Tag Archives: Lemony Snicket

Book Reviews: July 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Part 2: Pets, Beaches, Bedtimes, Time, and an Italian witch

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Books About Pets

9781492609353Too Many Moose by Lisa Bakos and illustrated by Mark Chambers. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2016.

The alliterations and rhyme scheme of this book make it. What a silly story. Martha wants a pet, but what pet to get? Ultimately she decides that she wants a moose, and she gets online, and orders one. Having one moose is so wonderful that she orders more and more and more. But when her moose run amok she decides that maybe one moose is just enough. The illustrations are funny and colorful—with expressive moose in every shade of brown.

****

it-came-in-the-mail-9781481403603_hrIt Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton. Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

A little boy who likes mail but never gets any writes a letter to his mailbox requesting something big, and the mailbox delivers a dragon! And then when he requests more, the mailbox delivers more—more than he can possibly use or enjoy or keep. So he uses the mailbox to send away most of what the mailbox has gifted him—but he keeps the dragon and he keeps a pegasus for his best friend, an African American boy named Jamel, so that they can fly together. This is a fairly simple story with a fairly simple message: that receiving is fun, but giving can feel better. There’s a lot to laugh at in the text and in the illustrations.

****

9780399161032This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I read and reviewed this book on Goodreads sometime in late 2012, but it never made it onto the blog here. It was then and remains the books that launched my love for Oliver Jeffers, who is a talented, talented man, whose picture books—or some of them—don’t shy away from the hard truths of life, which he always handles with the utmost tenderness and subtlety. This book of his is sillier. Wilfred meets a moose in a wonderfully detailed and soaring wilderness—something the Hudson River School would have applauded—and decides that this moose is his. He even makes it a little nametag so that everyone will know. The illustrations are all peppered with clever and humorous details that should clash with the grand landscape—and maybe do a little, but that’s part of the picture book’s charm. There are rules—all penned out in a childish hand—that the moose is very good at following, and ones that he needs to practice, but their friendship grows. Until an old woman comes along and insists that this is her moose. She even tempts Marcel—whom she calls Rodrigo—away with an apple. Deprived of his moose, Wilfred finds himself in trouble, tangled in string in the middle of nowhere with the dark and the monsters coming. But that’s when his moose returns, and proves himself still Wilfred’s friend. So Wilfred realizes that friendship is compromise and not ownership.

****

9780374301859A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux-Macmillan, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

A little girl buys a unicorn for 25¢ and anxiously awaits its arrival, dreaming of riding him along rainbows with a necklace of flowers on his blue neck. What arrives is a goat with a single horn. He’s smelly. He’s not blue. He has fleas! He eats his flower necklace and his tutu. Lucy tries to defend her unicorn at first from those who say he’s just a goat, but eventually she calls to return the unicorn, but once he’s in the truck and bleating for her, she changes her mind, and realizes that she has grown to love Sparkle even though he is not what she was expecting. Lucy appears to be African American, making me love her even more because there is never once any issue made of her race and we need more books about African Americans where race is not an issue. I like this protagonist so much more than the Barbie from Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigette Barrager’s Uni the Unicorn.

****

Nighttime Reads

9ff19e062c2560bf352a6e3fe2e4cc70The Dark by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Little Brown Kids-Hachette, 2013.

I reviewed The Dark in April 2013. I’d mostly avoided reading it again, having then not been impressed, and in fact been a bit disturbed by the book. This time around—when an engaged child at story time requested creepy stories—I was not immediately struck by that same unease (though in rereading my previous review, I did find myself agreeing with my younger self). Still, because I was so much less vehemently opposed to this book during this second reading, it seemed fair to give it a second review.

This time, I saw the Dark as more comforting, as empowering Laszlo to defeat his fear of the Dark by showing him that he—the Dark—is friendly, really, and not the frightening monster that Laszlo imagines. Maybe I saw the dark as more of a concept and less of a character. Taking away the Dark’s personhood makes this book much less disturbing.

So now I sit sort of on the fence about this book. Do I like the Dark? Am I worried for the Dark? Is his action more friendly or is it a dangerous depiction of self-harm and self-deprecation? I’m really not sure.

