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Book Reviews: August 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Science, Eating People–Or Not, and a Kitten Like Me

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Science!

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

Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There was a lot to love in this story about Sophia, her pet giraffe Noodle, and the problems that Noodle causes for Sophia’s multi-generational, interracial family, in which each character has a pretty stunningly unique voice for characters in a picture book. It opens with Sophia being “happysad” which I love because it acknowledges an oft-felt but not oft-acknowledged emotion. Noodle snores, and Noodle’s kisses with his long, blue tongue are sloppy and wet and particularly irk Grand-mamá, whom Noodle seems particularly fond of—in the way that cats will always find the one person who doesn’t want to pet them. Sophia’s Mother, whom I suspect from the language that she uses and that the authors use to describe her actions works in the courtroom either as a lawyer or judge—probably a judge—“render[s] her verdict. Noodle is guilty” and she “order[s Sophia] to find a perdurable solution.” Several times in this book the adults drop some heavy words. ‘Perdurable’ is not a word that I knew when I read this book, and I’ve near 30 years of life experience, an English degree, and a penchant for books with lofty language. Sophia tries several ways to silence Noodle’s snores or to make them more palatable, consulting the Internet for ideas, building contraptions herself, and consulting experts in the field, including an acoustic-engineer who tells Sophia that Noodle’s “neck-to-lung-capacity ratio creates a giant echo chamber.”

Noodle’s sloppy kisses are always preceded by the same phrase, which was fun to repeat but also let the anticipation build before the blech! of usually poor Grand-mamá appearing covered in giraffe spittle. “His eyelashes danced a little fuzzle, then his nose swooped in for a nuzzle.”

This is apparently a sequel to a book called One Word for Sophia that I’d not heard of previously but now want to find.

****

Click to visit the series' page for links to order, summary, audio sample, and all kinds of extras.

Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was pleased to see a surprisingly honest comment from Derting on Goodreads admitting that her four-year-old grandchild struggled to make it through this book. My story time audience was a bit squirmy through this long story too—but they made it, and they made it through Two Problems for Sophia on the same sitting. Assigned to complete a research project, Cece with her friend and assigned research partner Isaac set out to experiment on Cece’s dog Einstein to see if dogs eat vegetables. They try offering Einstein vegetables in various forms, which he won’t eat, causing Cece to question her credentials as a scientist, but she persists, and eventually they do find a way to get Einstein to eat veggies. I’m not sure about the ethical implications of trying to get your family dog to eat foods outside of his normal diet without consulting a veterinarian first—I don’t recommend doing it at home—but I have known dogs who like carrots, so I’m fairly sure that this experiment won’t harm Einstein. The book ends with a glossary of science terms and scientists.

***

 

ABCs of Physics by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2014.

General Relativity for Babies by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2016.

Quantum Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. First published 2013.

My dad is a high school math and physics teacher, and I sent these along to him not long ago. The one on quantum physics, he says, peddles an already discredited model—which I sort of knew; I think Niels Bohr’s model was being phased out of classrooms when I was in high school around 2006/2007—but before it starts discussing where in rings an electron can be around a nucleus, I think it’s solid—though he would know far better than I. I particularly liked the ABCs of Physics. There was more to this book than there was to the for Babies titles. Not only is it an alphabet primer, but the words used to illustrate the letters are all related to physics, with three levels of information for growing toddlers: first the word, then a simple one sentence explanation, then a longer, more in-depth sentence or two at the bottom. I like the simplicity of these primers.  I like that Ferrie takes on such hard concepts and thinks he can impart some understanding of these topics to infants and toddlers.  They say if you can’t explain your subject in terms that a complete outsider to the field would understand, you don’t know your subject. Imagine explaining it in terms that a toddler could understand! I think general relativity was more clearly explained here than I’ve seen it elsewhere. I may not be a toddler, but I get it. Or I get the small part of it that Ferrie is discussing in these books.

****     ****     ***

That is Frowned Upon in Most Civilized Societies

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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This book came out in June, and I’ve already read it three times—twice in story times. It keeps getting better. I really enjoyed reading it aloud this most recent time. I feel like I got the inflection right on the narration and the dialogue. This competes with Be Quiet! for me as a favorite Higgins book, but this is so much more accessible to my story time audience than is Be Quiet!. This is a back-to-school book with a female dinosaur protagonist and a multiracial classroom full of children, including a hijabi sitting beside a boy who appears to wear a yarmulke. Penelope Rex is your typical T-Rex. She’s excited and nervous to go to school, but she has a big lunch packed by her dad, and a new backpack with ponies on it (ponies are her favorite because ponies are delicious). She was not expecting to be part of a classroom full of children, and upon discovering this, she eats them all whole then spits them out at the behest of her teacher. That does not endear her to her classmates, and every time she tries to be nice, her appetite betrays her. She saves a seat for her classmate, Griffin Emery—but that seat is on her now empty plate. She tries to play with them on the slide—but waits at the bottom with an open mouth. Her parents spot the problem quickly when she complains that she hasn’t made any friends, and remind her not to eat her classmates. “Children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier.” Penelope can’t control her appetite and keeps eating kids. Because all the children are afraid and won’t be her friend, she tries to befriend the class goldfish, Walter—who bites her finger. Knowing now how terrible it feels when someone tries to eat you, Penelope learns to control her own appetite. She stops eating her classmates, and she does make friends.

