Tag Archives: Mo Willems

Book Reviews: January 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Almost a Red Carpet Affair

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Click to visit B&N for links to order and summary.

Begin Smart TM: What Does Baby Say? Sterling, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 9 months-2.

An action prompts the question, “What does baby say?” A lifted flap reveals the one word answer. It’s a sturdy-seeming book, and reviews corroborate my guess. The colors are bright. The pictures are simple. This book was originally published in 2008, and I’ve seen complaints about a baby in that book drinking juice from a bottle, which reviewers seem to find confusing and some claim is dangerous. “Juice” was my first word, so I wonder if the writer had such an experience in mind. The version of the book that I read, put out by Sterling in April 2016, has revised the text to say milk instead of juice. Babies of color were included in the illustrations.

***

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

Clifford the Big Red Dog: Vintage Hardcover Edition by Norman Bridwell. Scholastic, 2016.  First published 1963.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

This vintage edition of the book uses only a few colors: black, red, pink, and the off-white of the pages themselves. In many ways, Clifford is an average dog: He plays fetch. He chases cats and cars. He likes shoes. He eats and drinks a lot. But Clifford’s problems are unique because of his size. Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo anymore because he chases the lions. Sometimes he catches a car and brings it back to her. He mistakes the policeman’s baton for the stick Emily Elizabeth throws and brings the policeman to her. His bathtub is a pool and his brush is a rake. Clifford’s size may be problematic, but Emily Elizabeth would never trade him for any dog.

***

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

Clifford the Small Red Puppy by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 1985. First published 1972. Intended audience: Ages 4-6, Grades PreK-1.

Clifford began as the tiniest of puppies, a puppy as small as our four-six week old kitten—or smaller. Love and the prayer of a little girl make him grow larger than the largest dog in two days. I love the sass of Emily Elizabeth at the end: “Tell me again how you got your dog.”

I have vague memories of enjoying the books about Clifford the puppy more than the books about Clifford the dog but only I think at the time because he was a puppy and cuter by default. Plus, he was small like me.

Reading this and the original Clifford story back-to-back, I realize that there is much more story and much more personality here than there was in that first book. Whether that’s true of all of the books in the puppy series, I don’t now feel qualified to say.

****

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

I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney and illustrated by Tim Warnes. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2016.

I am very pleased with this book. It is sweet without being cloying and poetic, creative, and clever without indulging in florid vocabulary. In the rhyming text, the narrator (or mother) insists that she is going to give the listener (or child) the hug of an animal and then describes the hug using phrases that are associated with that animal, making the incomprehensible hug suddenly vivid: example: “I’m going to give you a dog hug. A knock over chairs, Chase up the stairs, And sleep like a log hug.” The illustrations are fairly simple, but small details enliven the story. Each animal sports in some small way the yellow, red polka-dotted pattern of the mother’s dress. (I say mother, but it could be any older woman.) The child’s teddy bear is also in each illustration, alive and independently active.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and a behind-the-scenes video.

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Willems loses points here for portraying as frogs his characters with French names on a quest for a baguette. That was unnecessary and not very nice, Mo. This book could otherwise have been perhaps a five-star book for me. I enjoyed the story of the young girl given a responsibility by her mother, but falling into temptation, fearing her mother’s wrath, that fear proving unfounded because her mother is understanding, and then her mother falling into the same temptation when she goes with the girl to complete the task. I like the tongue-twister nature of the text, which got kids and parents laughing. I liked the bright colors and creative layout.

****

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

How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

As always, I love that this team always includes male and female dinosaurs without attributing male and female characteristics to the dinosaurs and also always appreciate the inclusion of people of color. This is a fun animal primer too. The beginning of the book questions whether a dinosaur goes and picks out outlandish pets—tigers, elephants, dragons, sharks—but concludes that the dinosaur of course chooses something small and harmless and tractable from a shelter, store, or farm—a dog, kitten, bunny, hamster…. This would be a fun book to share for sure when a family is trying to decide whom or what to adopt. Pair this with Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? The two are similar enough, but one includes dinosaurs, and one focuses on the difficulty of the decision. Both celebrate the wealth of good choices to be made. Teague’s illustrations are more colorful for sure, and more detailed.

***

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

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Books About Books and Stories

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

**

Be Your Best Self and Don’t Be Ashamed

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

***

More Lessons to Learn

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

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

***

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

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

****

Find Your Best Friend

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

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

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Book Reviews: Picture Book Roundup June 2016: Father’s Day, Animal Friends, and Books About Being a Protagonist

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Father’s Day Specials

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Grandpa Loves You by Helen Foster James and illustrated by Petra Brown. Sleeping Bear, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 0-6, Grade 1.

This is one of those saccharine picture books meant to read as a love letter from the adult reading to the child. The characters are adorable, fluffy bunnies. I liked the grandpa bunny’s big, bushy eyebrows. They add a touch of character and help to make the grandpa more expressive. The rhyming text relies maybe a little too heavily on pet names. This hardcover version includes a place for Grandpa to write a letter to his little honey-bunny.

**

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Monster & Son by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Joey Chou. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

Each page features of a different monster and its offspring doing the things that monsters do but twisting the action to make it seem benign and akin to a daily activity that a father might do with his son: like tucking the little one into bed, playing ball, or piggybacking him while approaching a city. Upset humans pout as they are caught in the tempest of the monsters’ fun, but seem unhurt. I would actually have preferred following a single monster family rather than visiting a new one each page—but because I personally like following a character, not because its a structural flaw or in picture books, and because the text indicates no switch between characters as its written in a first person narration (the father) to a second person (you, the son). This story is saccharine too (and I think that’s going to be the word of the post), but it relies less on pet names to make it so; the rhymes and story seem less forced than in Grandpa Loves You.