There are other, better books about overcoming a fear of the dark—Emma Yarlett’s Orion and the Dark is pretty wonderful and has the same message without any of the self-harm—and I think I will stick to recommending those, but perhaps I will not so actively avoid this one.

**

9780307976635Hush, Little Horsie by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. Penguin Random, 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This was a sort of disappointing read from Yolen because there just wasn’t a lot of substance, but Sanderson, who has illustrated many horse stories before including the cover art for many of Walter Farley’s and the Horse Diaries series, didn’t disappoint. The lullaby of sorts involves four mares reassuring their foals that they will be watching them as they gallop, leap, and sleep. It ends with a human mother reassuring her daughter that she will be here as she sleeps with horses chasing themselves through her mind. As an adult as I suspect a horse-loving child, I do and would have prickled at the term “horsie” as I do at Marguerite Henry’s incorrect use of “colt,” but I think that puts me in a nitpicky minority.

**

Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey

y648Waiting by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was one of the Caldecott honorees for 2016. Several toys sit on a windowsill. All of them are waiting, waiting for different things—for rain to be able to use an umbrella, for snow to be able to use a sled, for wind for a kite, for the moon to rise. The beginning—the character set-up—is mostly simple, relaxing, beautifully illustrated, particularly in the four illustrations that don’t share the page with any text and which show the passage of time—though time doesn’t really seem to have much affect on the characters. Then there is an inciting incident, and it hits suddenly. A new character—a cat toy—is introduced. What is she waiting for? The implication is that she was waiting for kittens—she is herself a nesting doll, and the kittens appear from inside her. There are some weird illustrations of death in a fancy toy elephant that falls and shatters (“He stayed a while then he left and never returned”) and in the birth of kittens via nesting doll. That the death occurs with so little comment and so little conflict or emotion is… odd. I’m honestly not sure what to make of the text of this book. It’s nice to read, but I don’t quite know what I’ve done but passed the time. The illustrations are lovely; I concede that point for sure, but I’m not sure I would rank them among the most heavy-hitting and innovative and memorable of the year (where are Curato, Parra, Jeffers?).

Henkes you may know from Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse or Chrysanthemum.

***

29433570Are We There Yet? by Nina Laden and illustrated by Adam McCauley. Chronicle, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This book has very little text, primarily being a repetition of “Are we there yet?” and “No,” but the illustrations are vibrant, detailed, carrying their own narrative with repeated characters across pages, and really carrying the narrative too. On a drive to visit grandparents, the characters start out traversing ordinary settings, which become increasingly extraordinary through the inclusion of extraordinary details. Their journey takes them even to extraterrestrial vistas. The journey ends with the greeting of grandparents who must themselves be pretty extraordinary if their decorating tastes illustrate anything and the assertion that the drive was “boring.” The parents and children at story time enjoyed as I did looking for the extraordinary details in the illustrations. This book earns almost all of its stars through its illustrations, which might be another Caldecott contender. Sadly for McCauley, Santat—already a Caldecott winner—wrote a very similar picture book with the same title this same year with less reliance on the illustrations to carry the tale but more innovative inclusion of illustrations, so I doubt that this story will get a nod.

****

Books for the Beach

9780448496399Llama Llama Sand and Sun by Anna Dewdney. Grosset & Dunlap-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I think this is the only board book that I read this whole month. Written with Dewdney’s charm and rhyme and meter, Llama Llama goes to enjoy the beach in this touch-and-feel book. The touch-and-feel elements are not guided, but still make the book more interactive than an ordinary picture book. The text of the story was really quite enjoyable, simple but, well, charming.

