Tag Archives: Loren Long

Book Reviews: May 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Brand New Books

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Fun aside:  I was looking over my stats for this blog.  This past month in particular, I seem to have been getting a lot of views from readers all the way across the globe in Hong Kong.  Hi, Hong Kong readers!  Welcome to the blog!

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

If I Was Sunshine by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Loren Long. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

The store received a review copy of this poetic picture book. There’s a definite pattern to the text, stanzas that begin with analogies “if i was A, and you were B” or “if you were C, and i was D” “i’d call you E and you’d called me F” (Fogliano writes all in lowercase). There’s little to the text itself.  The book’s meaning emerges through the reader’s reckoning of the relationships between the four varying objects of the stanzas. The text is accompanied by Long’s soothing and brightly colored illustrations, mainly of creatures interacting with nature.

****

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A Friend Like Him by Suzanne Francis and illustrated by Dominic Carola and Ryan Feltman. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The trailers have me excited for this new live-action remake, which I haven’t actually seen as of writing this review. I was excited to have the chance to theme a story time around the story.  This book was a decent length for my young audience and told the story in a different way than did the 90s cartoon. This story centers the story of Aladdin on Genie, on Genie’s experience of being trapped in the lamp for millennia, occasionally emerging to grant wishes for wealth or power or fame to greedy masters, on his meeting Aladdin, a new master without that creepy look in his eyes, whom Genie instantly likes and grows to like more and more until they actually call one another friends. The message of friendship being the ultimate prize, the greatest thing to be wished for, and the best wish to grant is heartwarming. The perspective is fresh. The text is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being corny.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

High Five by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial-Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I… kind of expected better from the creators of Dragons Love Tacos and Dragons Love Tacos 2. As a note, I read this first to myself and then to a crowd of children, but always with the idea of reading it to a crowd and dreading reading it to a crowd. My fears proved unfounded. I feared that every kid would want to high five the page as required by the story. I had only one little friend who was willing to high five the pages, and I had to do so first the first few times that the book required before he wanted to join in the interactive fun. I think this book would be better one-on-one and one-on-one between a reader and a listening child with whom the reader already has a playful relationship.

This story enters the reader into a high five competition. We are first introduced to our trainer, a yeti-ish creature called Sensei with a bunch of trophies on his shelves. Sensei walks the reader through the best techniques for high fiving. To win the competition, he warns, the reader will need flare. The competition begins, and the reader is pitted against a flurry of creatures (a kangaroo joey and its mother, a snake, an octopus), until we are paired with an elephant against whom we had trained. The award for winning the competition (which the reader does) is a trophy at the end of the book that takes up a two-page spread and requires the book to be turned 90 degrees to view properly.

The text mostly rhymes with the instruction to “HIGH FIVE” breaking the rhythm and highlighting the command even more.  The illustrations are done in a bold neon palette colored pencil with a lot of white.

***

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 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Love and Immigration and Fancy Nancy

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What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2018.

I am a fan of this series. I am particularly a fan of Mae Besom’s artwork. The text continues to be inspiring but vague in its description, anthropomorphizing an idea—in this case a chance. The protagonist at first misses that chance, afraid to capture it, but then he catches another one later.

***

Stories of Immigration

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Paddington by Michael Bond and illustrated by R. W. Alley. HarperCollins, 2014. First published 1998.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This one was a little long for my audience, but they made it. It was very British—understandably British as its written by Brits—but there were words that my audience didn’t know. Overall, it’s a sweet story—but I hesitate on this one. On the one hand the language used to describe Paddington is worrying. He is from “Darkest Peru” and though polite, he does not understand some basic concepts of “civilized” British society (he climbs on tables to reach food and does not understand modern plumbing, leading to not only a giant mess in the bathroom but also to his near-drowning). The cabbie wants to charge extra for driving a bear and even more for a sticky bear. Paddington is depicted as needing to be taken care of by the British family because he’s incapable of taking care of himself—even though he’s traversed half the globe on his own with nothing but his wits and a jar of marmalade. I want to rate this story highly, because if I don’t think about it, it’s quite a wonderfully British, wonderfully fun adventure story of a bear who finds himself suddenly a part of a kind, suburban British family, but….