***

9780803737174 When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Perhaps because I read this one right after reading the wonderfully rhymed and rhythmic Giraffes Can’t Dance I stumbled all over the rhyme-less, unmetered text that was broken too in odd places sometimes I thought. This one pokes fun at dads and at adults, even going so far as to point out the possibility of a bald father. It claims we’ll know a dad who never grew up by the things that he does or does not do. A dad who has never grown up knows has to have fun, can’t sit still, watches cartoons, remembers how scary basements can be and that shopping carts are for racing. I would suggest it only for dads who can live up to the standard demonstrated here, but the story could backfire on a bland, grown-up dad. The illustrations of dads having fun with their kids are pretty heartwarming and goofy but the soft pastels keep the story gentle rather than raucous.

**

9780385388955Dad School by Rebecca Van Slyke and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. Doubleday-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

There’s a lot of similarities between this and When Dads Don’t Grow Up in that they both poke fun lovingly at Dad (and I capitalize it here because in both stories it is the stereotyped idea of Dad rather than a character particularly). In this one, the child (presumably the white, brunet son from the cover and common in the first few illustrations, though his classmates and his dad’s classmates are of various races) hypothesizes that his dad must have gone to Dad School to learn how to be a dad—to make huge snacks, to throw you up high but never drop you, to fix and mend things, and multitask—but suggests that he must have skipped school on the days when they learnt to clean bathrooms and match clothes and brush hair. Comparing the two books—this and When Dads Don’t Grow Up­—actually gives you a fairly interesting study of the conceptual Dad. But I think I digress; I’m supposed to be reviewing a kids book not critique societal constructs. This book reads more easily than did When Dads Grow Up, but it also came before rather than after Giraffes Can’t Dance. It too could backfire on a dad who does not do these things or conversely who does do the things that it is suggested by the text that a dad should not do.

***

Animal Friends

9780439287197_default_pdpGiraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Orchard-Hachette, 2001. First published 1999. Intended audience: Ages 5-7, Grades PreK-2.

I first read this book in March 2013 and according to Goodreads I haven’t read it again since, though I’m not sure if I believe that and I know I’ve handed it to many customers since. I read this among a wealth of Father’s Day themed books. Perhaps it stood out because of that, but I think it was more than that. This is a good story, carefully metered and well-rhymed with a bit of poetry to the prose. There’s a lot of raw emotion from the giraffe, ridiculed and told that he can’t, and an important moral about being able and being different and being okay. I’d grabbed it that day when I was otherwise reading books about dads because the kids were getting antsy, and I thought that this might be a dance-along book, and I maybe could have made it so, but I got wrapped up in the story myself and we never danced. Parker-Rees’ illustrations are jewel-bright and just a delight, awash with detail and vibrancy.

*****

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When Your Elephant Comes to Play by Ale Barba. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This story was a bit more lackluster than I’d hoped it might be. There’s a lot that you can’t do with an elephant and still have fun yourself—like going swimming in the pool or eating cake—but elephants are excellent huggers. There’s a lot of color and line in the illustrations—almost like a more concrete Kandinsky, and while that feels fresh, it’s also almost distracting; the illustrations take work to grasp and dissect and made it at times difficult to find the text.

***

extremely-cute-animals-operating-heavy-machinery-9781416924418_hrExtremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery by David Gordon. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, PreK-3.

I had heard some so-so reviews of this book before I actually got around to reading it and so was rather pleased with the story. Karen—an extremely cute but unidentifiable animal (maybe a kangaroo?)—wants to build a sand castle, but the playground bullies won’t allow it. They destroy her castle, but she and a few friends build a new castle, bigger and better. That too is destroyed, and the friends rebuild, bigger and better. After a third time, the extremely cute animals get extremely mad, and they haul away the whole playground with a helicopter and come in with steel beams and welding guns and create a walled and gated theme park where no bullies are allowed. And I would have been upset if that had been the end, but Karen cracks open the door to invite the momentarily exiled bullies into the park, where they seem very contrite as they are led around the park and shown kindness by the extremely cute animals, who have not forgotten to build something for even those who like to destroy—a replica of Karen’s original castle this time meant to be destroyed (and presumably rebuilt and destroyed again). The cotton-candy quality of the illustrations and the title’s description of the protagonists as cute did not particularly bleed into the text itself, which was more realistic and hard-hitting than a lot of picture books that I’ve read recently. The bullies’ speeches seemed particularly realistic—not cleaned up, not made cute or trite, just down in the dirt mean. And I appreciated that kind of unmade-up depiction of bullies. I’ve not read a lot of picture books talking about how to deal with bullies. There’re Peanut Butter & Cupcake and I suppose Giraffes Can’t Dance too, where the characters who exclude Peanut Butter and Giraffe could be classified as bullies but never are, and there’s Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, where the rhyming text sort of diminishes the roughness and the ending makes it seem like Bully Goat is reformed by one time-out. I do dislike that extremely cute and good and kind seem to be equated and—while I understand it as part of the repetition of a picture book text—the part of me that writes novels and has been trained in school to write essays disliked that repetition of the weak word “extremely.” That these cute, good protagonists are allowed to get mad, and that their anger is siphoned constructively I do like.

****

9780312498603 Bright Baby Touch and Feel: Perfect Pets by Roger Priddy. Priddy-Macmillan, 2006. Intended audience: Ages 1-3, Grade PreK.

I was pleasantly surprised by this board book. Each spread takes a moment to name an animal—no, actually give the pet a name—and describe an action associated with that animal. The pages are touch-and-feel but the text does not always prompt the reader to describe the texture. A solid background color behind the photographed illustration could let this book be used as a color primer too. But there is more story here and certainly more characters than I’ve grown to expect from primers because of the names, because of the actions; I welcome that.

