Tag Archives: Mark Fearing

Book Reviews: June 2017 Picture Book Roundup

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I have to issue an apology to several authors and illustrators that I read in June. Having broken my arm and having been knocked off my game for several months afterward, some of these books, particularly some of these toddler books I just don’t remember well enough to do much justice to the reviews and I’m afraid I’ll have to skip reviewing one in this batch, Eric Hill’s Spot Loves Bedtime. For any that I can reconstruct my impressions from even reading others’ reviews and available previews I will do that. It’s possible that all of these reviews may not be as detailed as they have been for some other months.

Toddler Time

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

Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 0-2.

Reading reviews on Goodreads, there is one that I think really hits the nail on the head: With the wealth of board books tackling impossibly complicated concepts, like quantum physics and government, how is it that this is one of the first I’ve seen to openly tackle the misunderstood concept of feminism? Mostly this is a book about liking what you like and not being forced to present oneself in any particular way because of one’s gender. Feminist baby likes pink and blue. She’s messy and sometimes gross. She’s a person more than she is a gender. I hadn’t realized that this board book is born of a comic series by the artist, though I’d seen the comics before shared on social media sites. That helps a little, but I still wish there had been more of a call for intersectionality in this board book, though that may well be because I’m used to hearing that critique leveled at modern, white feminism; I maybe shouldn’t expect from a board book what modern feminist movements are themselves struggling to incorporate, though I want to push our definitions and the actions of feminism towards its ideal manifestation. The feminist label is going to turn some off; it already has done, but there again is that same misunderstanding of feminism, which is by definition a call for equality for all regardless of gender (or race, class, or any other categorization ideally). I’m thinking now about the board books that I’ve read. There are many that feature animals or anthropomorphized objects as protagonists. There are many that have no protagonist, that feature many children or babies of different genders and races. The few that I’m recalling with female protagonists are pinker and more princess-oriented than naught, books like Katz’ Princess Baby or Grandma Kisses. Both Caroline Jayne Church’s and Joanna Cole’s I’m a Big Sister (the two books have the same title) feature a child with pink bows in her hair, and both children wear pink plaid; how weird is that? I like this book, and I really like that this book exists, but we can do better.

***

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Hello, Lamb by Jane Cabrera. Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, Grades PreK-K.

This is an animal and animal sounds primer. It begins with the sun, but quickly moves into baby farm animals, their forms only their round faces, and their greeting paired with their sound. “Hello, piglet. Oink Oink.” It ends on the image of a baby. The round-faced illustrations are bright and eye-catching without being overwhelmingly bright.

***

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A Letter to Daddy by Igloo Books-Bonnier-Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I wanted to give a quick shout-out to this Barnes & Noble bargain book, because it’s difficult to find reference to it. This is a sweet story about a little bear who misses his dad when he has to go away, so he writes letters to his dad about all the things that he and his mother are doing while Daddy is away. The story is really sweet, and I like the illustration style.

****

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Buzzy Bee: A Slide-and-Seek Book by Emma Parrish. Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, Grades PreK-K.

This book was a hit at story time. The bright illustrations are accompanied by sliding panels that extend up and sideways from the book and the backsides of the panels extend the illustrations on the following page. The book is a look and find where the bee is only on one of the last pages. The panels highlight characters in larger scenes, acting like a magnifying glass. The plot uses alliteration in describing those characters, making this a good book to work on sounds associated with letters.

*****

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Good Night, Little Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. NorthSouth-Simon & Schuster, 2017. First published 2012. Intended audience: Ages 1-4, Grades PreK-K.

I’m glad more books from the Rainbow Fish series are making their way to America. This is another book about a parent reassuring their little one of their eternal love, much like Nancy Tillman’s Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You because in this the Rainbow Fish does not doubt his mother’s love because of things that he will do, but doubts that she will be there for him when bad things happen. These are all very watery things: being carried away by the tide, being caught in the tentacles of a jellyfish, but all of these are translatable enough to the world above. The story is framed as a bedtime story, with Rainbow Fish being unable to sleep for his fears. The story features the same shining scales that I loved as a child, and this being a story of Rainbow Fish as a child, he still has all his shining scales so there’s a lot of shimmer on each page. Being a toddler book, this book is much shorter than its parent story, The Rainbow Fish.