*****

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Eat Pete by Michael Rex. Nancy Paulsen-Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

When a monster comes in through Pete’s window, Pete isn’t scared; he invites the monster to play with him. And though the monster came to eat Pete and wants to do so, the games that Pete suggests look fun, so he puts off his appetite for little boy and joins Pete in his games. Though he lasts through several games, the monster’s desire to eat Pete does win, and he gobbles up Pete whole. Without Pete, though, the games just aren’t much fun, and the monster relents and spits Pete back out. Pete tells him that wasn’t very nice, the monster apologizes, and Pete suggests that they play another game—a wonderfully forgiving child is Pete. The monster though doesn’t want to play. The book gives the impression that the monster is again struggling with his desire to eat Pete, but the anticipation dissipates not with a repetition of the phrase and the monster’s slathering look of hunger, but with a hug between the two protagonists; he wants to… hug Pete.

****

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People Don’t Bite People by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Molly Schaar Idle. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3

In singsong fashion, this book spells out the things that it is good to eat, but admonishes against biting people. “It’s good to bite a carrot. It’s good to bite a steak. It’s BAD to bite your sister! She’s not a piece of cake.” “People don’t bite people. It’s nasty and it’s rude! A friend will never bite a friend. BITING IS FOR FOOD!” It’s a kind of judgmental book. I mean, I know you shouldn’t bite your hair or your nails, and the book acknowledges that these are lesser sins than biting another human, but… all in all, I think this book was perhaps just too didactic a story for a general story time. It would be a fun addition to Martine Agassi and Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen’s Best Behavior books (Teeth are Not for Biting, Hands are Not for Hitting, Feet are Not for Kicking, etc.)—and it is a fun text—but just… not fun, not silly enough—not for general reading without the express purpose of imparting a needed lesson.

***

And Look! I Found Me!

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Katie the Kitten by Kathryn and Byron Jackson and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Little Golden-Penguin Random, 1976. First published 1949.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

I had to read this book—and I actually bought it—because I am a catlike Kathryn who once went by the nickname Katie. The illustrations and adventures of this little kitten are fairly realistic. She sleeps, wakes up, chases a fly, hisses at a scared dog, but is scared of a mouse, chases a toad, chases a bird, hops on a table, but falls off into a pail of water, drinks milk, eats a fish, and curls up to sleep again. She’s just cute. She’s a kitten. And she’s a playful, clumsy kitten. The text uses simple words, and some rhyming but overall the text does not rhyme; it reads less like a forced singsong and more like just the account of an hour or two of a kitten’s day.  I recommend this for people who like watching cat videos.  Which I think is not-so-secretly everyone.

***

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: February 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Loving Others

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The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls.  Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades 3-8.

I remembered Selina Alko from Why Am I Me? and was excited to see her explore this fairly local, historical story. She handles it with poetry and mostly with grace—though she does call Mildred’s skin “a creamy caramel” and later speaks of “people every shade from the color of chamomile tea to midnight;” I think we’re trying to move away from comparing anyone’s skin tone to food, the likening of POC to consumables.  For those who don’t know of the Lovings, this is the family that brought to the Supreme Court Virginia’s ruling that they could not be legally married because they were neither both pale- nor both dark-skinned.  The Lovings wanted to live in their home state of Virginia, but refused to give up each other, their love, their family for the sake of their state.  The Virginia law banning interracial marriage was deemed unconstitutional.

****

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

Click, Clack, Moo: I Love You by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin.  Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is a Valentine’s book from the Click, Clack, Moo series. Farmer Brown shows his love in his care of the animals and the farm. Little Duck decorates for the Valentine’s Day party and makes Valentines for everyone. The chickens and the pigs bring potluck dishes, but the sheep bring nothing. A fox hears their party and invites herself. The farm animals are terrified. All except Little Duck. Little Duck hands the fox her last Valentine, the fox hands her one back, and they dance together “yip, quack, yip, quack, yip, quack, quack!” Their dance inspires the other farm animals to interspecies dance as well. This is a great Valentine’s story with a message that isn’t all hearts and roses and candies. It’s about finding friendship and fun among those who look different from oneself, about being welcoming to others, even when you don’t know them. Yipping like a fox is a lot of fun aloud too.

****

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The Peace Book by Todd Parr.  LB Kids-Little, Brown-Hachette 2017.  First published 2004.