****

eleph_pig_party_cover_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2007. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a new Elephant and Piggie story for me. Even though it is one of the older stories (the third written in the series), it had never been in my hands. I love it. Piggie is invited to a party, but doesn’t want to go alone. Gerald agrees to go with her, because he knows parties. Gerald prepares for every eventuality and their outfits become more and more ridiculous as they prepare for a fancy pool costume party. In the end, Gerald has worried just enough to make them prepared. Everyone looks ridiculous in their outfits for the fancy-pool-costume party. I had fun trying to pick out the costumes from the final illustration. Also, what a great time to break out paper dolls!

*****

elephants_cannot_dance_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2009.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Piggie is excited about dance class and wants to teach Gerald to dance, but Elephants cannot dance; it’s in the handbook. Trust Piggie to find the loophole. So Gerald tries to dance, but Willems takes a bit of time to play with opposites. When Piggie says up, Gerald goes down. When Piggie tells him to do the robot walk, he wiggles and waggles. Just when Gerald is ready to give up, along come two squirrels who want to learn the Elephant dance, teaching that just because you feel like you’re failing does not mean that you are failing and different is not wrong or bad.

****

e_and_p_should_i_share_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This Elephant and Piggie story I’d read before, but apparently never reviewed. Gerald buys an ice cream cone and in his excitement only realizes later that maybe he should have bought Piggie one too. Gerald talks himself into and out of sharing his ice cream with his best friend and while he waffles on what is right, the ice cream melts away, leaving neither of them with a tasty treat. Luckily, Piggie has his back, and appears with an ice cream cone of her own to share with Gerald and to cheer him up after Gerald has upset himself by wasting the ice cream cone that neither he nor Piggie enjoyed.

****

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: Let’s Go for a Drive! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a new Elephant and Piggie story for me! Gerald wants to go for a drive with Piggie, but in typical Gerald style, Gerald worries, and wants to be prepared for any type of weather and for everything that could go wrong on their drive. Piggie is a prepared pig. She has everything Gerald requests: a map, sunglasses, umbrellas, bags to pack it all in—everything except a car. That is when the pattern of the text breaks too. Piggie saves the day again though by coming up with an alternative idea. The two make a pirate ship out of all the things that they’ve collected for their drive, and have fun anyway. Willems uses a road map for his illustrations of the map, making this an example of mixed media illustration, if most of the illustrations adhere to his usual drawing style. This would be a story better told while standing, so that the reader can act out the celebratory dancing. While sitting, the celebratory singing just didn’t have the same effect. Now I know.

****

Hero of Your Own Story 9781454916086_jkt.inddWhose Story Is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty and illustrated by Oriol Vidal. Sterling, 2016.

I read this alongside of Monster & Son, When Your Elephant Comes to Play, and Hoot and Peep, and this was declared the favorite by the little boy at story time whom I polled. This is the story of a boy who wants to tell a story about himself—with a cameo by his cat, Emperor Falafel—but the story keeps getting interrupted by pirates and knights and dinosaurs and aliens. He shouts them all away, but realizes that the audience for his story actually prefers a story with pirates and knights and dinosaurs and aliens and rewrites his story to include them all. The competing voices in the story are what I think make this so much fun: a deep growling voice of “arr” and “yar” and “ye” for the pirate, Salty Pete; a proper, clipped voice for Sir Knightly; a sort of dopey voice with lots of rounded tones that I gave the dinosaur; and a sort of shrill, nasal voice for the boy. Now, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that a story about an ordinary boy and his cat is dull and yawn-inducing, but the idea that a story is better with friends and with characters I can get behind. I think it would be a fun story to use when talking about story writing.

****

9780679805274Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. Random, 1990.

I read this to a group that consisted primarily of kids under 7 and one that was maybe 10 at my best guess. It is Dr. Seuss. Everyone loves Seuss. I expected it to be fine. I expected them to like it. It was too long for all of them, and the 10 year old thought it was a bit too dark and depressing. This is of course a classic. I know it. You probably know it too. And we can probably both quote it. It’s a tale about life, that assures the reader that she is ready and able to take on the world, that she knows what she needs to know and has the gumption to get things done and to go to great places, but also warns that life doesn’t always go the way that it should, that there will be bad paths to avoid, dark places she’ll end up even if she’s done everything right, slumps and waiting. The message is inspiring, but apparently, it really is better for those high school and college graduates if they’re willing at that age to give it a read.

***

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: May 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Cute Animals, a Piano, a Problem, and a Chinese Folk Tale

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biscuitBiscuit by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Pat Schories. HarperCollins, 2009. First published 1996.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

So here is a confession: I had never read the original Biscuit book. I read some of the sequels, and just… the covers… of course I love Biscuit, but I’d never read the original. I didn’t realize that it was a bedtime story. Two rambunctious little story time visitors asked me for a puppy story, and I wanted something fast because their attention wasn’t holding, and because they asked for it after we’d given up on the story that I had picked out for story time, I needed something pre-vetted, something I knew without looking long in the shelves. The story is adorable. The little puppy, whimsically drawn by Schories, does all that he can—all that kids do every night—to delay bedtime: he asks for a snack, he asks for a drink, he asks for story, he asks for a nightlight, he asks to be tucked in, he asks for hugs and kisses, and ultimately after his little girl has gone to bed in her own room for more hugs and kisses—which leads to him sleeping beside her bed on the floor on a blanket that he’s pawed off of the bed. It’s just precious. The interjection of “Woof! Woof!” after every sentence is… a bit much. While barking like a little puppy is fun, it’s a lot, and I admit I skipped a few lines. That’s really my one complaint about the book though.