**** 

Older Audiences

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Daddy Honk Honk! by Rosalinde Bonnet. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was introduced to me as a good book for adoptive families. A male Arctic fox, Aput, becomes parent to a goose when the egg hatches. He brings the newborn around to other families in the Arctic but none of them have room for another, though they bestow gifts and wisdom on the traveling pair. Ultimately, Aput accepts his role as “Daddy” and the Arctic shows up to throw the new family a party in celebration. It is refreshing to see a book in an infrequently used environment with names appropriate to the area. There are some similarities to be made to Ryan T. HigginsMother Bruce franchise, but this book has more in the way of useful parenting advice and focuses more on the love that the fox develops for its adopted goose than on humorous situations that arise from the adoption.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, activity kit, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna. Farrar, Straus, Giroux-MacMillan, 2008. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The repetition of “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face so I spread the dreary-wearies all over the place. Blub, Blub, Blub” gets to be a little much pretty quickly, though it’s fun to see how glum you can make the refrain sound—and oh my! does it stick in your head! The whole of the book is told in rhyming lines. Fish of the sea approach the Pout-Pout Fish and tell him that he should smile, but it takes one fish from another part coming to him and kissing his face to cheer him up and to turn him into a “kiss-kiss fish” too. The two end up kissing one another on the lips at the end, though every other kiss, including the one that first cheers him up first, seem more platonic. There is some danger in normalizing kissing as a greeting in our society. Though I hate that it is so, it seems remiss not to point out the potential danger, the ways this book and that concept could be used nefariously.  All of the kissing is likely only meant create an excuse for a parent reading to kiss their child.  Maybe because I read to children not my own, I see the danger in extending these lessons beyond family.

But I’m not sure that I can approve either of using the Pout-Pout Fish’s melancholy as a point of humor or a point of contention, a negative trait in the story, because the Pout-Pout Fish’s permanent frown and glum demeanor seem like symptoms of depression to me.  The whole book seem examples of people reacting poorly to a character with depression–until the Kiss-Kiss Fish arrives.  Her response to his depression while more understanding and compassionate, sets a precedent for believing that depression can be cured by a kiss, which is again dangerous in its inaccuracy.

Basically, I wish this book had far less kissing and far better reactions to a melancholic and likely depressed fish, that it didn’t use his depression as both the story’s problem and its humor.

**

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

The Pout-Pout Fish Far, Far from Home by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna. Farrar, Straus, Giroux-MacMillan, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

Now cheered up, the Pout-Pout Fish is going on his first vacation. There’s a new mantra in this one: “I’m a fish who loves to travel. I’m a fish who loves to roam. And I’m having an adventure on my trip away from home!” The Pout-Pout Fish encounters several bumps on his trip but is always helped by locals who know the area. Despite its hiccups because of the help that he receives, that part of the adventure is fun. But he arrives at his destination to find that he forgot the creature (part-nightlight, part-stuffy, maybe a pet? Don’t look into that too carefully, I guess) that he sleeps with, and it seems that the vacation is ruined, but he decides to hold it “in his heart” though they’re apart and ends up having a fantastic vacation. And his creature is at home, waiting for him, when he gets back. This book covers several problems that a child could encounter while traveling—though some of the problems are more likely to be problems for adults than for children (detours, specifically)—and that makes it relevant. It fills a niche—two niches with the problem too of a missing sleep-buddy, which can happen while traveling but also at home.

****

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

Great, Now We’ve Got Barbarians! by Jason Carter Eaton and illustrated by Mark Fearing. Candlewick, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, PreK-3.