***

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Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. Dial-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

This is an important story, particularly now, of a Haitian American family torn apart by an immigration detainment center. The jailors are cruel, and un-empathetic to young Saya’s tears, threatening not to allow her to visit if she can’t keep from crying when asked to leave. Her mother sends cassettes home with Saya’s father of stories of Haitian folklore or her own imagination for Saya to listen to at bedtime, but of course its not enough. Saya and her father write letters to plead her mother’s case, and Saya’s letter to the newspaper gains the media’s attention and the public’s support, ultimately reuniting her family. Saya’s story ends happily, where so many others do not, but Saya fights a battle that no child should have to fight. This one nearly made me cry in the store. Be warned though that it’s a long story. It’d have a hard time keeping the attention of my young story time audience.

****

Stories of Love

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Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

So many beautiful people and families are depicted in this bright, colorful picture book! The text is lyrical, poetic, and deeply moving. There’s an image that was controversial around the time of its publication of a child hiding beneath a piano in a room with overturned furniture, a nearly finished glass of scotch, and two fighting adults, the woman crying because sometimes love is hard and sometimes love doesn’t last. This is an important book. This is an important book for children who are struggling because a family’s love has burnt out or for whom fear has come from a newscast. This is an important book of hope, of finding love in everyone and in everything. There is a message of sending you out into the world, which will make this an alternate graduation recommendation from me when all everyone wants is Oh! The Places You’ll Go!. This one also made me nearly cry in the store, and I know it touched the hearts of several coworkers too.

*****

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Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. HarperDesign-HarperCollins, 2017.

This one is shelved at Barnes & Noble in the adult section under humor, but there’s nothing that makes it inappropriate for children—and frankly I didn’t it find it very humorous–deeply touching, yes, but not laugh out loud. Santa and his husband have a wonderfully loving marriage and cozy home in the North Pole—though each year the North Pole seems to grow just a little warmer. They help one another, Santa’s husband being especially supportive of Santa with his difficult job, and though they sometimes have disagreements, they always kiss and make-up. Santa is portrayed as an older black man who is living happily with his husband David (not named till the last page), an older white man, who helps Santa with his heavy workload, negotiating benefits packages with the elves, cooking, even going to shopping malls sometimes to impersonate Santa for the children. I’m sorry I found it only so late after Christmas. Next year will be another year.

*****

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You! by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015.

There’s no story to this one, and the text all seems pretty trite. The text rhymes. The illustrations are all very simple, solid-colored figures and shapes on solid-colored backgrounds with graphics of question marks, hearts, and stars. There’s loopy text on one page and an illustration on the facing, no clever layout. The text tells me I can be everything I want to be—including someone who lives in a tree. That’s my favorite bit, because it’s the most imaginative, though it’s very possible that that line is included to have made the rhyme (“I think this line’s mostly filler”).  I just don’t see the appeal of this book really.

*

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Not So Small at All by Sandra Magsamen. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

My favorite part of this book was the facts and photographs at the end of the book about bees and butterflies and ants and hummingbirds—though I was more interested in those facts than was my story time audience; I did try to read them, and I read them excitedly. From my review of You!, you might have realized that Magsamen is just not my jam. This one doesn’t have a story either, but it seems less trite for having a more unified theme to its platitudes and reminders: that being little does not prevent you from doing great things. If you’re looking for a book with the same moral, though, let me point you to Little Elliot, Big City.

**

Fancy Nancy

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Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy’s family is getting a dog—and Nancy hopes it’ll be a Papillion, a fancy little puppy like her neighbor’s dog. To convince her family that a fancy puppy like Mrs. DeVine’s is what they need, everyone agrees to let Nancy and her family puppy-sit for Jewel. Her friends bring their dogs for a doggie play date, but Jewel hides behind Nancy and is quickly exhausted. Jewel is scared by Jojo’s fun. Nancy realizes that maybe a Papillion like Jewel isn’t the right dog for her family, and she’s feeling quite down. The family stops by the shelter, where the woman introduces the family to Frenchy, a big dog of indeterminate breed that jumps right into Nancy’s arms and likes it when Jojo hugs her. Their dad says that Frenchy is a very unique breed—and Nancy realizes that unique is maybe even better than fancy.