****

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Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated Taeeun Yoo. Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I sort of doomed this one all on my own. For months I’d wanted to read it for story time, and this month I was finally able to do so, but the hype that I’d built up around what I imagined this book could be from skimming it was greater than the book itself seemed to me to be. Yoo’s illustrations are still amazing, just the sort of illustrations you coo over with the little elephant in its red scarf, matching its boy’s, and being carried by the little boy over the cracks in the sidewalk. There’s a plethora of creative and colorful creatures on the last pages, and we took a few moments to point and name them: an armadillo, a giraffe, a bat, a hedgehog, a penguin, a narwhal…. There were POC. Though the primary protagonist is, of course, white, the secondary protagonist—his first friend and the only other person with a speaking role—is African American and female. POC and white children, boys and girls were in both the friendly and unfriendly—the accepting and the rejecting—groups. This was a simple introduction to exclusion and inclusion and racism and prejudice. It says a lot for a simple book with not a lot of text. What disappointed me, though, was the text—and again, I say that that is no one’s fault but my own. There were some gems to be sure—the little elephant afraid of cracks, then later never minding the cracks—but I didn’t like the blunt didacticism of the “that’s what friends do:” phrases. The ending felt lackluster to me as well, though I think I see what Mantchev was going for: an invitation to the reader to join in this accepting club. Mantchev’s written quite a few books, but I think this was her first for such a young audience.

****

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My Dog’s a Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari and illustrated by Anne Wildorf. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is a cute, atmospheric book. Lula Mae wants a dog, but her mother says no; they can’t afford a dog. But Lula Mae doesn’t get upset by her denied request or her poverty. Instead she chooses a spotted chicken and decides that that chicken will be her dog, Pookie. Pookie is not just any dog, though, she is a multi-talented dog: a show dog, herding dog, a watchdog, a search-and-rescue dog. It is only after Pookie proves herself in this last field—finding the missing Baby Berry, who has toddled off—that Lula Mae’s mother relents and allows Pookie to come inside the house—and even sleep at the foot of Lula Mae’s bed. This book was not at all what I expected, but it was a good story. It might be an avenue to talk about poverty with little kids too—a more realistic, more modern version of poverty—though there’s something ironic about a $16.99 hardcover about poverty—and I wish that that vision of poverty came without some of the Southern stereotypes; I’ve never once down here met anyone called Tater—but on the whole, I think Montanari did a decent job avoiding overly stereotyping the South or in any way demeaning her characters. Really this wasn’t so much a story about poverty as a story about creativity and imagination and a chicken with characters who just happen to be poor.

****

9780807530757_GrumpyPants-BD-512x512Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer. Albert Whitman, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This book caught my attention early in the month, but only late this month did I bring it out for story time. This penguin is grumpy, and he doesn’t know why. He strips off his clothes piece by piece, thinking that one less piece will make him feel less grumpy, but it’s no good, even when he’s down to just his underpants. So he takes off his underpants, takes a deep breath, counts to three, and dives into the bathtub, where at last he is able to wash off the last of his grumpiness by splashing and making a bubble beard. He puts on his favorite clothes and feels even better and goes to sleep.

This would be a great book for little ones: bedtime, bath time, clothes primer, a reassurance that sometimes you get grumpy without any reason and that’s okay. Plus, it’s hard to feel grumpy while this penguin pulls off with his beak his very colorful clothes; this penguin dresses only a bit more conservatively than Dobby the house-elf.

I worried a little about showing the penguin sans clothes, but none of the parents said anything—and it’s more natural—isn’t it?—to see a penguin without clothes than in them, so I didn’t feel as if I was showing the kids anything too racy.

*****

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If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

This is a sequel to If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! That first book was better. This one felt… well, like a sequel, piggybacking off of the success of the first but unable to capture the same uniqueness and unexpectedness that made the first book memorable. Magnolia brings a full-size upright piano to the beach. Her mother warns her not to lose it, “keep it neat and clean” and “push it to the beach.” Well, you just know, every one of those promises is going to be broken. They get broken in surprising, more and more outlandish ways. Brownie points for a multiracial family: white, Asian, and African American with potentially just a single mother. There’s a lesson here about our love affair with stuff: The piano is replaced in Magnolia’s heart and affections by a shell that she can use as a boat, a shovel, and a Frisbee.

***

e_and_p_thank_you_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

This book fell flat for me too—and maybe because of the hype, maybe because of the awesomeness of all of its sequels—maybe simply because of what it was. The books problem is that Piggie wants to thank everyone—and that leads to a reunion with every minor character who has ever appeared in an Elephant and Piggie book—including the Pigeon. Gerald is sure that she will forget someone. Piggie is sure that she won’t. It seems as though Gerald thinks that she will forget him—and maybe that’s a reflection on me, making that assumption—but she’s only saving him for last because of course she’s not forgotten her best friend. The person she does forget is the reader, the audience. And she leans forward at the end to thank us, breaking the 4th wall in the same way that once won my heart. Though I think Piggie forgot one more person; I was really rooting for an appearance by Mo himself. There was no lesson here and I think that’s what threw me off, really—not that I think books need to be moralistic, but I think it’s hard for them to exist solely for the sake of existing as this one does. The whole purpose of the book is to thank the reader for reading the book(s), and that’s a bit meta even for me. I think it also suffered from saccharine sentimentality. Further, it does not really standalone. Really grasping the plot requires reading at least 9 other stories (I say at least because there are a few of the 26 I have not yet read and I did not recognize all of the characters thanked and because we were thanking even the flies who flew around the slop it’s possible I just forgot about some characters). Overall, I’m sad that this is the last Elephant and Piggie book because it’s the last Elephant and Piggie book, but it is not the book I wanted—and it’s not one that I will add to my collection, should I ever actually begin amassing these—and I’ve thought about doing so even in the absence of any foreseeable children.

