Tag Archives: Jan Brett

Book Reviews: August 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Be Yourself, Find a Friend, Mind the Books, and Have Some Science

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Books About Books and Stories

9781479591756Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Capstone, 2016. Intended audience: Grades PreK-2.

The human patrons of the library are even more diverse than the dragons—both male and female—who clutter the aisles—and while we’re mentioning it, let’s applaud that the protagonist, the character on the cover, and not just some of the background patrons is non-white. These illustrations are vibrant—in every sense, and are probably the best thing about the book. The diversity of the cast is what propels this book for me a little farther above its peers. I suspect that a great deal of the appeal of books about libraries is the meta-ness of reading a book about story time and about libraries in a library and in a library story time. It doesn’t quiet work as well in a bookstore, as much as I’d like it to do, particularly as a number of our younger patrons have difficulty separating the concepts of bookstore and of library. I love dragons. I love books. I love the concept of libraries even if right now I spend very little time myself in any. I wish I was more enthralled with this story and with this text, but this doesn’t say much that is original about how to respect libraries or what a library is; it just does so with dragons.

***

1

Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This little boy just wants to read a book without having anyone spoil the ending for him—poor kid. He goes farther and farther into the wilderness but meets wonderfully well-read animals, eager to share their enthusiasm for the books that he’s chosen to read. The text is first person with the interruptions by others as speech bubbles. This is definitely a book that the older reader can appreciate. This is the first book for children I think that I’ve ever read that talks about spoilers. Lê began as a children’s book reviewer and critic.

***

9780803741409 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora. Dial-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

A quiet day at the library is interrupted by an angry monster who doesn’t realize that books are for reading and not for eating. Oskar and Theodore the bear must run from the monster, survive, and ultimately teach him that books are meant to be read, that he’s in a library not a restaurant.

***

9780803740679The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Fred Blunt. Dial-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book had a lot of potential, but it read awkwardly. The shifting story just didn’t handle well aloud. I think with the right storyteller it could. I think especially with a storyteller dressed as a knight it could do. I’d love to see this tale acted out. The illustrations shift as the narration does. “A knight in armor rode away. Then again… he had no horse. Did I say ‘rode’? He strode, of course. That’s right—he strode across the land with half a sandwich in his hand?” This could also be fun with the right audience, one who wants to correct the story, make it fit the knight-in-armor, knight-vs-dragon narrative. But then they couldn’t see the pictures without being given the answers. It would be interesting to use this too in a discussion about narrative—about cultural narrative and subversion. Like I said, a lot of potential, but the execution just doesn’t seem quite right, and I wish it did.

**

Be Your Best Self and Don’t Be Ashamed

y648 Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Jonathan Sneider. HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Another book about an unlikely doodle, like Octicorn? One that began as a blog like the Tumas’ book about dinosaurs at night? Teddy the Dog has a line of clothing?

Told from the point of view of a cool pup—note the sunglasses—Teddy’s living the life—being a dog, wreaking havoc but never fetching—until a package arrives containing a cat—whom he nicknames and continues throughout the book to call Fishbreath. He tries to teach Fishbreath all that he knows, since it seems that the cat will now be his companion, but Fishbreath isn’t interested. Teddy tries to do the things that Fishbreath likes but doesn’t like them. Ultimately they bond over stealing cookies from the cookie jar, and Teddy decides that both of them are best when they are being their best selves, that each of them can contribute in their own way.

***

25489431Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2016. First published 1981. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was one of my favorite stories as a child, and it has remained fairly influential in my life. Fritz sees all the tall, glamorous, finely bedecked horses, and he wants to do what they do and be loved as they are loved. He notices that the children seem frightened of the fine horses. He prances before the people, doing his best impression of the horses’ prance, but they laugh at him, and he goes away dejected, but when the bridge cracks stranding the nervous children on one side and the adults on their prideful mounts on the other, Fritz goes up and down the steep banks and across the river to rescue each child. Then he sees that he can do what the fine horses cannot, that his smallness and surefootedness are strengths not weaknesses. Moreover the people—children and adults—recognize it, and he is given a place of honor in the city’s walls.

I loved horse stories—and still do, if more of that is nostalgia than it once was, maybe—and I love stories of the strength of littleness. I think those stories resonant with children. They resonate with me still.

I’ve talked before about the amazing detail and realism and wonder of Jan Brett’s illustrations. This book is no exception.

I read this alongside I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur and Teddy the Dog and am very pleased to report that this—this classic about a tiny pony that is bedecked by flowers and wears fine blankets was the favorite—even though my audience consisted of one maybe 5-7 year old boy. This was easily the most complex of those stories, the longest, the oldest, and the most muted—though Jan Brett’s details might help to compensate for the absence of bold, bright colors. Points made. Thanks, kid.