Parr’s The Peace Book is all about good stewardship of the earth and care for all humanity. Peace is keeping the water blue. It’s saying sorry when you hurt someone. It’s helping a neighbor. It’s exploring other cultures. It’s fixing societal problems like homelessness and hunger. Illustrated in Parr’s very bright, simple style, this is a book for everyone! Seriously, there’s as much if not more in here for adults than the kids. It’s a good reminder of the simple ways that we can bring peace to others and to ourselves and to the world, and also of the big things that we need to work towards fixing. “The world is a better place because of you.” Was that a hijabi too, Mr. Parr?  Not a lot of story to this one, but a lot of good, needed sentiments.

****

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We Belong Together by Joyce Wan.  Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2011.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Mostly this is a fun exploration of pairs and wordplay. Like peanut butter & jelly, like pen & paper, like a pair of mittens, with smiling, rosy-cheeked characters illustrating each pair. There’s really not anything in the way of plot, but the wordplay is a nice addition to a sappy sentiment of perfect togetherness.

***

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Ten Apples Up on Top by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by Roy McKie.  Penguin Random, 1961.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This is a fun counting book with three characters each bragging that they can carry more apples on their head, the challenges getting more and more outlandish as the number of apples and the number of participants in the game increase. Being Seuss, of course the text rhymes. The three do get their comeuppance for breaking and entering and raiding the fridge of a mother bear. The bear chases them outside, where gulls try to take the apples from the boasting friends.  The friends’ fun, their sticky fingers, and their boasting anger the other peripheral characters, who chase them trying to knock down the apples.  An accident creates more opportunity–a wealth of apples–and provided with more apples, the game expands, the ones who were trying to stop it, finding themselves happy participants instead. What a strange economics lesson. Mostly this book is just silly, but it’s one of those that I think you can read more deeply into if you want to do so.  Hoarding toys is going to make others angry with you. Supplying enough toys for everyone is the way to peace.  A surplus of resources makes everyone boastful, wasteful, playful rather than responsible.  Am I reading too much into this?

****

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

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by B. Tobey.  Penguin Random, 1965.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

A little blond boy wishes for various animal body parts. He has creative uses for each, but each of them gets him in trouble in some way or another. What he has against Big Bill Brown I don’t know, though it seems he might bully the protagonist–certainly the protagonist imagines that Bill would do so if the protagonist were to possess a long tail.  Still the vindictiveness of the protagonist’s references to Bill were somewhat unsettling to me, even if I can understand a bullied individual’s fixation, born of fear and constant threat, with his bully. The protagonist learns a lesson about being disliked and dehumanized for looking different. As a Which-What-Who with all the different animal parts on his body, he thinks that the townspeople would turn against him, be so scared that they’d call the policemen, who would catch him in a net and bring him to the zoo, where he’d be forced to eat hay in a cage. It’s a lesson too in self-love. The boy ultimately decides that since each new feature, each change that he could make to his body brings him grief in some fashion or another, the best thing to be is himself, just the way that he is already.

I was excited to read this one at this year’s celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, because I remembered really enjoying it as a child, but I have to admit that it fell a bit flat as an adult, maybe because I failed to pick up as a child on the darkness of humanity that these characters display.

***

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.

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2017

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It’s Pride Month, and I’m feeling prideful. I wrote this post ages ago and stuck it in a drawer because, frankly, I am still embarrassed for myself and for the industry by how few books including LGBTQIA+ characters I had read in 2017, but those books still deserve recognition. So:

This year I want to start something new: Already I’ve started the list on Goodreads, but I want to highlight here too the books that either include characters from the LGBTQIA+ community or which offer support to the LGBTQIA+ community (because some are more explicit than others).

I read 237 books in 2017. Of those I’m counting only 10 that include characters who are explicitly or implicitly part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Those are pretty abysmal numbers (.04%), but I’m aware of the lack now, and I’m openly seeking and celebrating books that I find that include more diverse gender identities or sexual orientations because representation matters.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sima’s book is not explicitly about gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s about a unicorn born under the sea with a diving helmet who thinks that he is a narwhal, though he never entirely fit in. He meets unicorns later in life and realizes that he is actually a unicorn. When he returns to his narwhal friends, he takes “a deep breath” and tells his friends “the news: It turns out… I’m not a narwhal.” “Of course you aren’t.” “I’m a unicorn.” “We all knew that.” His friends take “it quite well.” This conversation is coded like a coming-out. The book later makes possibly an argument for not having to choose to be one or another, neither land-narwhal with the unicorns or sea-unicorn with the narwhals. This might be about gender-fluidity or transgender identity or nonbinary identity. Possibly it’s an argument against the segregation of groups by identity, for diversity among friends. Whatever message the takeaway, whomever finds meaning it in, it’s an absolutely adorable story about finding yourself inside of community—and making your own community.

Quackers by Liz Wong. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2016.

Wong’s book has a pretty similar message to Sima’s. Quackers thinks that he is a duck because he’s grown up among ducks by the pond—until he meets cats, and they show him the ways of cats. Quackers decides that he is both duck and cat, sometimes doing duck things, and sometimes doing cat things.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. 