Mom’s upset because of the mess that her little boy leaves in the house, particularly food mess. She complains that they will get pests. But they don’t get ants or flies or mice. They get Vlad, a hulking, Viking-like man who demands an entire cupcake. Mom quickly puts him out, but then comes Torr, “seeking glory and cheese curls.” More and more barbarians invade the house. There is a page that shames men who wear make-up, which isn’t cool, Eaton. Otherwise, this is a funny story with funny illustrations and a good message about cleaning up after oneself. I wonder if this story was born of someone mentioning a pest invasion, and Eaton thinking about what else is known for invasion. Faced with having to move to escape the infestation (perhaps calling an exterminator was a little un-cool too, Eaton; the metaphor can only extend so far, and that might’ve been a step over the line; barbarians are human, and humans shouldn’t be exterminated), the little boy cleans the house, and the barbarians sulk away.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, samples, trailer, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was really excited when I saw the beautiful cover of this book, harkening to Indian art and featuring Neil Gaiman’s name, guaranteeing it more press and a wider audience. This text was previously released in 2004 as an audio of a short story as part of The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection. That the text was not originally intended for a picture book unfortunately shows; it’s longer than your average picture book and seems to have been written for an older audience, both from the syntax and the content, which is at times grim (Grimm). Its phrases do some of the work of conjuring the image which is less necessary in text intended for a picture book.  The text is beautiful though with many excellent lines. It’s a Beauty and the Beast story in the end, with the young girl, who had nothing to say so never spoke, learning to speak and to love the speaking tiger that moves like a god, and going with him to the jungle to further her education. This is a beautiful story, the illustrations are beautiful, but it is a picture book for an older audience.

****

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Curious George Cleans Up / Jorge el curioso limpia el reguero by Stephen Krensky and adapted from the world of H. A. Rey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. Intended audience: Grade PreK-3.

This is another bilingual book from which I read only the English to my story time audience. George and the Man with the Yellow Hat get a new rug. George spills a glass of grape juice on the rug, and he tries to clean it up with paper towels, then many types of soap and a garden hose. He does manage to clean up the spill then most of the water too. This is mostly a silly story. You could laud George for acting responsibly and trying to clean up his mess, but there’s a lesson here too to be made about knowing when to go to grown-up for help; I know few grown-ups who would be glad to walk into a waterlogged house, even if it did take care of a juice stain on a new rug.

***

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

Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Jonah proclaims himself king of the playground. His tendency to make demands and keep an unfair portion for himself makes Lennox angry, and she declares herself queen and claims the swings. She makes demands too and is impatient for her turn on the swings. The two monarchs compete against one another for more and more land. Their friends abandon the two rulers because of their competition. Realizing that they’ve chased everyone away, they give away their power and share the playground with everyone. With a diverse cast of characters, this story provides a good lesson about sharing and about making demands on others’ time and on public places, though it seems that Augustine and Sir Humphrey Hamilton Hildebrand III don’t learn the lesson well.

***

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

Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

With little text, this is a visual stunner (as much of Kadir Nelson’s work is). The illustrations and text compare aspects of the American flag to moments in American history and places in the American imagination. The blue background and white stars become the night sky above the Statue of Liberty. The red and white stripes becomes maples in fall and lines of covered wagons heading West. Timely, needed, this book pays tribute to those who tried to make America great and the diversity and persistent striving towards equality that make America great now.

*****

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If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2017.

Magnolia’s back and this time she wants to hold a circus in the library, to the chagrin of the librarians. There’s a tongue and cheek reference to writing clear advertisements. A sign that says “You can do anything at the library!” doesn’t mean you can hold a circus there or cheer or clap or boo or hand out concessions; it means you can sit and read a book. This is a fun way to go over library rules.

***

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

You Can’t Win Them All, Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. NorthSouth-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This book is set after the original Rainbow Fish; every fish but Red Fin, a newcomer, has one of the shiny scales that were originally Rainbow Fish’s.  Rainbow Fish and his sparkling friends are playing hide-and-seek, but Rainbow Fish isn’t winning, and he decides to quit and sulk away. Red Fin comes to him, and with her help, Rainbow Fish realizes that his sore losing has spoiled the game for his friends. He apologizes and continues the game.  This is an important lesson for young ones.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, samples, awards list, reviews, and author's bio.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. HarperCollins, 2012. First published 1963. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Believe it or not, this was my first time reading this story, at least that I remember. I was surprised that it went over so well with my young audience (newly three years old). It’s a short story, perfect for shorter attention spans. This is a dream (nightmare?) story. Sent to bed with no supper after causing mischief in the house and telling his mother that he’d eat her up, Max is having fun as the king of the Wild Things until he misses his mother and her love, and he goes home to find his supper waiting for him in his room. There’s some beautiful language in the prose, and while there’s some internal rhyme, it doesn’t rely on that rhyme to keep the story moving.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, samples, and reviews.