****

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Fancy Nancy: Stellar Stargazer by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperColllins, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy and Jojo are having a night out beneath the stars. “Can you wish on the sun?” “Hmmm… well, it is a star, so why not?”  Framed by having Nancy explain to Jojo, the book is peppered with lots of simply explained scientific “stellar facts,” like that the sun is a star but that the moon is not and how long it takes a spaceship to reach the moon using current technology. The two pretend to visit the moon. Nancy sports Leia’s buns and invents a new legend for a new constellation, a story about a princess who runs away to marry a man below her station. This is the most fun non-fiction book I think that I’ve stumbled upon since The Magic School Bus books of my youth. It actually reminded me a great deal of The Magic School Bus books but for a younger audience.

****

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Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is a good story for families with new siblings or new pets. Nancy and Bree find a mother cat—a queen—with new kittens. Mrs. DeVine takes the family in, and Nancy and Bree keep a close eye on the young kittens. Bree and Nancy keep Sequin and Rhinestone after the other kittens have found homes. Frenchy is jealous and feeling ignored as Nancy pampers Sequin with lots of attention. Frenchy is an excellent stand-in for an older sibling where Sequin is the new child and Nancy is the new mother. After her parents point out to Nancy that Frenchy might be jealous, Nancy is sure to pay attention to Frenchy too, and she slowly introduces her dog to her cat, explaining too that Sequin is only a baby and not mature like Frenchy. The two become friends, and Frenchy even helps to find Sequin when Sequin goes missing. This one got a little bit long, comprising of several plots strung together: Nancy finding the kittens, Frenchy being jealous of the kitten, and the kitten being lost and found.  But overall, I enjoy the story.

***

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: October 2017: Picture Book Roundup: Celebrities, Halloween, Loving, and One Last Book About Trains

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Old Friends

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Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2001. First published 1947. Intended audience: Ages 0-4.

I can’t possibly review this book properly. I am biased. This is a classic, and Margaret Wise Brown is my alma mater’s perhaps most prestigious alumna. Who didn’t grow up on Goodnight Moon? It’s only really within the last decade (good Lord, that’s painful to write) that I’ve gone back and really paid much attention to the book. After graduating out of picture books, I didn’t return to Goodnight Moon until I began college, and I really did a deeper study of it when I wrote a parody as part of Hollins’ Margaret Wise Brown Festival of 2012. The text is deceptively simple. A small bunny says goodnight to everything in his room and everything he can see. And some that he can’t see. “Goodnight air” he says and “Goodnight nobody.”  As an adult, there’s less innocence to this book.  When you really question those lines, it’s a touch frightening.

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Good Day, Good Night by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Loren Long. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

With a bunny and a bedroom that emulates but doesn’t entirely mimic Hurd’s illustrations from Goodnight Moon, this little bunny first greets the sun’s first light then his town and his friends. He then spends the second half of the book saying goodnight to them all. Some of the text of the second half echoed Goodnight Moon too. The two halves are split by a single line imploring the reader to seize the day (which Long illustrates with a game of soccer). Loren Long’s illustrations are maybe a little more muted but her color palette much broader than Hurd’s. The illustrations are detailed, complete, rather beautiful.

**** 

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The Poky Little Puppy’s Wonderful Winter Day by Jean Chandler and illustrated by Sue Dicicco. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2017. First published 1982. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

The poky puppy lags behind all of his brothers and sisters as they wake up, eat up, go out to play, and come back home. The poky puppy lingers to play with children. This is a decent book about playing outside on a snowy day. I didn’t know about this sequel to The Poky Little Puppy and nor did the parents at my story time.

***

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The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. First published 1984.

This book reminded me of “The Rattlin’ Bog” and all of the camp songs like it. There’s a flea on the mouse and the mouse on the cat and the cat on a dog and the dog on the child and the child on the granny and the granny in the bed and the bed in the napping house where everyone is sleeping. There’s more to the rhythm than that, adjectives attached to each character: a cozy bed, a snoring granny, a dreaming child. The flea wakes the cat and one by one each character wakes the other until everyone is awake, the sun is up, and now it is a napping house where no one is sleeping. The illustrations are detailed both in the drapery and then in the subtle color change as the sun comes up and more and more characters awaken.

***

New Friends

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Little Penguin and the Lollipop by Tadgh Bentley. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Age 4-8.