***

28863341 What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Compendium, 2016.

This is a companion book to Yamada’s first picture book for kids, What Do You Do with an Idea? The same character returns. This time he has a problem, and it feels like it will never go away, and he can’t run away, and it seems to get bigger and bigger, until he confronts the problem head on and finds the yellow sunlight of opportunity that the cloud hides inside. Well timed for graduations, this book appeals to a broad audience. Marketed for children, it nevertheless speaks maybe even more to me as an adult, where my problems are bigger, and there are fewer “adultier adults” to turn to for help. Again it’s Besom’s illustrations that really make this book shine for me. The text itself is fairly and I believe intentionally nondescript so that the “problem” can be any problem a person faces and the person can be any reader.

****

1103447 The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. HarperCollins, 1997.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Kam Mak’s illustrations for this Chinese Beauty and the Beast type story are stunning. This book is worth it for the photographic realism and vibrant jewel tones of the illustrations alone, but, well, I’m a sucker for folk tales, but I enjoy this one. I especially enjoy this one because Seven is not asked to fall in love with the Beast (or Dragon). She is asked to marry him, yes, but her kindness not her love—no true love’s kiss—gives him reason to choose to present as a handsome male prince. The prince here too is not some previously wicked and now cursed soul, but a man who makes his own choices and goes on his own quest for a wife. He is given agency—a lot of agency, so much more than de Beaumont’s or Disney’s Beasts. He searches for his wife when he begins to suspect that her wicked sister is not his beloved wife as she pretends; Seven believes her prince is unable to distinguish her from her sister and takes this as proof that he does not love her, so she has not sought him but rather found a new life for herself through her own skills. I’ve read this story several times—the first time in 2011 for a class taught by Brian Attebery on gender identity in fantasy and science-fiction. I still enjoy it.

*****

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 2014 Picture Book Roundup: It’s Blue… or Maybe Green?

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Away in a Manger illustrated by Lisa Reed and Randle Paul Bennett. Candy Cane-Ideals, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The text and audio of this book are the first two verses of “Away in a Manger,” sung by “Junior Asparagus,” who is unfortunately one of my least favorite musical talents among the VeggieTales cast. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and VeggieTales fans will appreciate seeing familiar faces in a probably equally familiar tableau. I witnessed one parent trying to read this book (or it might have been its sister book, Silent Night) to a child, and stumbling to an awkward halt when it turned out that the audio button was the text in its entirety. That rather detracts from the book’s ability to lead to interaction between a parent and child. A parent can turn the pages, but the time spent on each page is limited and the parent’s voice is lost amid Junior’s warble.

*

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Step Into Reading: Level 2: A Pony for a Princess by Andrea Posner-Sanchez and illustrated by Francesc Mateu. RH Disney-Random 2002.

I was drawn to the book by the promise of a pony but was a little worried by the book being a Disney spinoff. I was more impressed with this book than I expected to be. The plot is well formed. A deductive thinker could reason the plot from details. Belle sees a barrel of apples, and later decides to return to the barrel to sate her hunger, only to find the barrel empty, then logically she seeks to discover what happened to the apples. I do think it unlikely that a wild pony could be so easily caught by a trail of sugar cubes, but this is a Disney story, and Belle qualifies as a Disney princess, so I will forgive the implausibility and call it more of an inevitability.

****

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Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. G.P Putnam & Sons-Penguin Putnam, 1996. First published 1994. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was at least a second read. Good Night, Gorilla is something of a classic. I think the illustrations are what make this book. The zookeeper goes about saying goodnight to the animals (making it a plausible animal primer), but on the first page, the gorilla steals his keys and follows him through the zoo, unlocking cages. The whole of the zoo follows him home and into his bedroom. Too many responses to her “Good night, dear” alert the zookeeper’s wife of the trouble, and she calmly gets up out of bed, takes the gorilla’s hand, and leads all the animals back to their cages. The gorilla and the mouse escape even her watch and follow her once more back to the bed that she shares with the zookeeper. I appreciate the presentation of a more alert, more able wife.

***

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Peekaboo Barn by Nat Sims and illustrated by Nathan Tabor. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 0-3, PreK.

This lift-the-flap animal primer comes with a free app download code. This is the first of a few books I’ve since come across with app companions. Apparently, this book was an app first. The animals are cartoonish with bug eyes that are mildly disturbing. Sometimes there’s only one flap on a page, sometimes there are two. At first read, this was confusing, as I didn’t know to look for two flaps and would open the barn doors to discover only one of the animals whose sounds I’d just read. Then I noticed that the loft doors also occasionally opened. I’m not sure if as a toddler reader, this variation would be exciting or confusing. If I’m being finicky, the animals are not seen or entering the barn, but the scene never changes, the sun never moves across the sky. It would have been very simple to introduce more plot into this book.

*

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That’s Not My Snowman… by Fiona Watt. Usborne, 2014. First published 2006.

There’s not much exciting about this winter edition of a series of touch-and-feel primers that spans all manner of creature, machine, and… sculpture. I do puzzle what sort of squishy nose one could give a snowman. I prefer to have logical connections between the illustrations and text. The inclusion of the ever-present mouse in this series adds a nice element of continuity to the story and the series.

**

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I am a fan of Mo Willems and of Elephant and Piggie in particular. I was not expecting the mixed media illustrations in this book nor the subtle hint of the passage of time as the white space becomes darker. I think both the messages of patience and of the beauty of nature are valuable to today’s children, so used—as we all are—to instant gratification. I like it even better on a second reading, particularly I enjoy Piggie’s answers to Gerald’s questions Piggie about the surprise.

*****

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Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014. First published 2012. Intended audience: Ages 2-6, Grades PreK-1.

