a bridge collapses behind them, and Miss Greer drops into a faint from fear—dare I say hysteria? While crossing over a bridge that her class has built out of whatever was on hand while she was in her faint, Miss Greer sees that “There are worse things to do when you’re in grade 2 than to spend your time building a dream,” and she sees the class’ pride in their creation, and so she has a change of heart on the subject of architecture, even allowing Iggy Peck to give weekly lectures to her second grade class on the subject. Miss Greer goes from being a terrible teacher, crushing her children’s dreams and ambitions and interests, to an excellent one, nurturing and encouraging them to explore their interests and to share their expertise and interest with others, even deferring to them. I feel like there are two audiences here: One lesson is for teachers like Miss Greer (or really any adult) and that is to let kids be interested in what interests them. The other is for children—and that is to not let adults and authority figures crush your interests. I’ve spotted Rosie Revere, protagonist of the sequel book, in the illustrations, which are spare but endearing. Bonus points to Roberts for children of many races in the classroom.

****

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

Iggy Peck I think had the better story, but at another time, I’d love to read this one alongside a story about Rosie the Riveter, Rosie Revere’s great-great-aunt Rose, though the text does not make this explicitly clear (if anyone knows of a good picture book about Rosie the Riveter or women in WWII in general, please do share). Rosie’s inventions send one of her uncles (and his snakes) into peals of laughter, and while he says that he likes the invention, the laughter hurts Rosie’s confidence and she hides away her talent, building things in the attic of her house and hiding them under her bed, but never letting anyone see the inventions or see her inventing. But her great-great-aunt is an inspiring woman, and she longs to fly. Rosie thinks that maybe she could help her aunt, but her flying machine crashes, and her aunt laughs. Some of the rhymes felt a little forced, but the rhymes are still lilting and give the story a good rhythm. My favorite line may well be “But questions are tricky, and some hold on tight, and this one kept Rosie awake through the night,” because that, as a writer and not an engineer, I can relate to well. Great-great-aunt Rose tells Rosie the importance of never giving up and having confidence in yourself and your ideas. Failures to Rose are just first tries. I do like that we have here a young female protagonist with a passion for science and engineering. Busy illustrations filled with Rosie’s inventions and the creativity of her parts (and including Iggy Peck in classroom scenes) are drawn in pastels on a white background.

***

425818How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, 2006.

A boy in love with the stars wants one of his very own, to be his friend, to play hide-and-seek, and with which to take long walks on the beach. He decides to catch a star—not the best way to acquire a friend, it must be said—but his efforts are in vain, because of course you can’t catch a star. He can’t jump high enough, he can’t climb high enough, his rocket ship is made of paper and doesn’t fly well, and seagulls aren’t known for being helpful. Eventually the boy does get a star of his own, one that he’s found washed up on the beach, and they walk along the beach, just like he’d imagined. The colors in this book I think are its best part. They’re beautiful, bright colors. Particularly I enjoyed the sky and light at different times of the day and the particular attention to shadows. There are some beautiful lines of text in this book too: the star “just rippled through his fingers” and “He waited… and he waited… and ate lunch” and “Now the boy was sad. But in his heart, the wish just wouldn’t give up.” Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorites because he is able to be sweet and funny, and because his illustrations use whimsical and pay particular attention to shadow, even when they are spare, which they are not always.

****

Adventuresome Birds

1484730887Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

A grumpy bear who likes to eat eggs in fancy recipes that he finds at the Internet returns with all the other ingredients for his meal to find that his goose eggs have hatched into goslings, who now believe that Bruce is their mother. Honestly, the plot felt a bit overdone (Fly Away Home, anyone?) and the jokes were too adult to be caught, I think, by most of my very young audience (jokes about return policies and identity theft and shopping locally for free-range organic eggs). Mother Bruce raises the children well, but cannot get them to fly away South when it is time for them to migrate, so they all get on a bus and migrate together to Miami. Bear skips his winter hibernation—since it’s still summery in Miami—and spends time on the beach with his goslings—now geese. I as an adult enjoyed it, seeing the cute story of a bear who raises four goslings into geese and understanding the jokes about current human culture, but I don’t know that it played as well with the kids at my story time.