(rating this one seems unfair; I’d give it five stars for nostalgia)

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Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There’s a new Little Elliot book! I did a little dance in the store when I found it and immediately rearranged things to be able to better display it. And when no one showed up for the story time where I intended to read it, I read it myself and showed coworkers my favorite pages; I final page evoked a spoken “aw,” and I had to explain myself. Little Elliot is truly one of my favorites. This book features a fold out page of a beautiful vista of the boardwalk seen from the top of the Ferris wheel during an orange sunset.

Little Elliot isn’t enjoying the amusement park that Mouse has brought him too. All of Mouse’s favorite rides are too scary, too dizzy, too fast. But Mouse knows the perfect ride—the Ferris wheel—that they can both enjoy, and though Elliot is at first scared, the payoff here is worth his fear. And afterwards they find activities at the boardwalk that they can both enjoy—ice cream, balloons, the beach. Can Elliot be my spirit animal? For real?

I still love Curato’s illustrations, his stories, and his inclusion of many races in his vivid backgrounds.

*****

9781492632993I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur! by Heath McKenzie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2016.

This is what I expect in books featuring dinosaurs: a chance to stomp and invite the kids to give me their best ROAR! A white boy in a cardboard costume proclaims his wish to be a dinosaur and a dinosaur shows up to show him his best dinosaur skills. The boy questions if dinosaurs can eat junk food and play soccer and video games and do the other things that he as a boy enjoys doing. The dinosaur cannot, and the dinosaur wishes to be a boy. And in the end the boy is dressed as a dinosaur and the dinosaur is dressed as a boy and both are stomping around and roaring. The endpage was pretty fun too: a more realistic painting of dinosaurs, one you might find in a nonfiction book, doing boy-things with the trapping of boyness added overtop in marker. I am reminded a touch of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, but this is a much more enjoyable, less frightening way to get across the same message of being glad that you are what you are.

***

More Lessons to Learn

dinosaurs-love-underpants-9781416989387_hrDinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Ben Cort. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades PreK-2.

This is one of those new classics that I feel I’m sort of expected to know, but it was my first time actually reading the story. I’m always a bit uncertain about potty humor in my picture books—mostly because I don’t know my audience and don’t want to be held accountable for corrupting young minds. I was wary of this one, but it was required one Saturday. This was… not the book I was expecting. There wasn’t a lot of potty humor, though there were lots of briefs and boxers. This was more a lesson book than anything else. This is a new answer to the age-old question of why there are no more dinosaurs: Dinosaurs loved underpants; I don’t really know why; they don’t seem to have fit or have made any dinosaur happy. The dinosaurs fought each other one night to extinction for the underpants that they hadn’t torn. Mankind is saved by the dinos love of underpants, so we should love and respect our undies too. I was honestly a bit thrown by the portrayal of dinosaurs as enemies of mankind but the glossing over of dinosaurs as predators and by the lesson to respect our underpants. It just all around was not what I was expecting, but I guess I’m glad I didn’t feel like I was going to get any angry, prudish parents. This would be a good read, I guess, for the potty training child who just keeps ripping their undies off. Be aware that you’ll have dinosaur names to trip over.

***

e_and_p_i_will_take_a_nap_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I overheard a friend of mine reading this —another Barnes & Noble employee and an excellent story time reader. It just sounded so ridiculous—so ridiculous that I avoided it for just over a year. This was the first time that I read it fully myself. I missed when overhearing that reading the context of the illustrations, which make the weirdness seem less off-putting. In this story, Gerald is exhausted and needs to sleep. He dreams that Piggie has come to keep him from napping. Nearly the rest of the book is Gerald’s dream of Piggie interrupting his sleep, and dreaming Gerald does not realize till after Piggie’s head has morphed into a laughing turnip that this manifestation of Piggie is a dream. The illustrations actually make fairly clear that Gerald is napping. Piggie first appears in a green thought bubble above the napping Gerald and all subsequent pages are that minty green. This is not your average bedtime book with gentle rhymes and gentle pictures and lulling rhythms of peaceful sleep. This does not portray dreams of floating on cloud, but better portrays dreams as a reflection of daily worries and daily interactions and better portrays the absurdity of dream logic. I like the idea of the discussions this could open up, but I wasn’t able to get into any. For being a different kind of bedtime book, for portraying the necessity of sleep in a different way, I rate this one higher than I might otherwise.