Alex Fierro is gender-fluid. He/She becomes Magnus’ love interest, and the two share a kiss in the final book. Loki is also gender-fluid and bisexual, having children with men and women. In the third book, Alex brings to life a gender-fluid clay figure, Pottery Barn, who uses they/them/their pronouns. The einherjar in Valhalla are not entirely comfortable with Alex’s gender-fluidity, but that there is a Norse word for gender-fluidity undercuts the argument that gender-fluidity is a new phenomenon, and by book 3, floor 19 has pretty much accepted Alex.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. 

Apollo, the protagonist and POV character in this first person narrative is openly bisexual. In the second story, the heroes stay with two older, strong, well-rounded women who left the Hunters of Artemis and immortality to pursue their love for one another. They are raising an adopted daughter together. In the first, we also get to see Nico and Will together, and the camp seems quite accepting of their romance, though that Nico will pull out some creepy Underworld magic if separated from Will probably does help to keep people from complaining. 

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

The Raven Cycle, Book 2: Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2016. 

Ronan Lynch and Adam Parrish are in love, and by the final book, the two are comfortable enough to come together openly, sharing a kiss at a party. I think they may already be in love with another when we meet them, though their growth as individuals certainly deepens their attraction to one another. Joseph Kavinsky, who lusts after Ronan Lynch (I wouldn’t call it love), helps Ronan come to terms with his own sexuality.

Adult (Ages 20+)

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White. Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

This historical fiction is in part the story of Bobby Banks, a pastor’s son from Georgia, whose father turns him out when he discovers Bobby in bed with another boy. Bobby grows up in exile from his family, living with his gentler grandmother. He later escapes Georgia and moves to New York City. His time in New York coincides with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and Bobby loses his partner to the disease. His friends lose partners and friends to the disease.

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know. I’m hoping the list of books that I read in 2018 that include LGBTQIA+ characters grows far longer than this.

Book Reviews: April 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Nature’s Gifts, a Selfish Pig, and Geeky Vocab

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, sample illustration, and reviews. Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and sample illustration.Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey.  Scholastic, 2017.  First published 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Pig the Star by Aaron Blabey.  Scholastic, 2018.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

I didn’t much enjoy the first of the Pig books. Though in it, the pug, Pig, is admittedly a greedy dog and his literal downfall is the consequence of his own actions, he perhaps does not deserve to fall out a window. These next two books in the series follow much the same pattern of bad behavior on Pig’s part leading to a dire consequence and injury of Pig’s own making. These rhyming stories are formulaic in text as well as content: Each injury of Pig’s is followed by “These days it’s different / I’m happy to say.” In Pig the Winner, Pig is a sore winner, bragging and rubbing his opponent’s defeat in his face (poor Trevor) no matter the contest—or whether the act is a contest at all. He is always the best. In a one-side eating contest, Pig swallows his bowl, but is saved from choking by Trevor, only to have the bowl ricochet and knock Pig into the (garbage) bin. This story makes it clear that this injury is not enough to completely rid Pig of his need to win. In Pig the Star, Pig hogs the attention when he and Trevor go to a fancy photo shoot. The costumes that Blabey illustrates are by far the best part of this book. In this, shoving Trevor, leads Trevor to bump a precarious rocket ship that falls on top of Pig. The kids at my story time didn’t seem to much mind either the horrific accidents or the formulaic composition of these stories. 

***     ***

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

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell.  Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

I am late to this Caldecott party. I had not read Wolf in the Snow before now to even have it in the running for the medal. The story is mostly pictures. A little girl who in her red coat against the white snow reminds me in style a bit of the protagonist of Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day is lost outside in a snowstorm and finds a wolf pup, also lost. Together they find the wolf pup’s family and then the wolves help the girl find her family. Stylistically, this isn’t really my thing (too sketchy) but it conveys a lot with just a little, and is deeply emotional despite lacking much text, so I can concede that the Caldecott is a well-deserved award.

****

100words

100 First Words of Little Geeks.  Familius Corporate, 2018

There’s very little organization of these 100 words (maybe a nod to an attempt to group some words together but nothing more). There is no plot. But these are fun words to teach your little ones, and its inclusion of some words dear to me for fandom reasons made me smile. Is your fandom here? Several of mine are. I am reminded of the small children (it’s been more than one) who identify any and all owls at the store as “Hedgwig.” Too adorable.

***

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

Moon by Alison Oliver.  Clarion-Houghton Mifflin, 2018.

Over-scheduled, Moon wonders what freedom, what wildness would be like. She tries to find the answers in the only way that she has been taught—books, but books fail her. A shooting star lures her outdoors to the garden where a white wolf waits. Moon asks the wolf to teach her its “wolfy ways.” It brings her back to the pack. Moon having learnt the wolf’s wildness, its love of nature, brings play and wildness and freedom back to the classroom with her. The colors are dark with careful, gentle details. I’ve enjoyed Oliver’s illustrations in the BabyLit series for a long time. The juxtaposition of the domesticated, tortoiseshell house cat and the wild white wolf (a canine) is an interesting one. I expected this story to leave more of an impression than it has done. I like the art very much. I like the moral very much. But I have a difficult time recalling it emotionally several weeks on.