**

24880135Waddle! Waddle! by James Proimos. Scholastic, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

The style of this book, the humorous dialogue, and the final punch all strongly reminded me of Mo WillemsElephant and Piggie books, though Proimos’ illustration style and his story were both different enough from any Willems book that I could cry no foul but could only cheer. I hope this expands into a series too. Waddle! Waddle! introduces us quickly to the problem: to find the penguin protagonist’s lost friend. The penguin meets two other penguins—one who sings and one who plays the horn (neither particularly well, but both loudly)—but neither is the friend that he met yesterday. He goes to a third character—but realizes too late that this is a polar bear, not a penguin at all, and definitely not the friend that he met yesterday. The polar bear is sorry for the penguin’s plight, but announces that he will eat the penguin now. The singing and the horn-playing penguins come to their new friend’s aid and stun the polar bear with their talents, causing him to drop the penguin protagonist. The penguin slides away and discovers his friend from yesterday! But let’s not tell him that his friend is only his reflection in the ice. The dancing penguin, the singing penguin, and the horn-playing penguin go off together wing-in-wing into the sunset. I did have one parent go wide-eyed at the polar bear’s casual announcement that he would now eat the protagonist, but the tone softens the blow, I think, enough to not frighten children—and anyway, our fairytales often include such threats.  “Waddle!  Waddle!  Belly slide!” is a lot of fun to repeat and read aloud.

***** 9780802738288

Penguin’s Big Adventure by Salina Yoon. Bloomsbury, 2015.

Yoon’s first, Penguin and Pinecone, delighted me, and I keep giving the series chances to live up to that high bar. Penguin decides to do something great, something no one else has done: He decides to become the first penguin to visit the North Pole. He sets off. His friends are doing wonderful things too. He visits old friends along the way (Pinecone and a crab from the beach). He reaches the North Pole, plants his flag, and celebrates, but he is not alone. A polar bear is there. Penguin has never seen a polar bear, and the polar bear has never seen a penguin, and both are afraid, but they smile awkwardly and both realize that neither is frightening and become friends. Penguin’s friends find him at the North Pole, having used their crafts to make a hot air balloon. Penguin says goodbye to the polar bear, and he leaves with his friends.

The inclusion of the friends’ craft-making seemed a little rough and unnecessary to me, but I suspect Yoon wanted to show that great things and new things need not be so extreme as crossing the globe and to be able to explain the hot air balloon at the end. Had the construction of the pieces of the hot air balloon have seemed with direction and intention rather than happening to come together at the end to make a balloon, I would have been more pleased. Or I could have suspended my disbelief long enough to do without an explanation for the balloon.

This is a timely book about seeing friends in people who look differently or unlike anyone that one has ever seen. I could have done with more time exploring Penguin and Polar Bear’s new friendship—though making new friends has already been explored in several other books of the series.
From the title, I expected more of an adventure, and more about the journey. Perhaps I’m expecting too much, but it all seemed like a lot to put into a short book.

***

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: January Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read a lot of picture books this January, and so I’ve decided to break the roundup into two parts.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The illustrations in this one are pretty fantastic, so detailed, so realistic—not just in style, but also in not whitewashing the neighborhood or the surrounding town.  Speaking of whitewashing, a reader on Goodreads commented about how this is an African American family—and that was the first that I’d taken notice of it.  This is an African American in a book with no social message or message of equality.  Better still, Jonathan Bean himself is not African American.  The story is every child’s experience of watching snow fall (and though it’s not explicitly stated in the story) waiting to see if the snow will be deep enough for snowy play like sledding.  It’s a story with which any child can empathize.  The mother distracts her son with household chores and baking.  The father comes home to play with him.  The only thing I can really complain about in this story is that the mother was home, cooking and cleaning, while the father was out at work—but isn’t that the typical American experience.  It would have been a nice choice to break the gender stereotype since Bean so nicely broke the whitewashed vision of the American family.  I do appreciate though that this is a family with both mother and father present and active and interested in the child’s life.