***

y648-1Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe with illustrations by Binny Talib. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2016. First published 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a surprising success, possibly partially because the craft and costume were so fun (I turned party hats inside out and we made our own horns so Octi would feel less alone). Life is hard for an octicorn. He doesn’t fit in with either the unicorns or the octopi. Because Octi doesn’t fit in, he doesn’t get invited to a lot of parties, but there are a lot of things that Octi (and other octicorns) is good at: ring toss, dancing, watersports, juggling, hugging. “I know I look different than everyone else, but that’s okay because in the end, we all want the same things: cupcakes, friends, and a jet ski.” The one squirmy moment I had was when Octi is wondering how his parents met. (Was it a costume party? A personal ad?) I think the book actually gained a few points because it was a direct plea to the audience for friendship; the “aw” factor came into play, plus the book ends with a direct call for reaction. For a book born of a doodle, this was really quite wonderful.

****

0763655996This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is another book that I first read and reviewed on Goodreads in 2013, but the review never migrated to this blog, so now I get a second go. My feelings toward this book, 2013’s Caldecott winner, really haven’t changed much since then.

This is a dark little book.  A tiny fish steals a hat from a BIG fish.  The little fish swims away with it.  He knows he’s done wrong, but he tries to convince himself otherwise.  The big fish will not find him.  He will not know who took the hat.  The big fish wakes up.  He is suspicious.  He tracks down the little fish.  He follows him into some kelp.  Only the big fish emerges, and he has the hat, and looks quite pleased with himself.  Most of the story is told through illustration more than it is through text.  The text is the little fish’s inner monologue.  It’s dark for a picture book but moralistic.  Almost… Grimm.  A very Grimm book in all dark colors with simple but expressive illustrations and an ambiguous end that possibly implies the death of the POV character.

***

Something Different

2976324Brava, Strega Nona! by Tomie dePaola and illustrated by Matthew Reinhart with pop-ups by Robert Sabuda. G. P. Putnam & Sons-Penguin, 2008.

Robert Sabuda is the king of pop-up, and I had never seen one of his books so well preserved (this one was in the library rather than in the bookstore) so that even the water in the fountain turns and the fountain is still attached to the page nor have I ever felt so free to really explore one of Sabuda’s masterpieces knowing that this copy was meant to be explored and not meant to be purchased. There’s not a whole lot of story here. There are a few Italian words—famiglia, amore, mangia, amici, celebrazione—translated and then their place in Strega Nona’s life explained just briefly: her family tree and her family history, her Grandma (Nonna) Concetta the strega who taught her magic; the love that is the secret to her recipes; the friends she sees all over town; the food she share with friends and family; the village celebrations of which she likes to be in the middle. This story means more to me as someone whose family is Italian; these are words that have peppered my life too. The value of this book is in the bit of Italian language that it teaches and in the pure wonder of Sabuda’s pop-ups.

****

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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October April Picture Book Roundup

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Working mostly at the registers this past month, I didn’t get to read any new picture books for kids, and really, it’s quite upsetting, not least of all because I feared I’d have nothing to give you all for the month.  But I’ve found a way to rectify the misfortune–at least as far as the blog is concerned:  Instead of reviews for picture books that I read in October (as that would be a very boring post), I’m going to reprint some of the reviews that I wrote and posted on Goodreads back in April, which is the last month (prior to June when I began these roundup posts) in which I posted any picture book reviews.  So without further ado: April’s Picture Book Roundup in October:

Les Petits Fairytales: Cinderella by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Gibbs Smith-MacMillan, 2012.

[Note from the present-day Kathryn: This was/is my first review of a Les Petits Fairytales book.]

This is a supremely succinct retelling of the tale of Cinderella. Each of the main elements is captured in a single word or phrase, “Girl. Chores. Mean stepsisters. Fairy godmother,” being the text of the first few pages. Each idea is simply but completely and colorfully illustrated. Unlike the Favorite Words books attributed to Eric Carle, Belle, Caruso-Scott, and Lake manage to tell a complete story. Granted, some of this story I may have subconsciously filled in myself. The subject matter well lends itself to such a succinct retelling as it is a tale that children can grow into (which I know is the idea behind the Favorite Words books, but with Cinderella there is so much more growth to be had, not from nouns and matching pictures to a board book with a simple story, but phrases and matching illustrations to a modern English picture book, to an illustrated picture book of the original story with a cleaner ending, to a modern English short story, to the original short story with the original ending, to a modern retelling in novel format, to a comparison of Cinderella tale types from around the world).