***

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

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  HarperCollins, 2014.  First published 1964.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m not sure that I had ever actually read this story, though I knew enough about it, that nothing about it was a surprise. The illustration style is familiar to me from Silverstein’s books of poetry, which I did read several times in childhood. The content was neither funny nor ridiculous however. There’s a lot to unpack in this small story. A boy grows into a man, being given everything he needs by an accommodating, female tree, who allows herself to be maimed to provide for the boy’s needs, but is happy to do so. In the end, the tree has nothing left to give and regrets this, but the old man needs very little, just a place to sit, and this her stump provides. It’s a very melancholy story. What exactly Silverstein was trying to say with this story, I’m not sure. Is it a metaphor for motherhood? Is it a warning against greedy, unsustainable deforestation and “progress”?  Both?  One has to be reminded of the Lorax who warns against cutting down all the Truffula trees, speaking for the trees when the trees cannot. The tree’s love for the boy seems unhealthy. I come at this story not as a virgin to it, not with innocent ears but having already heard whisper of the analysis that has been done on it. I know that skews my opinion of it some.

****

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The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas and illustrated by Nicola Slater. Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This I feel like this is a much more healthy relationship with a tree than is that between the tree and the boy in The Giving Tree. A girl’s grandfather hangs a swing for her in the tree’s branches, and the tree becomes a site for community gathering—both for humans and for animals.  When the tree is deemed “unsafe,” the community comes together to save what they can of the tree, giving it new life as the platform for a treehouse.  This story was a little long, but my kids made it through.  This tree is not anthropomorphized in the same way as the tree in The Giving Tree, but becomes special through the love that the community has for it.

****

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Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup.  Penguin Random, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Teckentrup’s peek-through books are more nonfiction than fiction. This one takes us lyrically through the seasons of a tree, with animals brushing in and out of its pages, the leaves and the forest around it changing color. The poetry gives a little life to the text, but there’s not much in the way of a story. The recurrence of creatures from previous pages on the next adds another layer of play to a book that is already creatively laid out to give it a unique, eye-catching gimmick in a row of picture book covers.

****

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

Book Reviews: January 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Love and Immigration and Fancy Nancy

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

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

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

***

Stories of Immigration

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

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

***

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

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

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

****

Stories of Love

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

**

Fancy Nancy

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

***

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

People of Color in the Books I Read in 2017: Part 1: Picture Books

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I read 68 books that included people of color this year, which sounds impressive compared to last year’s 44, but that is only 27% of the total books that I read this year. However, of those 68, 34 had a person of color as a protagonist—a full HALF, 14% more than last year! But again, those 34 are only 14% of all of the books that I read this year.

Did those numbers go up from last year? Yes, yes they did, but not by enough, never by enough. The percentage of books that I read with any mention of people of color increased by only 1%, but the percentage of books with people of color as protagonists rose by a full 9%.

This year’s books are listed roughly in descending order of their average rating on Goodreads.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle, 2015. An African American man, a trash collector, based on a real man from New Orleans, is depicted as heroic for his unbreakable spirit and his infectious enthusiasm.

Hello Lamb by Jane Cabrera. Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Protagonist may be a stretch, but only one human baby is represented, and she is represented with darker skin. She shares the stage with animals.

The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. HarperCollins, 1997. Every character in this tale is Chinese.

Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel. Candlewick, 2017. The whole cast of this sweet tale about independence and making decisions and compromise are of African descent.

Round by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. The characters appear to be of Asian descent.

Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody by Chris Ferrie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017. A young, female scientist of African descent closes up her lab while harried to publish by a grumpy, old, white man.

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan. HarperCollins, 2017. The illustrations draw heavily on Indian tradition and the story seems to be set in India.

Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017. An African American girl, Lennox, competes with a white boy, Jonah, for dominion over a playground populated by a diverse collection of children. Augustine, a white girl with red hair, emerges as their rival after the dust of their dispute has settled.

If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2017. Magnolia appears Asian, probably Chinese. The story time crowd at the library is diverse, but the librarian is male and white.

A New Friend for Sparkle by Amy Young. Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2017. Lucy, a young, African American girl learns to share her new friend, a white boy, Cole, with her pet unicorn.

A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhané Wallis and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Simon & Schuster, 2017. This is a story written by and about Wallis. She and her family are all African American.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. When humans are depicted, the crowd is wonderfully diverse, people of many different backgrounds represented, including women in hijabs, African Americans, a Native American woman, Asian Americans, and Latinx Americans, but this is a celebration of America more than anything else, America is the protagonist.  Kadir Nelson is an amazing realist painter.