****

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.  Philomel-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I think most people know Eric.  The Hungry Caterpillar left quite an imprint on my childhood, though not as great an imprint as did the illustrations of Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? et al.  I was sadly unimpressed by The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.  The prose would have benefited from more zest, though I approve of Carle’s message that a good artist is not necessarily one who sticks to reality, promoting creative thinking and creativity, prompting children to put away enforced ideas of correct and incorrect.  At the same time that message seems self-aggrandizing even though the artist at the end of the book does not look like present-day Carle (it might be a boy Carle).

**1/2

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 1996.  First published 1977.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In retrospect, this was not a story I ought to have chosen for story hour.  It begins with two ladybugs who want to eat the same leafful of aphids.  Now aphid is a strange word, so I thought I had better explain it.  And then I realized what was going to happen to the aphids, and I wished that I hadn’t called them “baby bugs.”  And this whole story is about a ladybug that wants to fight—not exactly a great role model.  I tuned my voice to make the ladybug sound at least like it wanted to pick a fight for fun, for the challenge, the way a kid might ask, “You wanna race?”  In retrospect, I may have learned my lesson at least about screening Carle books before I take them to story hour.  As a story hour book too, the clocks in the top corner of the pages were nearly invisible to the children.  I explained where the hands were on the clock faces, at least at first, and was able to work that explanation pretty easily into the prose, but I didn’t really think any of them were there to learn to tell time and stopped after the first few pages.  Also, analog clocks are disappearing, though I think they are still more often in classrooms than digital clocks, so maybe it will be something that they’ll need to learn.  Reading this book makes me feel old.  Not only because of the analog clocks but also because of the political correctness that makes me wonder if such a violent little ladybug would have made it past an editor today.  The kids did pick up on Carle’s lesson that you shouldn’t be mean and that you should share, but it seemed like there were few pages on that.  Most of the pages were devoted instead to the grouchy ladybug asking larger and larger animals if they wanted to fight then dismissing each as too small—and I think at least one my kids was frustrated by the ladybug’s idiocy (she kept commenting that she was pretty sure this or that animal was large enough).  It made a better bestiary than a story it seemed to me as I read the same few words over and over with a slight variation.  That being said, that repetition can be very lulling.  I found it very easy to read and to play instead with my inflection than focus on the words when I was caught up in the repetition.

*1/2

What’s Your Favorite Animal? edited by Eric Carle.  Contributed to be Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems.  Henry Holt and Co.-Random, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8 (Grades Pre-K-3).

As a student and lover of children’s literature, I personally loved this book.  Some of the illustrations in this are amazing.  A lot of the memoirs are truly sweet and endear readers towards either the animal or the author.  Some of the poetry was humorous.  The book provided an interesting view into the minds and lives of some of my favorite illustrators.  The kids at my story hour were less enthralled.  I knew more of the illustrators than they did (many of them having not recently produced any bestsellers), and taken all together, this is a long book.  The eldest of my story hour friends was maybe eight.  Much beyond eight, it’s hard to see a child being thrilled with being read any picture book.  This book lacks the cohesion that can hold a younger child’s attention.  There’s not a story.  There’s no conflict.  The book includes flash memoirs, poetry, and cartoon panels of facts about octopi.  I think only the one (Nick Bruel’s) got a laugh out of any of my friends and that because of Bruel’s interaction with Bad Kitty, a familiar face for some of the kids, I’m sure, and the humor of Bruel’s entry.  Bruel’s didn’t read very well aloud, though, I thought.  There were so many individual panels and I don’t know how many of my friends were able to follow my eyes across the pages as I read.

****

Knight Time by Jane Clark and illustrated by Jane Massey.  Red Fox-Random House UK, 2009.