Belle et al.’s book is a more standard board book size as compared to the very little size of Carle’s Favorite Words books, giving the illustrator (Oliver Lake) more room for illustration. Rather than being a complementary illustration of a noun as are Carle’s, the form leaves room for a complete picture with subject and background and secondary characters or plot points.

I would be interested in parents’ reviews of the book. To me, Belle et al.’s book would seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it. However, to me, the book seems to suffer the same flaw as the Favorite Words books: They cannot really be read aloud–or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud. These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Andrew Drew and Drew by Barney Saltzberg.  Harry N. Abrams, 2012.

A story of imagination and art, surprise is the key to this flap book. Andrew likes to doodle. The illustrations show the process of his doodling from a line to a full illustration, and the text closes with a reminder that there is always time for more fun tomorrow, making me think that its intention is to be a bedtime story. Akin to Harold and the Purple Crayon, though Drew’s illustrations are far more detailed and realistic if involving more subject and less landscape, there is something far more memorable about a purple crayon than a pencil.

This is another picture book where the illustrations and ingenuity of the design outshine the text.

***

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen.  Little Brown Kids-Hachette, 2013.

I wanted to be more impressed than I was by this book, which I suppose is also how I feel about A Series of Unfortunate Events (of which I’ve only actually read A Bad Beginning, because I was not impressed enough to continue on with the series). Jon Klassen’s illustrations are as evocative and simple as ever and just the use of the name Laszlo speaks of the inclusion of Snicket’s refusal to tread towards the norm. But the plot relies heavily on personification (a common enough technique in picture books), and its use of personification is just a little unsettling, mostly in that by having the Dark show Laszlo where to find the fresh bulbs in the basement, the Dark seems almost suicidal or self-harming. Moreover, the solution is temporary and so the ending is not entirely fulfilling. Laszlo ventures into the Dark’s home to retrieve the weapon to use against it, led there by the Dark itself, but while that weapon pushes back the Dark, Laszlo’s fear of the Dark does not seem truly overcome. He is not but for a page or two left in true dark. Otherwise, he is armed with a flashlight.

The absence of parental involvement is a very Snicket-y and unique element, one of which I was glad because a parent should not necessarily have to be involved in a child’s development and sometimes cannot be and that is a good lesson to learn as well as that a parent can help.

I suppose, given Snicket’s publishing history, I should expect to be left a little unsettled by his picture books, but it is not really a sensation that I relish–not for this intended audience, not without a sequel.

I’d advise parental discretion on this one. Some kids will probably relish the unsettling air of this picture book.

**

A Long Way Away by Frank Viva.  Little, Brown Kids-Hachette, 2013.

For its unique style, this book will show up in Children’s Literature classrooms. I can almost guarantee that. Viva has written a book that can, should, and almost must be read two ways. By the second time reading the text (down-up instead of up-down), it was beginning to make sense. A third reading (up-down a second time) and I understood what he was doing and became excited.

The plot is that of an alien either traveling a long way away from his home, through space, to earth, and to the bottom of the ocean, or of an alien traveling from a long way away from his home, up from the bottom of the ocean, out into space, and back to his planet and parents.  The journey fiction genre of this story lends itself well to two-directional reading.

The text of the story is… loose. I’m not sure it needs to be as loose as it is, but I understand that it must be at least somewhat loose to be able to be read as a story from two directions. The pictures paired with the text, the vocabulary and sentence structure of which are simple and short, are evocative, and the story truly exists in the emotions that it elicits: either of the sadness of being ripped from one’s home and parents’ love or the joy of return to such delights.  The vocabulary, colors, and expressions of the characters are what draw those emotions from the reader–or from me.

It is an ageless story. It is one I would recommend to the very young, who will relate to the emotions expressed by the protagonist, and also as a gift from a parent to a child leaving for college or having otherwise flown the nest. I hope someone thinks to market it as the latter. I think it would do very well among books for graduates.

Reading this the first time, I think I all but squeed in the middle of the store and did share my effusive excitement with both a passing customer and our children’s department lead.

****