Shorty & Clem by Michael Slack. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Like Elephant and Piggie, this is a story of two friends who know one another very well. A package arrives for Clem while Clem is away, and Shorty has to know what’s inside of it. Knowing that he shouldn’t open Clem’s mail, Shorty shakes and jumps and beats on the box until it opens. He thinks Clem will be upset, but when Clem gets back, he explains that it was a gift for Shorty and that he knew that Shorty would be unable to resist opening it. Reviewers on Goodreads are calling Clem’s behavior manipulative–and maybe I can see that view–but I know that I too try to guess what’s in a friend’s package when I see one arrive at the door.  Mostly I was pleased that Clem wasn’t upset with Shorty, that he accepted and expected his friend’s shortcoming.

****

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 2016 Picture Book Round: Cold Weather, Turkeys, a Polynesian Princess, and a Spanish Bull

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Moana

9781484743607Moana and the Ocean by Heather Knowles and illustrated by Annette Marnat. Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Marnat’s illustrations are just beautiful and make the book worth paging through, but the text is barely there; there are full page spreads with no text and what pages do have text have one, often very short sentence or fragment. That being said, the text is not inelegant. The story is told from the Ocean’s perspective, and I have not seen the film, but it seems from this story that the Ocean has been a parental figure to Moana. The text describes in very vague terms all of the things that the Ocean has witnessed Moana doing and been proud of: “I’ve watched you grow,” “I’ve watched you fall and get back up again.” That sort of thing. The sort of thing that, like the book Three Little Words published for Finding Dory, might make this a contender for an unexpected graduation gift. The last line for me sort of kills the chance this book had, though, to be a broadly reaching, parental love poem by stating, “She is my Moana.” I don’t know why that line takes the book so firmly for me from describing any parental relationship broadly to describing one particular instance of parental love, perhaps only for giving Moana the prominence of the final word, though Moana is mentioned by name earlier in the book too.

***1/2

9780736436465Quest for the Heart. RH Disney-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I’d very ardently avoided spoilers for this film, but was required to read Moana and the Ocean for a story time, and realized fast that that book would last only five minutes at most of the half hour I was supposed to fill. So I grabbed this. And yes, I was given some spoilers by it, probably more than I wanted, but I’m still interested in seeing the film.

So before I start this review: SPOILERS!

This gives a fairly bare-boned sketch of the story’s driving problem: that the island is missing its heart, and that that heart must be returned to the island by the demigod who stole it then lost it, but that there are other forces who would prevent the island’s heart from being returned. The illustrations seem fairly in the style of the film itself, which is to say what you’d expect from Disney animation. There were some words here to trip children up, the Polynesian gods’ names primarily. Those names they might know from the film, which would make it easier, but I feel fairly confident in my pronunciation without having seen the film, which means that a child reading this without having seen the film might too be able to sound out the names. (I could be far off on my pronunciation though; I won’t know till I see the film, but these are not names like Tanngnjóstr or Hlidskjalf, (And of course I’m saying all this as an English monolinguist who has studied only a few Romance languages in any kind of depth and has only a smattering of words that I know languages with other roots). There were a few pages that got a bit frightening, but my audience of one who was maybe 4 had no trouble with the lava god attacking our hero and heroine.

I can’t rate this book as an adaptation but as a story solo it really was fairly well-developed, especially for its length and reading level, and exciting. I could have done with some more character building, but the world building was pretty exquisite.