I loved this book, though I was biased towards it from the beginning as the cover was of an adorable towheaded young knight and a young dragon, each looking terrified into the dark forest.  Towheads and dragons, how could I not love this book?  It was cute in the way that I expected.  The knight fears dragons.  The dragon fears knights.  They meet and become friends after each seeing that the other is not so frightening.  I did not anticipate the inclusion of the knight’s and dragon’s fathers.  Both wander into the woods looking for their fathers and are each found by the other’s father.  The book is lift-a-flap.  If anything this made the book too interesting, too intriguing, too busy, but I loved that there was so much to look at and explore in this adventure.

****

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4 (Grade Pre-K).

I’ve never read the original Pout-Pout Fish so I think this book meant less to me than it is supposed to.  I think this would be fun to quote at young kids.  “Smile, Mr. Fish.  You look so down, with your glum-glum face and pout-pout frown.”  Followed immediately by, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.  When life gets you down do you know what you gotta do?”  I do dislike that the implication seems to be that a peck on the cheek by a strange should illicit a smile from someone who’s down.  I don’t really think that’s true, and I’m not sure it’s something that we should be teaching our children.

 **

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.

The trick is in the details with this one.  There’s a lot of humor from a careful inspection of Feeney’s illustrations, from the attempts of Little Owl to send his orange scarf to Peru to how he finally rids himself of the hated scarf.  While I sympathized with Little Owl’s plight and I really want to like this book even more than I do, I had a kid pipe up during story hour that he liked orange, and there’s was such sadness and hurt in his tone.  The scarf of course could be hated for being any color, and Feeney had to choose some color. There’s something so implicitly realistically childlike about Owl’s dislike of the scarf not only because it’s too long and scratchy but especially because it’s orange.  It reminds me of friends who hated and refused to wear anything pink simply for its color—and I’m glad that Feeney chose a color other than pink.  Pink would have seemed cliché.

***1/2

Buzz, Buzz, Baby!: A Karen Katz Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This lift-a-flap book is all about insects and bugs—perfect the adventurous and outdoorsy child in your family.  Katz’s protagonists are not strictly male even though the book is about bugs.  Katz’s illustrations and the use of flaps are what really appealed to me in this book.  The insects peek out from behind foliage making it easy to see where a child being read too could be prompted for an answer to the questions that the text poses.  The colors are bright—as are all of Katz’s.  Rhymes help with the rhythm of the text.

****

Challenge: Legal Theft: Gifts and the Rack (696 words)

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“No!”  She screamed, and the wine glass on the table shattered.  The visitor’s lapels, lilac tie, and white shirtfront dripped red cabernet.  The glass had shattered so that the half of it farthest from the visitor and from Aileen Varton remained in tact, but on his plate were several chips of glass and crystalline shards like sleet among the mashed potatoes and peas.  Aileen slowly lowered her arms from over her head and glanced at the visitor, fearful of his reaction.  She hadn’t meant to scream.  She hadn’t meant to shatter the glass.  She hadn’t meant to get upset.  She hadn’t meant to upset—  With a shout, her mother fled from the kitchen.  Her father turned to Aileen in a purple-faced fury.

Her mother returned and dashed past Aileen to kneel by the visitor.  Mumbling hurried apologies, she dabbed his front herself.  He allowed her to, ignoring her, his gaze carefully fixed on Aileen.

“This,” her father spat, “is exactly why you must go with him, Aileen.”

“You can’t just ship me off, can you?  Don’t you care at all?  I’m trying.  I’m really trying.”

“If you cannot control this—this—”

“Psychokinesis, I think.”  The visitor mildly provided the label.  “When she’s learned to control it.  But it might be more, and it might be less.  That particular manifestation seemed to influence the very molecules of the air.  Rather peculiar but not unheard of.”

All three Vartons stared at him.  The visitor smiled.  Aileen’s mother stepped back away from him.  There were still spots on his clothes.  “Aileen,” he said gently, turning to her, “I see many with abilities like yours, power beyond that of ordinary men.  I can teach you to control it, harness it.”