I am biased towards Wolff’s books and this one in particular. Wolff is a professor at my alma mater. This book I saw as an unbound proof when she read it to us. I saw it later read at a local library story hour and witnessed the unbiased enjoyment of it from the children and the librarian. Wolff’s illustrations are jewel bright, and the text does not seem overly formulaic as many primers can seem, though Wolff does keep some repetition in the line “Baby Bear sees [color]” to give the story a familiar structure and rhythm. Wolff does not shy from poetic language within her text, but she keeps true too to the toddler understanding of the world with Baby Bear’s speech, as when Baby Bear asks who is waving at him, indicating an oak leaf stirred by a breeze. I had not considered till reading a particularly detailed review on Goodreads that the closing line makes the book fit appropriately too into the bedtime story mold.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: October 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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The Very Busy Spider’s Favorite Words by Eric Carle. Grosset & Dunlap-Penguin, 2007. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I’d forgotten when I picked this book up this October that I’d already read the book back in January 2013. But since that review has never made it to this site, here is what I wrote then for Goodreads:

I liked this book even less than The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Favorite Words. There was no pairing of nouns such as there was in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The only real delight in this series is Eric Carle’s illustrations, but those are even more delightful when paired with a background rather than being an isolated figure. Other than that, I can praise their small size, just right for a young toddler’s hands.

Re-reading this book this October, I think maybe that first review was a tiny bit harsh. I still can’t color myself impressed, but I did enjoy the colors of Carle’s illustrations, and I was not so… offended.

Still, it does seem that this book’s purpose is to capitalize on Carle’s commercial success.

*

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Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. Appleseed-Abrams, 2014.

Last month I read and then praised Play Nice, Hercules!, a Mini Myths book written by the same team. I expected to like Be Patient, Pandora! I won’t again go into the credentials of the team, which are excellent. Be Patient, Pandora! like Play Nice, Hercules! retells the myth in a modern setting and with a similar but more commonplace situation for a toddler audience and then includes in the back a summary of the myth for a slightly more mature audience.

Holub and Patricelli’s tale tells of a young Pandora who finds a wrapped present on the floor, which her mother forbids her to open. Like many children, Pandora bends the rules. Her anticipation of the present too great to leave the box alone, she pokes it, jumps on it, and unintentionally destroys the packaging and what the box contains: cupcakes, which is a very interesting substitution for all of the evils of the world. My Classics professor introduced us to the argument among scholars as regards the Hope (elpis) that remained in Pandora’s jar. Holub and Patricelli probably wisely don’t engage in whether the Hope is a blessing or a blight, loosed or withheld but Pandora does say that she hopes that her mother still loves her, a nod to the Hope that remained in the jar.

*****

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I was actually able to recommend this book as a response to a similar situation with which a young customer was struggling—and that I consider a high praise for a book. If a book is enjoyable, that is one thing. If a parent believes that a book might teach an important social lesson, that’s quite another.

Piggie has met Brian, and Elephant Gerald and Brian’s best friend, Snake, worry over whether Piggie and Brian will become such good friends that Gerald and Snake will be replaced. Told in Willems usual and wonderful style, Gerald and Snake go to check up on Piggie and Brian who are indeed having great fun together and, as if anticipating their friends’ worry, tell them that have even gone so far as to make best friend drawings. The drawings turn out to be of Gerald and Snake, and Gerald’s and Snake’s fears are assuaged. The moral here is that its possible to have more than one good friend.

****

Book Reviews: May and June Picture Book Roundup: Friends Are the Best

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So first off, my apologies for lapsing, but between even these past two months, I haven’t read all that many picture books, so all’s well that ends well. June’s roundup with its one book would have been a dull and short post.

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Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: A BabyLit Sound Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2013.

BabyLit has really done some unique things with the primer, first focusing on individual groups of ideas and second using famous works of literature to give their primers more structure than many primers and a very unique structure compared to those that’ll take a reader through a day in the life of a baby or the actions of bedtime or the actions of waking up. Several of the more recent BabyLit primers that I’ve read have included quotes from the original books as part of the book. The primer based on Sherlock Holmes does not. Its focus is sound: scraping boots on hillside scree, creaking stairs, clattering wheels, screeching gates, and howling hounds…. These are more difficult words than those in most primers; that’s typical of BabyLit. The colors are darker. There’s obviously supposed to be an eerie air to the illustrations. For being unique, I have to, as usual, give BabyLit higher marks.

***

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Boom Snot Twitty by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Viking-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed Boom Snot Twitty. This I read at a story hour that either on purpose or by accident focused on close friendships.

One of the girls who was at the story time got hung up on Snot’s name and would not believe me when I said that it might be a perfectly beautiful name for a snail. I didn’t expect this to be such a point of contention, and when it arose, I hoped to be able to make it a learning experience about not teasing someone because her name is not one that you would consider “normal,” but I fear that my point did not come across.

The three friends have three very different personalities, but they each allow one another to act and react as they are most comfortable without complaining about one another’s habit. Despite different personalities and different reactions, they remain friends, and are comfortable with one another—comfortable enough to snuggle beside one another to rest—and they share their experiences and their talents and their personalities.

The day takes an unexpected turn when a violent storm presents the friends with a set of difficulties. This adds to the plot.

***

Good Night, Little Dragons by Leigh Ann Tyson and illustrated by Jim Bernardin. Golden-Random, 2012.

So yes, this had a cute, yawning, pink dragon on the cover. The illustrations, since I’ve started there, are bright, lively, and include many wonderful little details that add to the charm of the story, like firefighter mice and the shield that serves as the family’s name plaque and proclaims the dragon family to be “The Darlings.” I have to take a moment to point out too the similarity in style and most obviously in the dragonets colors to those of Despicable Me’s Sleepy Kittens because I feel it would be remiss of me to not wonder if Mr. Bernardin had those kittens in mind when he was illustrating this somewhat similar story. The story takes the young dragons from rambunctious play, through the process of getting ready for bed, to sleep. It does not try to take the dragons’ behaviors and too strictly make them human for the benefit of the young reader; while the dragonets do have to dress in their pajamas and brush their teeth, they still fly about and breathe fire. The real draw of this story for me is the inclusion of dragons, and Bernardin’s adorable illustrations of them.