****

Find Your Best Friend

d59d3e417c97efb7af8560a79f80eb07 Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet by Liz Climo. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

I was surprisingly pleased by this book. Rory has shown up in one other picture book: Me and My Dad. Liz Climo’s illustrations of cartoon animals however are familiar from her Tumblr, and I have seen them passed between friends on Facebook. Rory’s friends introduce him to a new pet hermit crab, and Rory decides that he too wants a pet. He tries to coax several animals into being his pet but they are too busy, not interested, and he almost gives up until a coconut (it’s never identified as a coconut in the text) rolls to his feet, and turns out to be the perfect pet, ready to do anything Rory wants without complaint. The story was fairly commonplace until the coconut came along. I’m reminded a little of Yoon’s Penguin and Pinecone. I loved this story—so did the mother at this story time. We both cooed over it when I was done.

****

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: March 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Spring Has Sprung

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Easter Exclusives 9780399252389

Easter Egg by Jan Brett. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2010. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Hoppi the bunny is just old enough to participate in the bunnies’ annual Easter egg challenge where the best egg wins a chance to help the Easter Bunny with his deliveries. Hoppi wants to win, but he is discouraged when he sees all of the amazing eggs being made by the older bunnies: chocolate, wood, flower planters, engraved, with a painted portrait of the Easter Bunny…. Each of these adults kindly donates some of their tools to Hoppi’s egg efforts. Wandering through the woods, Hoppi witnesses a robin’s egg knocked from its nest. Unable to return the egg to its nest, the robin mother entrusts the egg to Hoppi who volunteers to protect it. He does so faithfully, a proper Horton. He is missed at the Easter celebration when the Easter Bunny pulls up in his carriage pulled by hens, but the Easter Bunny knows what he’s been up to: He goes into the woods and returns with Hoppi, the winner of his contest, and his newly hatched robin chick. Hoppi’s self-sacrifice and faithfulness are rewarded and recognized with the prize that he coveted most. This was a great opportunity for Jan Brett to show off her distinctive, lauded illustration style with its magical details and high realism matched with whimsy.

****

16033650Easter Surprise adapted from Beatrix Potter’s works. Warne-Penguin Random, 2013.

Mimicking if not outright borrowing illustrations from Beatrix Potter’s classic works, Peter Rabbit leads the reader past other classic characters of Potter’s to see—surprise!—the newly hatching ducklings of Jemima Puddle-Duck’s. I don’t generally like these books that hijack classic characters for new stories, but this was a cute concept. There is little to the story, really, but that leaves the focus on the illustrations, and because the illustrations are what of the story are most Potter’s that seems fitting.

**** 9780312510022

Easter Surprise by Roger Priddy. Priddy-Macmillan, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, Grades PreK-K.

The text on each page gives instructions to pull a tab, which separates two halves of an Easter egg to reveal a baby animal. The last page reveals a mirror. The tabs are of a sturdy cardboard that seems like it will be difficult to tear. This is a novel sort of interactive page and that I think gives the book merit. I especially like the inclusion of the mirror. I think this book is actually meant for younger than Macmillan believes; I would say it’s intended audience is children younger than 2.

***1/2

Any Day Books

2215398The Vicar of Nibbleswicke by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Trumpet-Scholastic, 1996. First published 1991.  Intended audience: Ages 11-13.

I’m not entirely sure whether or not to include to this book in this list. This is more of 31 page (23 pages of text and not all of those are full pages), illustrated novelette or short story, but I don’t have enough to say on it to write a full review, I don’t think. This was written for the benefit of the Dyslexia Institute. It reads as Dahl having fun with himself and with his characters and with language. He even makes a reference to another book of his, Esio Trot. The Reverend Lee suffers and has suffered since childhood from a strange back-to-front dyslexia, where he occasionally says a word backwards without realizing it. This manifestation of dyslexia does not exist, so this really does not promote understanding or acceptance of dyslexia so much as it borrows the name and invents a nonexistent symptom. It leaves me in a very strange position because on the one hand I want to applaud Dahl funding research for a disability and on the other I want to berate him for spouting lies about an illness. The words that Reverend Lee says backwards are of course mostly those that when said backwards become other words and those words are often insulting. Miss Prewt becomes Miss Twerp. Instead of happily exclaiming that all of the ladies knit, he says that each of them stinks. God is replaced with dog, which for a vicar is problematic. In a First Communion class the reverend tells his parishioners to pis from the Communion cup. Parishioners are also told not to krap along the narrow drive to the church. The misspelled cuss words are something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to recommend this book to certain individuals. I giggled to myself as I read it silently and alone. There wasn’t a great deal of substance there, but there was word play, and I am a sucker for clever word play—though this is very mischievous word play.

***

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Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson. Picture Window-Capstone, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-1.