The little penguin is back! And he has eaten Kenneth’s lollipop. Kenneth is pretty upset, and the little penguin wants to make it up to Kenneth, but nothing little penguin has tried has worked. This book like its predecessor calls for audience participation. The little penguin addresses his audience, and he asks for the audience’s help in making the funniest faces possible while saying “razzle dazzle lollipop.” Even that doesn’t work to cheer up Kenneth. In the end, the little penguin replaces Kenneth’s lollipop, but he’s still not good at looking before he takes, so while he may have learned how to make it up to a friend after you take something of his… he might still have some work and some more apologizing to do.

****

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Bruce’s Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Bruce is back too! And he is fed up with the mice that have infested his house. He does the only logical thing there is to do to remedy the situation. Since he doesn’t seem able to kick the mice out of the house, he decides that he and his geese are moving house. He finally finds a good, rodent-free home, but his geese don’t seem themselves. They’re sad and upset. Until the mice arrive. And Bruce realizes that the house is not a home without these often-annoying members of his odd family. This is perhaps the shortest book of Higgins’ books yet. After the brilliance of Be Quiet! this story honestly fell a little flat to me, but I’m glad it’s better for my average story time attendee.

***

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Max and Bird by Ed Vere. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

I have grown fond of Max the Brave, the little black kitten who knows that he is supposed to hunt mice, but doesn’t actually know what a mouse looks like. I’ve read it for a few different story times. Needing another quick story for a recent story time, I grabbed this, the most recent in the series. In this, Max knows that he’s supposed to chase and eat birds. This time he’s found a bird, and he wants to be friends with the bird. He tells his new friend the bird that first he will chase and then eat them, and Bird understandably complains that that is not what friends do. I was a bit put off by this discussion of violence in a picture book, though as Max says, it is a rule of nature that kittens chase birds. I knew though from the moment that I read it that it would end with the two as friends and neither being eaten. I’m glad I was not proved wrong in that supposition. The two make a deal: First Max will help the bird learn to fly then they’ll decide about the chasing and the eating. Since neither knows how to fly, they visit the library. They study for weeks. Nothing happens for days, but finally bird takes off. True to his word, Bird offers to be Max’s tasty snack now that Max has taught him to fly, but Max decides that he doesn’t want to eat his friend after all. This book betrays its British heritage with a few phrases that are odd for Americans, but completely comprehendible. Vere illustrates his books very simply, the characters comprising mostly of their shape and of overlarge eyes. He uses only a limited palette.

****

Real Life Celebrities

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The Little Grumpy Cat Who Wouldn’t illustrated by Steph Laberis. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

We all know Grumpy Cat? A happy butterfly, a cheerful ladybug, and a joyful bird want her to play, but Grumpy Cat doesn’t want to play with them. She ultimately tricks them into thinking that she will race them, and the other animals race off without her. “Good.” The book uses many of the lines from Grumpy Cat memes. The book did get some twitters of laughter from my audience.

***

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A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book by Christy Webster and illustrated by Steph Laberis. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was the better of the two Grumpy Cat Little Golden Books that we read. This one is an alphabet book. It seems a relatively normal alphabet primer—A is for ants, B is for butterfly—but Grumpy Cat grumpily comments on the text of the alphabet book, her comments utilizing that letter as much as possible within the sentence, clearly fully aware of the book’s intention to cover the whole of the alphabet and drag her through each illustration up till Z. This too utilizes many lines from the Grumpy Cat memes. This one got giggles too.

****

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A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhané Wallis and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Annie, 12 Years a Slave, Trolls) writes about her night at the Academy Awards. It’s honestly a delightful, relatable story. A young girl in new shoes, tap, tap, tapping down the hall, excited for the day and waking her whole family to be excited with her. Because it’s such a big day, someone comes to help her get ready, a limousine comes for her and Mama, and though she doesn’t win, she still enjoys the night out. Vanessa Brantley-Newton does a fabulous job with these illustrations and Wallis writes with a poetry and musicality beyond some adult writers.