“Can you make it stop?”

“It is a talent you will possess as long as you live.”

“Then you can’t help me,” Aileen grumbled.  She flattened a few peas with the prongs of her fork.  “I don’t want to be special.  I just want to be—”  Her words died as she looked up at her parents, and saw only wariness and trepidation there.  She sighed and looked away from them both.

“I don’t believe that your ability is anything to fear,” the visitor claimed, and Aileen narrowed her eyes, looking for the lie in his bearded face.

She couldn’t find it.  She bit her lip.

“Come with me, Aileen,” he said.

“I—I’ll still have it if I do.  I—I might still hurt people, new people, people who don’t know.”

“You may hurt your family if you stay.  And we can keep you safe.  We have learned from those who came to me before you.  We have made my home as safe for everyone as it can be.”

“Who else lives with you?”

“There are others with powers like yours.”

“I won’t be alone,” Aileen breathed, letting her eyes mist over with the daydream of herself laughing with a group of girls her own age.

“No.  You won’t be.”

“Are there other girls?  Girls my own age?”

The man, smiling, nodded.  “Violet,” he provided, “and Sylvia.”

Aileen looked at her parents.  Her mother nodded, her eyes still deep and dark with fear.  A smile strained at the corners of Aileen’s mouth.  She looked back at the visitor and nodded too.

He turned away to hide a smile.  Aileen felt a flutter in her stomach.  Her smile wavered.

He composed his face before turning back towards her.  “Pack your things, Aileen.  We will leave within an hour.”

“An hour?  Isn’t that—”

“We must catch the next train.  You will need very little.  All will be provided for you.”

Aileen bit her lip and nodded.  There was no one but her parents to bid goodbye, but there was much she wanted to bring, things that she could share with new friends, with Violet and Sylvia.

“Only what you can I can carry, Aileen.  Go on.  Time is short.”

Aileen nodded.

As she fled the room she heard her father say, “Thank you, Rack.”

Aileen frowned, and she ran up the stairs to pack a bag or maybe two.  Mr. Rack had offered to help her with the luggage.

Today’s first line comes to you from Bek of BuildingADoor.  I stole it.  Check out “A Moment of Anger,” the piece that she wrote using the line.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Rejection (571 words)

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“Supper’s ready, Father.”

Justus smiled as his Seren ghosted up behind him on her bare feet.

“Book off the table,” she said.

He turned to see her using both hands to hold ceramic dishes of soup and obligingly stood to remove the book himself.  He replaced it on one of the shelves beside their mantelpiece.  Smiling her thanks, Seren placed a bowl before his vacated seat and another before her own, but she swept off to retrieve too the fresh loaf of cattail and acorn bread that had been filling the small cottage that they shared with a warm aroma all afternoon.  The honey jar followed the bread to the table.

The soup was boiled fish with herbs and cress leaves and cattail roots gathered from the hammock.  Seren has also managed to find some young asparagus stalks.  The freshly baked bread was a luxury.

As Seren cut the loaf into thick slices, Justus asked, “What is it that you want, my Seren?”

She feigned surprise.

“This is quite a meal,” Justus explained.  “You want something.”

Seren bit her lip, sat, and looked down at her knotted hands.  “I heard you talking to George Tvorec yesterday.”

Justus frowned.  “I hoped that you had not.  That boy is no good for you.”

“Why not?  He’s the only one who’s asked.  And his family—”

“Has been Anvatrin for two generations now.  Is that what you want for your children?  A life where they’re forced to live on the margins of our society?  There was a time when Anvatrin children were killed when they were discovered and the parents thought of none the worse for it.”

“They say that Razadd slept with an Anvatrin woman.”

“And look what became of it,” Justus snarled.  “A broken line with no power among them and a broken race of freed slaves that still live in squalor and poverty and hiding.”