Rabbit’s carrot collection has outgrown his warren. He abandons his warren to his collection and goes to stay with friends, but he doesn’t want to be entirely without his carrots, and each time he moves into a new friend’s place, he brings just enough carrots to destroy his friend’s home and leave both of them without a place to stay. His friends are extraordinarily patient, continuing to take in Rabbit, his carrots, and the friends that he has made homeless with his hoarding and stubbornness. His friends as they move like refugees to each new home recognize Rabbit’s problem and politely suggest that he not bring that last carrot into their new refuge, but they don’t outright confront him. It is only when Rabbit has run out of friends and his friends have run out of homes that he recognizes the trouble that he has caused and seeks to fix it. He invites his friends back to his home: the last home that has not been destroyed and they eat their way through the carrots to make enough space for them all. Rabbit realizes that carrots are meant to be shared rather than hoarded. While there are some important lessons here about sharing and about hoarding and about selfishness, the story itself is problematic. These poor creatures have their houses destroyed—and some of them are injured—for being open and generous; they’re understanding is never addressed as a problem. This rabbit never really apologizes for what he has done. Sharing his home and his carrots become more reward than penance so where is the consequence to himself for his selfishness? The illustrations, it should be said, are adorable even as the poor turtle is bandaged and on crutches. Hudson mixes whimsy and realism and cartoonishness well and the colors are vibrant and inviting.

**1/2

9780525428374Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge. Dial-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The illustrations in this book are vibrant and beautiful. The story takes place in one of the older cities, Hoot and Peep’s home being in a Gothic cathedral, possibly in Paris or London. That I can make a guess should give you an idea of the detail that Judge lovingly puts into each drawing. The story is a cute story of sibling relationship and of acceptance of otherness and uniqueness, where the older owl Hoot believes that his sister Peep is singing wrong because she is singing differently than Hoot has been taught to do. Ultimately, Hoot realizes that he misses his sister’s unique voice and he goes to her to learn her ways. The book uses some very fun onomatopoeias. It’s definitely a book appropriate for a younger audience, but my audience was maybe six to nine and they really seemed to enjoy it as well.

*****

9780312517816Alphaprints: Tweet! Tweet! by Roger Priddy. Priddy-Macmillan, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 0-3, Grades PreK.

This is a touch-and-feel animal and animal sounds primer. The illustrations combine blocks of bright color, colored fingerprints, and photographs: sheep made of cauliflowers heads and hedgehogs made of bright dalias. These were creative illustrations, and I appreciated that. There weren’t really that many opportunities for touch-and-feel elements (there weren’t many pages) and what were there were pretty humdrum.

*** 18225019

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Uni is an extraordinarily beautiful unicorn but she is nevertheless an outcast among unicorn society because she believes that little girls are real and that one day she will get to meet one, but she doesn’t let the other unicorns derision, even that of her parents, dissuade her from her belief. “Far, far away (but not too far)” there is a little girl who believes the same about unicorns and is equally ridiculed. The two never meet but they live in their separate realities each believing in the other. This is one of those books that I enjoyed subjectively as a girl who likes to believe in the existence of this sort of benign, escapist magic and who has been dismissed as dewy-eyed. Objectively, taking a step back, I see the faults here. I recognize that Barrager needed to choose just one little girl to be the character in Uni’s fantasies and the heroine of her own reality, but did she need to choose Barbie? She—almost impossibly long of lock, blonde, and blue eyed—has for too long been the ideal, the fantasy of little girls. We didn’t need another fairy tale lifting up this unrealistic ideal. I liked the writing—the technical skill of it—as I often do with Rosenthal, and I liked the story. Most of my complaint here is with Barrager.

***

18570357What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2014.

This is one of the better metaphors for an idea and description of the growth of an idea that I have seen. The young egg appears—poof—and follows the boy around. Though the others don’t understand, and they reject the idea, and the boy tries to leave it behind, it persists till the boy becomes fond of the idea and nurtures it privately. Then one day the egg hatches, and the idea is set free into the world where it is now not just part of the boy but part of everything.

At the beginning of the book, the idea is the only thing with a spot of color. As the boy accepts the idea and begins to nurture it, he gains color too. The last page is bright.

Having had experiences with ideas very like this, though mine have never been yet set out into the wide world, I appreciate this book on a very personal level. I feel as if this might actually be a better picture book for adults and graduates and aspiring artists than for children. I read this alongside Hoot and Peep, and I don’t think my audience enjoyed it as much as Hoot and Peep, but they were engaged. They were the ones who noticed the plethora of new ideas on the final pages. They guessed that the pages would grow more and more colorful.

*****

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.