*****

Loving and Respecting Others and Yourself

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The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3+

This pair wowed me before with their book The Storybook Knight. Snatchabook was their first book together, but somehow I’d missed it. I think it was before I became one of the story time readers at any Barnes & Noble. This book tells in rhyming couplets of bookworm Eliza Brown’s real-life mystery. The books are all disappearing from Burrow Down, and Eliza lays out a trap to catch the thief. She catches a creature called a Snatchabook, who steals books because he has no one to read to him. Eliza convinces him to return all of the books, and gets all of the residents of Burrow Down to agree to let the Snatchabook join them from their bedtime stories whenever he likes. In this way, the residents of Burrow Down get their books back, and the Snatchabook gets someone to read to him. The illustrations use lots of colors for shading. Details make it fun to linger on the pages or revisit them.

****

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Skin Again by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Jump at the Sun-Hyperion-Disney, 2004.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I was reminded reading this of Paige Britt’s Why Am I Me?  Where Britt makes the similarity between different characters the very humanity and reasoning they have in thinking the same questions about themselves, hooks merely says look for the similarity inside.  That I think was where hooks lost me.  I got a call to action–great.  But I missed the second step, the guidance from the wise mentor if you will, if I can put a life’s journey into the steps of a hero’s journey.  And having only that call and no concrete direction left me wanting more.  The text of this book and the idea of the book were abstract, and the language hooks uses didn’t help to solidify the idea.  The idea is that we are not our skin but what is inside (and that’s the type of language that hooks uses, language that I think my usual toddler audience would not follow), that the skin is only a covering that cannot tell a story, for that you have to “come inside.”  I like the idea.  No, I love the idea.  We need more books about common humanity.  But I think I needed some more concrete language or more concrete illustrations maybe to help with the abstract language.  (I enjoyed too the illustrations of Britt’s book done by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls better than Raschka’s.)  There’s a poetry to the text, sure (in fact I thought at first that maybe this was an illustrated poem and I think maybe the text might have worked better alone as a poem than as an illustrated picture book with pages breaks and breaks in thought as one pauses to admire and dissect too the illustrations).  Maybe I need to read it again aloud.  Maybe the rhythm of the text means more aloud, and it becomes easier to see past the repetition and vagueness.  Whatever stumbling blocks this book has, though, it is still important.

***

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May I Please Have a Cookie? by Jennifer E. Morris. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2005. Intended audience: Grades PreK-2.

This leveled reader leapt into my hand one rough night when I passed by the free library. The title perfectly captured my mood. What I found inside was less a story about cookies and more of a story about manners. Alfie tries several ways to get a cookie, but his mother insists that he think of a better way to get one. Ultimately after crying and Mommy gently reminding him by asking politely for one of the paper cookies that he has made, Alfie figures out what she means, asks politely, and receives a cookie, and a snuggle. It’s a sweet story with expressive, brightly colored alligators (crocodiles?). (But admittedly it was not the story that I needed when I first read it.) It would be a fun book for teaching manners with plenty of humor in the outlandish schemes Alfie hatches to try to get a cookie.

***

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Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

Though from the creator of Skippyjon Jones, this is a very different book: softer illustrations, a more inspiring than hilarious message. Sarabella is always thinking about the most extraordinary things (seriously, the illustrations are amazingly detailed and beautiful with text to match), but she doesn’t speak much. Her daydreaming gets her into trouble at school and at home. Her teacher assigns them to a project that allows Sarabella to express her thoughts and daydreams. She wows the class with her thinking hat and makes a friend. My toddlers had a hard time concentrating on this story. It was long and there wasn’t a lot of humor to engage them, but the adults in the audience (myself included) were enthralled. My kids’ attention wandered away before the last few pages, but I read quickly because the parents and I wanted to know how it ended, to see the last few pages of Schachner’s beautiful artwork.

****

Zombies, Frights, and Pumpkins

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Peanut Butter & Aliens: A Zombie Culinary Tale by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Harry N. Abrams, 2017.

In this sequel to Peanut Butter & Brains, the town of Quirkville, where zombies and humans have come together over a love of peanut butter and jelly, is invaded by aliens. The aliens speak another language. No one understands. Each establishment tries to offer them a different food, and each person who does so gets covered in cosmic grape jelly. Just as the aliens are getting ready to storm town hall, Reginald the Zombie and Abigail Zink, the smartest girl in town, realize that of course, aliens that squirt jelly must be after peanut butter. They assuage the aliens with a jar of peanut butter, and the aliens settle down to start a peanut butter and cosmic grape jelly sandwich restaurant. While the message about bonding over similarities despite obvious differences and even different languages is a good one, I wanted something more from this story. Maybe more to the story than episodes of different foods being refused by the aliens.