****

Holiday Spirit

9780545931908_default_pdpThere Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey! by Lucille Colandro and illustrated by Jared D. Lee. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6, Grades PreK-1.

You know the pattern of this one. It echoes the old song: “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly.” “She swallowed the cat to catch the bird. She swallowed the bird to catch the fly. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.” I did notice that we lost the dying part in this parody. Instead we have: “I don’t know why she swallowed the turkey, but she’s always been quirky,” which is a fun line; it’s more fun to shrug off; I like the tone better. The version of the Thanksgiving season that this book describes is… fairly American (admittedly, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but the idea of thanksgiving is not) and commercial. Football—American football—and a Thanksgiving parade float feature. Though all of these objects—seemingly connected only by their cultural association with an American Thanksgiving—all come together in the end to achieve an end goal and make some more sense of purpose for the old lady’s feast, in the original song there’s a definite pattern and even skewed logic to the things that she swallows, which here is lacking. The original song is about a food chain and perceived hunter-prey “enemies” among the animal kingdom. Here… the old lady swallows a football to throw with the turkey? Okay, so yes, you throw a football, but what does that have to do with a turkey? She swallows the hat to cover the ball? Why does she want to cover the ball that she wants to throw with the turkey? Tires? A boat? What do those even have to do with the season? All in all, this was a fun sort of read, but… not going to be a favorite of mine by any stretch. It misses fully the whole reason we celebrate Thanksgiving (the thanksgiving part and the historical aspect), which makes me like it less.

***

0763663069The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8, Grades K-3.

This one I’m sort of sad I missed last year. I remember having it in the store, but I never picked it up. Two cousins are told to stay and play with the other children—toddlers—of the family, but they’re really too old to be in the same playgroup with the others. They decide to sneak out to the swing set. They brave hallways of eye-level butts, cheek-pinching aunts, teenage zombies glued to screens, and vicious guard dogs all too find that it’s raining outside. With a nice echo of an early line and reversal of the roles, the kids don’t let the rain defeat them, and the lesson about making your own persists. I wish the title were otherwise, because I think this story applies to any family gathering at any time of the year, only its title and one mention of the holiday preventing it from being sellable outside of November. The story is short, but Fearing really does quite aptly capture a family gathering from a child’s perspective, and it’s a fun reminiscence and reminder for older readers and a nice sigh of solidarity for the younger ones—with advice on defeating the worse aspects of the holiday.

****

9780553513370Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith. Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book… I read right after November 9. I think the parents and I needed and understood it more than did the kids, whose heads it really seemed to sail over. The little penguin complains about a lot of things that he really can’t change: the time of morning, the weather, the people around him. Then a walrus comes up and lays down everything—in a full page of text and in lofty syntax—that I and some of my adult audience maybe needed to hear—that there is still good in the world if we choose to see it. His sage advice didn’t seem to effect the penguin at all and nor did it really help me, but I received the message, and maybe the penguin did too—maybe the children in the audience did too.

**

23719206Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin, 2016.

This book! The illustrations in this book! The text in this book is… maybe a bit too above its intended child audience but it’s beautiful, unique, clever. It’s a prayer really, a very poetic and flowery prayer for a snow day, for snow to ground planes so that the protagonist’s mother, a pilot, can come home and spend the day with him or her (the gender is ambiguous). I enjoyed the reason behind this child’s wish for a snow day. It was unexpected and heartwarming.

****

And One More

1718866The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Puffin-Penguin Random, 1977. First published 1936. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This was one of my favorites as a child, and I found it in the newly installed free library by my house and, well, fell into temptation. Reading it again, though, I was not as impressed as I once was. And I’m not entirely sure what fell flat. Maybe it seemed that Ferdinand was more dense than defiant when he refused to fight or to butt heads with the other bulls, but the more I think about it, the less I think that is so. Ferdinand is gentle and peaceful by nature, but he is pressured to act otherwise and does not cave to that pressure; that is a radical act—or non-act. And I think as a child that must have resonated with me, so I suspect and hope it will resonate with today’s children as well.  This definitely does though thankfully gloss over the violence of a bull fight.

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