Baby’s Big World: Music by Rob Delgaudio and illustrated by Hilli Kushnir. BoriBoricha, 2017.  In this exploration of music for toddlers, the cast is diverse, and an African American girl is featured on the cover.

Do Not Take Your Dragon to Dinner by Julie Gassman and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017. Diverse children, including a young hijabi, lament and then school their dragon friends in table manners, though ultimately the story resolves mostly around a white family. 

Skin Again by bell hooks and illustrated by Chris aschka. Jump at the Sun-Hyperion-Disney, 2004.  This picture book celebrates self-love and love for others and encourages looking beyond outward appearance.

When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Dial-Penguin Random, 2012. Dads from a four families are celebrated.  One family appears African American.  Another may be Chinese.  And maybe Latinx?

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. A community comes together to create a playground.  White, African American, and Asian American community members seem to be represented.

How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Different families struggle to correctly school the dinosaurs in their family in choosing and caring for a pet.  One dino mom seems to be African American… but hers is the dinosaur absconding with a tiger from the zoo.  The mothers at the end with the well-behaved dinos are both white, and I’m not best pleased about that.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Scholastic, 2017. An African American boy begins the book by wondering why he is himself and not someone else, the refrain quickly echoed by a white girl. The city is wonderfully diversely populated by people of many backgrounds, including hijabis, African Americans in more than one shade of brown, Asian Americans, several biracial couples–there even seems to be the silhouette of a woman in a burka and her son in a long tunic, but no one really emerges as a protagonist, per se.

Begin Smart: What Does Baby Say by Sterling Publishing, 2016.  This is a first words primer featuring different babies in the illustrations.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2016. The school is the protagonist, but his first and best friend is an African American man, a janitor in the school.  The school children are diverse: African Americans (in the kindergarten class, Chloe and Max), Asian Americans (Bella), Latinx Americans (one of the Aidens), perhaps even the teach is a Latina?  The school is named after Frederick Douglass.

Curious George: Dinosaur Tracks by CGTV based on characters by H. A. Rey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Curious George’s African American friend, Bill, a teenage or elementary school boy, is both the cause of the mystery and the one to answer George’s questions.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Beauty and the Beast adapted by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Meg Park. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. The beast when he becomes a prince is darker-skinned than is Beauty, of African or Spanish origin?

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Puffin-Penguin Random, 1977. First published 1936. Ferdinand the bull is the protagonist, but every human character is Spanish. This is perhaps not the best portrayal of Spanish culture; while bull-fighting is in fact a part of Spanish culture, it is a violent sport, and there is no discussion of the human characters regretting the violence, only fearing the supposed violence of the bulls.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2014. The secondary character is a young, white girl, but the other children playing with other imaginary characters and the cityfolk are diverse.

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano and illustrated by Susan Banta. Barnes & Noble, 2009. First published 2001. This may a story about appreciating one’s differences, but the story is about pumpkins, the farmer is white, but his patrons are diverse.

Trains Don’t Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. This is a story about trains, really without any protagonist even, more about factual trains, the types of trains and their functions, but the travelers and those the trains pass are diverse, mostly African American or white.

White protagonists with diverse background characters

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. Abrams, 2013. 

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. Abrams, 2007.

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. First published 1977.

Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2017. 

How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2017.

It’s interesting—and sad—to note that in all these diversely populated classrooms, not one of the teachers is a person of color.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2005. Nancy’s family visits a restaurant where an African American family are also eating.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016. One of the pirates at least is darker skinned than the others and than the protagonists.

Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko and illustrated by Dan Santat. G. P. Putnam & Son’s-Penguin Random, 2017. One of the soccer players is darker skinned than the protagonists or other children.

 

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Reviews: November & December 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Gift-Giving

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

River Rose and the Magical Lullaby by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Laura Hughes. HarperCollins, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

River Rose is so excited to be going to the zoo the next day. Her mother tucks her in and sings her a lullaby. That night, magic balloons show up outside her bedroom window and transport her to the zoo, where she has a party with the animals, none of whom are confined to their compounds. I like that at some point in the night she asks her friend, Joplin the dog, what he wants to do. At the end of the night, when the polar bears tell her that they need sleep, she snuggles up with the bears and sings the lullaby that her mother sang to her to the bears. She ends up back in her bed, glad for her adventure, but glad too to be home.  Was it a dream?  Was it real?  Does she go again to the zoo the next day and is she disappointed when she sees the reality of the zoo in the daylight?  The book doesn’t say.

***

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

Everything Is Mama by Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

Like with Fallon’s first book, there’s not a lot here. In this, presumably mostly maternal animals try to teach their children new words, only to have them reply “mama,” with a reversal at the end with the trite ending “but you are everything to mama” (expect to fit the rhyme, the sentiment is phrased more awkwardly than that). I think very little of it, but I caught a mother reading it to a young child at the store, and the child giggled at every page, so there is an audience for this, and maybe neither my story time toddlers nor I are not it. My audience lately has comprised of children 4 and older.