***

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Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Jasper Rabbit is not a little bunny anymore. His mother may be perturbed by the ghoulish, greenish glow and toothy grin of the creepy underwear, but he’s not; he thinks they’re cool. So she agrees that they can buy one pair. And of course Jasper wears them first thing. But the ghoulish, greenish glow keeps him up at night. He tries to bury them in the hamper. He tries to bury them in the garbage. He tries to bury them deep underground. They keep showing up whatever he does. Even cutting them into confetti doesn’t stop the underwear from returning, whole.  He finally succeeds in keeping them gone. But the darkness is too overwhelming, so he relents, retrieves the underwear, and buys more pairs. His creepy underwear becomes a friend, keeping the dark at bay. This book makes good use of page breaks and good use of the different text layouts. The book has a message that even big rabbits can be scared of the dark and that first impressions aren’t always right. The ghoulish, greenish glow becomes a gentle, greenish glow when Jasper’s impression of the underwear changes.  I was surprised I enjoyed this one so much, and surprised that reading to kids about underwear with underwear on every page didn’t this time for this book feel awkward.

****

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The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano and illustrated by Susan Banta. Barnes & Noble, 2009. First published 2001. Intended audience: PreK-2.

The other pumpkins make fun of square Spookley, and Spookley wishes he was round too so he could roll with the other pumpkins in the patch. But one night in a storm, his squareness, what makes him different, saves nearly everyone in the patch. He volunteers to help the others because he knows that he can because of his difference. After that night, the pumpkins and the farmer recognize Spookley’s specialness. The next year, the farmer plants mostly Spookley’s seed, and the pumpkins that sprout are all different: different colors, some polka dotted, some square, some triangular, some flat. Visitors come to the farm for these unique pumpkins. This book too is told in rhyming couplets. The message is a little heavy handed, but because it’s such an important one, I’m not upset by it. I actually rather like the call at the end to tell friends Spookley’s message in the hopes that the world will become a little kinder.

****

Trains

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Trains Don’t Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

This was the surprise winner of our story time, my favorite for that week (which included The Napping House and the two Margaret Wise Brown books reviewed here) and the favorite of one the little girls who is one of my regulars. The story is rhythmic, musical, rhyming. The illustrations are beautiful, reminiscent of an older style of travel poster, soft and pastel but with contrast and creative angles. The book mentions different types of trains and train cars without overtly drawing attention to its educational bent. In the back it has more information on each of the cars mentioned, a smaller copy of the page on which each appears with a paragraph beneath. The story ends with a goodnight for readers, for travelers on the rails, though one last page emphasizes that trains don’t sleep.  Seriously, I don’t love trains, but I’d like prints of these illustrations (coincidentally, they are available on Etsy).

*****

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: April 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Celebs from Children’s Literature and Beyond

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The Classics 9780394800271

Snow by Roy McKie and P. D. Eastman. Random, 1962.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a very simple story and it employed a lot of repetition—almost a Dick and Jane amount of repetition. Dr. Seuss recruited P. D. Eastman to children’s literature and the rhythm of this book bears a strong resemblance to Seuss’ works.  At times the rhyme seemed forced—by which I mean, that in order to rhyme, the sentence was made awkward or bordered on senseless. Some of this manifested in what seemed at the time an odd refusal to name certain common snow games: Making snow angels became “making pictures with your backs.” Cross-country skiing or skiing in general (this is not a sport I know well. In the absence of a ski lift, I suppose one walks to the top of a hill in skis even if it’s not cross-country skiing?) becomes “we put on long, long feet”; the word “skis” is never used but there are several mentions of skis as “feet.” “Snow man” is used once, but mostly the snowman is referred to only as a man, once as a man of snow, and the exclusion of “snow” as a modifier seems odd. Overall, it’s a book about playing in the snow told with a very young child’s vocabulary. As a book about playing in the snow, it’s cute. And the Seussian rhythm keeps the book rolling, so long as you don’t stumble too much on the forced rhyme and refusal to introduce new words or phrases.