***

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Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star by Maria van Lieshout. Philomel-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

This was another in our series on friendships. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my research for this book. This is the sequel to a book called simply Hopper and Wilson, and I will have to say that this book does not do a good job of introducing the characters. I was unsure until several pages in which character was Hopper and which was Wilson and I cannot remember now which is which either. Maria van Lieshout otherwise surprised me, though. She writes with a poetry that’s not found in many picture books anymore, and she includes the subtlest use of the unexpected and incredibly ridiculous. Hopper and Wilson sail a paper airplane that runs on lemonade, for example; van Lieshout doesn’t bat an eye at or acknowledge the impossibility of this; I enjoy her acceptance of an open imagination. In this adventure, the two friends say goodbye to their cactus friend on the pier and take off for the skies in search of a star to bring back to be their personal nightlight. Van Lieshout’s illustrations are beautiful and vibrant, but her characters are not particularly expressive, except at their most dejected. The ending where the friends are reunited with their cactus and return to their home and regard the perfect star that led them back to one another after they are separated is just heartwarming to the point of tears. For unexpected outpourings of emotion, for clever use of subtle surprise, and fearlessness of language, I have to rate Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star quite highly.

**** 

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Today I Will Fly! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

And now we circle back to Mo Willems, as we usually do. And what would a series on friendship be without Elephant and Piggie? In this adventure, the bold Piggie decides that today she will fly, and the practical Gerald reminds her that pigs cannot fly, but Piggie persists, and eventually succeeds—in a manner—with help. It is a story lauding outrageous thought, and belief in one’s ability to do the impossible, but at the same time it refrains from suggesting anything too dangerous because it reminds us that for the impossible to be possible, we always need help, so at least nothing dangerous will be achieved alone.

****

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Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2008.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In this, Elephant and Piggie are excited to be able to play outside, but then it starts to rain, and Piggie is miserable and furious with the rain for ruining their plans. But the worms show Piggie and Gerald how they can have fun in the rain too, how the rain does not have to stop their plans. Piggie and Gerald do play in the rain as they would have in the sunshine, and Piggie loves playing in the rain after she tries it, and then is sad when the rain stops. Elephant Gerald is his wonderful self and helps to cheer up his friend as he always does, but his solution makes their friendship seem a bit unbalanced though the lesson that the weather does not have to ruin plans or play remains a good one.

***

Book Reviews: March Picture Book Roundup: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bathtub?

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I read only a very few picture books in March, but as I’ve promised short reviews for all of the picture books that I do read:

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

Too Hot to Hug! by Steve Smallman and illustrated by Cee Biscoe. Sandy Creek-Sterling, 2013. First published 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a book that I first spotted in a clearance bin at Barnes & Noble. That store sold out of its copies of the book before I brought one up to a register. When on vacation I discovered it accidentally in the bargain section of another Barnes & Noble, I snatched a copy and brought it to the register right away, even though it wasn’t clearance priced. I admit that I judged its worth almost solely on its cover when considering its purchase. Cee Biscoe’s illustrations are whimsically adorable. I’m intrigued by what the illustrations here do for the story. Biscoe’s illustrations evoke a more modern setting than I would have, I think, otherwise pictured for this text, and I like that. It introduces the idea of dragons still existing the wilds of the world. The more modern setting paired with the family’s desperate need for firewood that must be collected by young boys in a snowstorm suggests to me too a family of a lower socioeconomic bracket, though for that, they do not seem to be terribly ill off given the several books that the family reads throughout the story or the toast rack that seems such a frivolity to me in any socioeconomic bracket, though they seem to live without electricity, possess only a few clothes, and wash in a metal tub. The text by Smallman is delightful enough too with some wonderful similes that offer a sense of place and character to the text and many an onomatopoeia. His text tells of a young dragon scared of the water, who learns that the water is not only innocuous but that by bathing he is made more lovable to the family that adopts him and cannot stand the touch of his unwashed and too hot flesh. There may be a lesson there for the child unwilling to take a bath or afraid to learn to swim. More likely, though, the child will relate better to Ryan, the young boy who finds the dragon’s egg and brings it home. The dragon, Crumpet, is not particularly anthropomorphized, being given more the qualities of a dog than a human. Ryan’s is a story of wanting to keep a troublesome pet and discovering some way to make that pet more palatable to his family. That may be a relatable tale too, though one that I personally and thankfully have not experienced.

***1/2

Click to visit the author's site for links to order, summary, sample page, and video interview with Pigeon.

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is the latest of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. I had the chance to read this and several of the other Pigeon books that I’ve already reviewed here to a group of children for a story hour. Willems books are wonderful to read aloud, the dialogue that composes the stories being wonderfully expressive and between it and the illustrations the tone and inflections that Willems desires being wonderfully clear. Being unable yet to give distinct voices to each character, I find myself still adding the occasional dialogue tag or description of the characters’ actions that doesn’t appear in the text. Willems’ books are interesting in that, through those additions, the books could easily be tailored to the audience and situation. I love Willems books for the accuracy of his characters’ voices, mimicking lines and tones that I’ve heard from children on many occasions before. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! is not excluded from this praise. Pigeon doesn’t wasn’t to bathe. He doesn’t believe that he needs to. In talking with a parent after the story hour, we discussed the intended age for the books, which does tend towards the elder level of picture book readers. These books are marketed for ages 3-5 (I would actually argue that this like Elephant and Piggie ought to be marketed for ages 4-8) and appeal strongly to the parents. The Pigeon and Willems don’t apologize for an occasional large and nuanced word. I cannot remember what word was the trigger for that particular comment. It might have been “considered;” it might have been “coincidental;” then there are phrases like “That is a matter of opinion.”