“Father,” Seren sighed.  She had of course heard this complaint before.  The truth of it gnawed at him, and it gnawed at him that no one else seemed to remember the greatness of their race.  Seren’s tone said that she tired of his anger.

“You know my mind, Seren,” he agreed, “and know that I won’t let him have you.  And that’s that.  You’ll wait for a more suitable man, a Vatrin man.”

“What if no other comes?  Father, George is a good man.  I’ve seen him on the hammock and—”

“And maybe you should not anymore.”

“You can’t keep me in here, and you can’t keep him from going out either.”

“Can’t I?” Justus asked, and there was a knife’s edge to his voice from which Seren flinched.

“Father, I don’t want to stay indoors all day.  You know I cannot.  And if I don’t leave the house then who will do the chores so that you can continue your studies?”

He inclined his head, picked up the spoon.  “I could start collecting the firewood and the food that you do.”

“You won’t,” Seren was sure.  “I’m not sure for all your knowledge you’d know horsetail from asparagus.”

She was right about that, but Justus didn’t confirm it.

“If that boy pursues you despite my edict, he will regret it.  He knows the rules.”  He added, pinning her with sharp eyes, “So do you.”

Seren frowned.  She looked down into the soup and spooned some into her mouth to wisely silence any more protests.

Bek of BuildingADoor is a thief.  Go over to her blog to see what she did with this first line in “Daddy Daughter Deals.”

Things that have happened pre-grad school

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Hello, all.  Sorry for the hiatus in posts.

Let’s see… things that have happened pre-grad school….

I dropped in on Papa Newell for a little bit.  Really, a little bit.  Like 15 minutes.  He seems all right.  But for those who don’t know, he’s retiring.  If you want to keep in touch with him, you should email him.  But the emails the teachers had when we were in high school are not theirs any longer.  Message me and I’ll get the correct address to you.

I have a new cousin!  Ian Michael, the second boy of his family name, relieving the pressure to marry and have children from his older brother.  I think this is a good thing.  That’s a lot to ride on a young boy’s shoulders.  Not that I think he’d yet realized that pressure was on him.  Pictures have been coming in and like all babies he’s very cute.  His half-brother and -sister, my blood-related cousins, seem excited.  They put up identical facebook statuses about getting to hold him.  He was born late Friday the 17th.

We went out to a family dinner (our family, then our aunt and uncle, grandma, and grandpa) while our new aunt (she just married my uncle within the last year) was still in labor.  So we were all clutching our cell phones a bit I think, waiting to hear.  It was a long labor, poor woman.

My sister graduated high school!  Now, not to steal again from the Gwelsey, but Gwen is right: High school graduations are WAY different than ours.  Of course, there are boys.  They were allowed to decorate their mortarboards and they threw them into the air, along with lots of other things: bubbles, inflatable dolphins and crabs and beach balls….  The principal did the reading off of the names and I think they had their hands shaken by… you know, I don’t even know who that was.  Our university’s VPAA read the names and the president shook our hands, which is lovely when she’s been your friend for 4 years.  There were a lot more speeches, it seemed, by the students, or maybe it’s that there was no real graduation speaker like we had.  The president of the class spoke and made announcements, the salutatorian rapped, the valedictorian gave a funny speech….  There was a lot of focus on friendship and community and finally making it out even though no one thought that they would (apparently this class has had a reputation of goofing off a bit).  I watched all four of my daughters (well, actually I missed Erin) and my sister walk across the stage.  And I saw Alli, my sister’s mother, again!  It’s been too long, 2… no… 3 Christmases ago….

(You’ll have to forgive my use of exclamation points.  These seem like important events so I’m giving them emphasis.  😉  )

I left from graduation to come to Roanoke, just my dad and I.  We drove down to Allentown, where we spent the night.  I was pretty excited about the view out of our hotel window of the headquarters for the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Pennsylvania.  It just seemed fitting.  I can’t say it was the best sleeping night ever, though.  Loud, clunking air conditioner.

From Allentown we drove to Roanoke and spent the day moving in.