***

9780394823379The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Random, 1971.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

This is a meaty book. It was a bit too much for story time, especially when my audience are toddlers. With an older audience, I think I would have enjoyed this reread more. With an audience of toddlers, and the kids not mine, I felt like I was filling their brains with images of the horrors of big business and greed that maybe didn’t need to be blackening their childhood bubbles yet. The story has a very clear business-bad, nature-good message that lacks the subtlety of reality but leaves little room for too in young minds. Now there are gems in this book: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Messages like that I don’t mind imparting to young ones.

****

9780399173875The Little Engine That Could by Piper Watty and illustrated by Loren Long. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2015. Full story first published 1930.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Who knows how many years it had been since I’d read this story? Many. Many, many. Enough that I didn’t really remember even the bones of the story—just the mantra that gets repeated: “I think I can. I think I can,” later replaced with the proud, “I thought I could. I thought I could.” This was an abridged board book, and there was still much more to this story than I remembered there being.

First: female trains. Yes, more female protagonists in male-marketed books. Because it is much easier right now to get a girl to read a “boys’ book” than a boy to read a “girls’ book,” so if there aren’t females in the boys’ books, boys might never encounter female characters. And I don’t think the world is in any danger yet of being oversaturated with female protagonists. (Just last night I saw another kids’ movie that failed the Bechdel test by never having two named females on screen at the same time, but it had at least seven named male characters, five protagonists and two villains.)

These are not the illustrations that I—so probably your parents and grandparents—grew up with, but I like them. They are softer but at least as colorful and maybe even more expressive for their rounded realness compared to George and Doris Hauman’s. This clown is also less creepy, maybe because it has less makeup, more hair, and a more realistic face beneath the makeup. I don’t know. He seems less frightening to me. It’s fairly clear though that Long intentionally harkened back to the Haumans’ while making the work her own.

****

And the Big Names in Children’s Literature

26030671Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

This is a fun twist on the classic “Are we there yet?” plot of a child complaining in a car ride to his parents with a good moral. Drifting off possibly and entering an alternate dreamscape where all the pages are upside down, the boy in this story goes hundreds, thousands of years backwards, encountering cowboys, pirates, and dinosaurs. His parents are appalled by all of these strange encounters, but the boy doesn’t notice the wonders they are passing in the car till he sees the T-rex. But when they can’t go back any further they somehow end up too far forward in time, and Grandma’s house is gone. How will they make it to the party? I’ve been told the QR codes in the illustrations of the future world are worth checking out, but I don’t have the app for that, so someone’s going to have to get back to me with reviews and insights on those. I think this might be the first time that an illustrator has incorporated QR codes. The story ends with an emphasis on the importance of family and celebrating family.

*****

26075973Let’s Play! by Hervé Tullet. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

A yellow dot with a lot of emotion and energy in its small frame narrates a traceable adventure through the pages of Tullet’s latest book. The yellow dot doesn’t confine itself to the pages either, at one point jumping onto the reader’s head, which was fun to play with. I expected this to be a bigger hit with my story time audience, but they weren’t really into it, even when I gave them each a book to play with. Granted, one at least was probably too young and two were ESL learners, so maybe some of the word play or instructions were lost in translation. I enjoyed playing with the book. I like the clever situations that the book character asks the readers to follow him into. I liked the potential to talk about bravery with the scary pages. But there were less educational elements to this than either Press Here or Mix It Up!

***

my-first-busy-book-9781481457910_hrMy First Busy Book inspired by Eric Carle’s works. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2015.

This clever primer has it all, each on its own page! There’re colors, numbers, shapes, first words, animal sounds, and a mirror. Each page asks a question of the readers. One page for example asks readers to trace the raised numbers, giving the book a touch-and-feel element too. Another page has flaps to lift. Because primer books are rarely meant to be read anyway, the idea of including a just a bit of everything seems smart of the publisher and cost-effective to parents too. This is a perfect go-to for the indecisive, thrifty, or low on funds. And besides that, it has elements of Carle’s famous illustrations, so it’s bright, inviting, familiar, and creative without sacrificing realism.