****

Book Reviews: January Picture Book Roundup: Part Two

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Freddie & Gingersnap by Vincent X Kirsch.  Hyperion-Disney, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I wanted to be so much happier with this picture book than I was, partially because its art is amazing and vaguely reminiscent of the art from DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon, which predisposed me towards it, but also because coworkers of mine had been lauding it.  Despite its pink protagonist (and why does the female protagonist have to be pink?), it is a boys’ book filled with growling and snapping of teeth and clacking of claws.  Those bits would be a lot of fun to dramatize in a story time with one’s own kids.  In a story hour, I worried that they might be a bit too scary for some kids and a bit too violent for some parents.

Freddie wonders what it would be like to touch the clouds.  Gingersnap tries to fly but falls with style right on top of Freddie.  They chase one another—right off a cliff, but Gingersnap catches Freddie, and the two of them land gracefully enough.  And as J. K. Rowling has said, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).  Another, I think, is falling off of cliff.  Gingersnap helps Freddie to fly and feel the clouds as the other dinosaurs cannot.  Interesting to note here that, though pink, Gingersnap is the one that enables Freddie’s dream rather than it being the other way about.

There’s nothing particularly thrilling about the story, but I do love dragons, and while I wish she weren’t pink, I like that Gingersnap is the one to help Freddie.

***

Snuggle-Me Stories: Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magasamen.  LB-Hachette, 2007.

This book comes with a finger puppet butterfly for the reader to wear.  The book describes the actions and sounds of various animals but reminds readers to stop and listen to the whisper of butterfly wings, a message I really like now and I think I’d like as a parent to impart to children even as a toddler if they might not understand the metaphor then and might think that it means a literal whisper of butterfly wings… which I guess with sonic hearing and a sterile environment it would be possible to hear.

***

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.  North-South, 1992.

This is an old favorite of mine as I told my story hour friends.  Most of them knew it too.  This is a story about sharing and about how beauty is not merely physical.  I think even in the first grade or so when I read this first I understood that it did not mean that I should go about giving away locks of my hair.  I’m pretty sure that never crossed my mind or there would be some good stories from my parents.  Asked to share, the Rainbow Fish cruelly rejects the plea, and for doing so, he is shunned by the other fish.  After seeking the advice of a wise, FEMALE octopus, he decides to give sharing a try.  He gives away his unique, glittering scales.  In giving of himself, he becomes less uniquely beautiful but gains friends by making others as beautiful as himself.  If I wanted to do so, I could find the negative message in that: the Rainbow Fish must self-mutilate and change his appearance to gain friends.  I choose to accept the story as I understood it in my childlike naivety.  The pages of The Rainbow Fish have always been something to enjoy for their sparkle, which even now is still rather unique among picture books.

****

Santa!: A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder.  Workman, 2013.

This scanimation book, while it is still novel to watch the illustrations move as you turn the pages, lacked the message of Gallop, Seder’s first scanimation book.  As such, I was underwhelmed.  Also it’s very much a book that is stuck within a particular season of the year.

**

Hold and Touch: Wake Up by Belinda Strong.  Hinkler, 2013.

This touch-and-feel book didn’t excite me very much.  It’s touch-and-feel pages were not much more than a little bit of felt and this was not even on every page.  Its plot takes the reader through the routine of waking up.  Words are paired so that “wake up” is side by side with “sunshine” (one of its possible causes) and “breakfast” is paired with “yummy” (one of its possible reactions).  Some of the illustrations are of anthropomorphized animals acting as a young toddler might, with a colt in a high chair, for example, while some are of animals acting as animals.  Each page features a different animal, so the book could be used as a bestiary and will likely provoke exclamations of “horsey!” and “kitty!”

**

Disney’s It’s A Small World: Hello, World! by the Walt Disney Company and illustrated by Nancy Kubo.  Disney, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 1-5.

This book has a page for greetings from each of ten languages with a simple illustration for each.  Each page includes the proper spelling as well as a phonetic pronunciation in parentheses.  That part of the book I enjoyed, but the illustrations propagate cultural stereotypes and that I find rather disheartening.  People in Brazil don’t generally go about bare-chested with a necklace of string about their necks.  Of this I’m quite sure.  Nor do all Irishmen wear green suits with clovers in their green top hats with buckles around the brim.

**

An Elephant and Piggie Book: I Am Going! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion-Disney, 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I always enjoy Elephant and Piggie books.  Elephant Gerald and Piggie remind me mercilessly of my protagonists in their childhood.  In this one, Piggie says he has to go, and Gerald freaks out.  Go?  Why?  He can’t go!  He can’t leave Gerald!  When Piggie can finally get a word in, he tells Gerald that he’s only going to lunch.  Gerald joins Piggie for lunch.  And it is “a good day.  Just like yesterday.”  Like many of Elephant’s and Piggie’s interactions, this one for me seems particularly realistic.  I’m pretty sure I’ve done just as Gerald does in this book when told before that a friend was moving—before I learned that it was only across town.  It’s also nice too to see two friends just enjoying one another’s company without having to do anything as they are at the beginning of the book when it is first declared to be “a good day.”

****

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon.  Walker, 2012.

This book is one in a series of books about Penguin by Yoon.  I read another of them in February.  In this series, Yoon features a penguin protagonist who loves to knit.  I know of several mothers who come to mind immediately as ones who would enjoy such a protagonist.  Penguin finds a pinecone.  The pinecone looks cold.  Penguin knits it a scarf and travels far to return the pinecone to its home where it can be happier.  Penguin has to leave Pinecone in the forest and return to his own home.  After some time has passed, Penguin returns to the forest to visit his friend and discovers that it has grown into a mighty pine tree.

The story and the illustrations are all very endearing.

Yoon uses speech bubble asides, which give the story an even more whimsical feel somehow.

The knitting in this story is used more effectively than it is in one of its sequels, Penguin in Love.  In this story it is used mostly to show the passage of time, though Penguin’s skills as a knitter allow him to knit his friend a gift.

*****