**

Lessons in Sharing

Click to visit Goodreads for summary and reviews.

Clifford Shares by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2012.

There’s not much to this little board book either, just a few pages and a few sentences in total, but Clifford is a familiar friend. Clifford shares his water. He shares a bench. And then everyone shares with Clifford at a picnic. There’s just not much here to rate. There’s nothing remarkable about this book, really, good or bad. There’s a vague idea of reciprocity: Clifford shares so others share with Clifford, but the book’s real draw is Clifford.

***

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

The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2009.

This was a long story time book, but one of my regulars showed up early, and I promised to read one book—whatever book she picked out. The prose in this book is prettier, more descriptive, the story more fleshed out with detail than what I usually read for story time, which was a nice change.

But this is a problematic book, relying too heavily on whitewashed history and doing little if anything to correct or clarify the narrative.  Papa trades some furniture for a turkey from Farmer Ben—a living turkey. Ben’s named the turkey Squanto after “a Native Bear who helped the Pilgrims plant their corn when they settled in their new home.” I mean, I guess, Ben. Sister Bear doesn’t like the idea of meeting her Thanksgiving dinner while he’s alive. She wants to keep Squanto as a pet. She visits him at the farm as the weather grows colder. To distract Sister from the idea of eating Squanto, Mama Bear proposes a costumed show of the legend of Thanksgiving. “We’ll need feathers for the Native Bears’ headdresses.” No you won’t, Mama Bear. Honey Bear represents Squanto the Native Bear with a full headdress of turkey feathers and speaking broken English: “Me, Squanto!” her only line. Admittedly, Honey Bear is not portrayed as speaking good English, and I suppose the cast is limited to the preexisting characters, but…. “He speaks English! What a miracle!” Miracle it is not, Cousin Fred, though maybe there is some miracle in Squanto finding his way back to his own land if not his own village after all his trials. The whole legend of Thanksgiving as told in this story is the whitewashed imagining that we hear “in school over and over again every November” (or we did when I was in public school; I hope today’s tellings are a little more nuanced, a little more accurate) with no discussion of the horrors visited on Native Americans by the European invaders.

That doesn’t even begin in on the problems of reminding children that our Thanksgiving feast features a once-living bird, and that it might be possible to persuade their parents to skip the bird and to keep the bird as a pet instead because Squanto the Turkey survives, is given a new pen in the Bears’ backyard. Parents should be prepared to answer questions that Sister Bear’s feeling for Squanto might stir.

It’s difficult to avoid religion when discussing the First Thanksgiving, and this book does not, the Bears’ prayer even included in the text.

**

Click to visit Goodreads for reviews.

Plush by Louise Myers. Tiny Tales-Whitman, 1949.

A friend bought me this pocket-sized paperback because the pony Plush looks a quite a bit like my own pony. The animals of the farm (all anthropomorphized, though Plush less so than the others) take a pony cart, pulled by Plush, to the Fair to sell their goods and spend the money that they make. There’s an element of an animal sounds primer in the text, with the pony’s hooves clippety-clopping, the hen cackling, the duck quacking, the lamb baaing, and the pig oinking. The friends all buy gifts for Plush with their money. It’s a sweet story of gift-giving, expressing thanks, and retail.

****

Christmas and Wintertime

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

River Rose and the Magical Christmas by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Lucy Fleming. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Of the two River Rose books, this one my audience unanimously liked better. Now admittedly, we read this story December 16, just 9 days from Christmas morning, so I’m sure that timing and the already swelling excitement for the holiday tinged their reactions to the story. I’m going to be recommending the other more frequently because it is far less seasonal and far more universal. Not every child is excited for Christmas (not all of them celebrating the holiday), but I think that most children are excited to visit a zoo—particularly a zoo without enclosures and with no supervision but a polar bear mama as is the one in the first River Rose book. In this River Rose sneaks down the stairs to hand-deliver her letter to Santa, but she’s missed him. Instead the magical balloons from the previous book are waiting in her living room. She and Joplin take the balloons to the North Pole where they are greeted by the elves and Mrs. Claus, who plies River Rose with a wealth of sweets, the book becoming a numbers primer. She is near sleep when Santa returns. Santa makes one last trip to bring River Rose home, and she hand-delivers her letter to him—which is not a list of requested gifts, but a simple thank you, which touches Santa. This new illustrator does a good job continuing in the tradition of the previous. I didn’t notice the difference, and don’t think I’d have noted it expect that I write these reviews and am always sure to credit the illustrator too. Fleming’s palette is maybe a little more muted and her lines a little crisper than Hughes’.