*****

The Celebrities from Outside

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Derek Jeter Presents: Night at the Stadium by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Tom Booth. Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

As a Red Sox supporter, it was difficult to be enthusiastic while reading the first line of this story: “The Yankees win!” I actually thought this a fairly successful celebrity sponsored picture book—if the self-insertion of Derek Jeter seems—though it makes some sense within the text—a bit… forced. I wasn’t too fond of the repetitive “Talking [noun]?” “Of course we talk.” “We all talk,” though I recognize that repetition is often a hallmark of texts for young audiences—maybe not for the audiences of this book, with its nine-year-old protagonist. Talking food is always a bit of a sticking point for me too. Why have to eat, so do we want to imagine our food as characters? I’m more okay with it in a world free of humans—as with Peanut Butter and Cupcake. This team—Jeter and Blinder and Booth—gets points for an interracial protagonist. Some of the illustrations are pretty stunning, just wonderfully vibrant. The book for its emphasis on baseball, and the Yankees in particular, and its jargon of the sport, has a limited appeal, but there are surprisingly not all that many picture books about baseball—and many of those are bios or histories, so such a book may be a welcome gift to many young fans of the game.

***

y648Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond and illustrated by Diane deGroat. HarperCollins, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Charlie is magnanimous towards his silent friend Suzie. Suzie doesn’t have droopy eyes or dangly ears like Charlie, but he doesn’t hold that against her. She’s better at running and jumping. Charlie’s never been very good at jumping. Charlie has a lot of work to do with Suzie. He’s a morning dog, but she isn’t—except she’s up. She’s out the door. Charlie sometimes likes to let Suzie do things to feel important, but he knows his mama couldn’t get along without him. While he’s talking to the reader about all the things that he needs to do, Suzie has done or is doing them. Charlie keeps drifting off to sleep and waking with a “Huh? What’d I miss? Oh I must have accidentally closed my eyes for a few seconds.” Suzie and the humans go off without him during one of these naps, but because of that, he is home to scare the cows out of his mama’s beloved garden.

Charlie’s unique voice was what made this book stand out, though I’m not sure I like that Charlie’s is the only voice in the story.

***

naughty-mabel-9781481430227_hrNaughty Mabel by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott and illustrated by Dan Krall. Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I was kept from enjoying this book as much as I otherwise would have by the French-bashing and stereotyping, the worst being an oblique suggestion that the French don’t like to bathe. Who says things like that? Who thinks it’s okay to publish books that say that?

Mabel’s a pampered French bulldog who thinks she is and acts as if she is a spoilt human child to her rich human “parents.” Mabel doesn’t believe her parents’ description of her as naughty is fair. She believes she is and revels in being VERY naughty. Most of the story is backstory, really, for the main event, when Mabel is forced into a bath that she—with her cat friends—decides is a sure sign that her parents intend to throw a party. But Mabel’s not invited to the party. So she dons a pink tutu and pearls and claims that she will try to blend into the crowd—but the allure of a pile of pigs-in-blankets proves too alluring, and she becomes again a dog with a mouthful of stolen food, spoiling the party by running across the table and startling guests into spilling their drinks on their fancy clothes. Mabel stands out still more when those pigs-in-blankets come back in a big, noxious cloud of fart—and she clears out the party. She expects though that her parents are secretly glad that she ruined their party because it means more time for just the three of them.

That’s a dubious message for children. Misbehave and your parents will still love you? Sure. Absolutely. Please. But misbehave and your parents will be secretly glad? Mmm….

There are some funny moments in this—the fart is not one of them to me. The book had some potential. I like Mabel’s unique, posh voice, directly addressing the readers as “darlings.”

But Mabel knows nothing of being French.

**

9780736429702Rapunzel’s Wedding Day by the Walt Disney Company. Disney-Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I never saw the Disney short about Rapunzel’s wedding, Tangled Ever After, but I expect that this story replicates that one almost exactly. The illustrations seem to me like screen captures. It was a cute story focusing on the animal “sidekicks” from Tangled trying not to ruin Rapunzel’s wedding when they accidentally drop the rings. Generally I’m not sure about the emphasis placed on weddings, particularly in media aimed at children. Weddings—heck—marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life, as many Disney movies seem to suggest. That being said, this is more about hijinks that ensue in two friends’ efforts to rectify their mistakes without their mistake going noticed. And Tangled already promised us a marriage.

***

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.