***

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

Outside by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Deirde Gill illustrated Trains Don’t Sleep, which I read and loved in October. I went exploring to see what else she had done, and found this story, written and illustrated by Gill. A bored boy leaves the house and explores the snowy outside. His brother won’t join him outside, so he makes himself a friend—an enormous snowman, who comes to life to help him build a castle. And what do castles attract? Dragons of course! This one is thankfully friendly. His brother finally does come out to play, after the boy’s adventure in the snow is done, and together they make one last snowman. Because the brother stays inside staring at screens, he misses his younger brother’s adventures. There’s as much a lesson about leaving screens to play outside as there is a lesson about the wonders of the imagination and the outdoors and free play. These illustrations are everything I hoped for. The colors, the landscapes, the characters are amazing! There’s not a great deal of text, most pages comprising of only a sentence or two. Some have only a sentence fragment, and some have no words at all.

****

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

A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1.

The friends from Too Many Carrots are back, this time with Turtle as the protagonist. I feel this turtle on a personal level. He doesn’t like winter. He just wants to hibernate through it. But his friends are having fun in the snow and being noisy nearby no matter where he makes his nest and despite his sign. Eventually he accidentally stumbles into some winter fun of his own, not realizing his newest napping spot is a sled primed at the top of the hill. He enjoys racing downhill, and in the end joins his friends on the iced-over pond where his sled stops, skating and drinking hot cocoa and generally enjoying the winter with his friends.

****

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

Santa’s Magic Key by Eric James. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

I don’t think that I ever truly believed in Santa Claus, but I did grow up in a house without a chimney, and I wasn’t unaware of the myths surrounding the man. I think I questioned less how Santa would get into our house when we had no fireplace and more how we would communicate in J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world without a fireplace to connect to the Floo Network. How Santa did all that he was supposed to do were more for me questions of filling in gaps in the story than worries about whether or not I would receive any gifts.

The tagline for this book suggests starting a new family tradition—which makes it sound as though Eric James is hoping to appeal to the same audience as participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. As far as new holiday traditions go, I’d be far more willing to go along with James’. A) It requires action only one night out the year. B) It does not require me to suggest that an inanimate doll is 1) animate, 2) always watching and judging my child’s behavior and 3) reporting that behavior to a boss who will reward or punish a child based on that behavior. James’ story is less preparation for a police state and more assurance that your house can be visited by Santa despite your house lacking an element seemingly present in every Santa myth.

James’ book is long, but better written, and his illustrations are beautiful, hazily but realistically rendered full-page spreads rather than the cartoonish characters lacking much setting that accompany the Elf on the Shelf.

Despite all this, James is not likely to create the empire that Aebersold, Bell, and Steinwart have because he doesn’t self-publish and he didn’t create a character who can be dressed in different outfits, have pets, and have accessories, and whose pets can have accessories.

***

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

Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius and illustrated by Olga T. Mosqueda. Disney, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

Frozen’s Olaf becomes the protagonist of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, and Julius rewrites Moore’s text for Olaf. Familiar lines of Moore’s are echoed in the new text. Anna and Elsa make guest appearances, Olaf mistakes the “eight tiny reindeer” for “eight little Svens,” and at first he thinks that Santa might be Kristoff. There’s a lot more humor in this new version, the language is more modern and simpler than Moore’s (“His boots were all black and his pants were all red. But where was the rest of him? Where was his head?”). Olaf, a simple snowman not familiar with Christmas traditions, makes a delightful new narrator for this twist on the classic tale. The illustrations are bright with nods to the film in the style and in the details, but plenty of familiar, traditional Christmas details in them to almost erase the fact that this is a Disney product. There’s tradition, there’s extra sweetness, there’s the familiarity of Disney characters.

*****

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

Book Reviews: September 2017 Picture Book Roundup

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

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. Scholastic, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I sort of already reviewed this book when I was reviewing bell hook’s Skin Again because I read within a month of each other these two books about diversity and seeing beyond outer appearance and skin color. Oops. Alko and Qualls’ use of primary characters and a grounding location (a city) in the illustrations help to make less abstract the ideas that Britt is portraying. It gave the book another focus—the characters and their questions—rather than the focus being solely on the reader and the reader’s perceptions. By posing questions that I think all of us—as adults, yes, but also as children—have wondered, the story has a universality that draws a reader to it—or it did so for me. Universality is certainly some of the lesson of Britt, Alko, and Quall’s book.

***

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

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Marla Frazee’s illustrations are definitely the true champion of this book by Hillary Clinton. The text of the book is simple—what is needed (a vision, teamwork, the proper tools, kindness, sharing, play, and rest) to create a community—but the illustrations make this the story of a community coming together to build a playground because of the vision and dream of a child or three.

***

Click to visit the series' page for links to order, summary, preview, and activity kit.

Pete the Cat and the New Guy by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperCollins, 2014.

A new kid moves into the neighborhood. Pete immediately notices that he and Gus the Platypus are not alike, but immediately accepts that being different is “cool,” which is wonderfully refreshing. Gus can’t do the things that Pete and his friends do. It makes Gus sad, but Pete keeps assuring him that there’s something everyone can do. Finally, they all bond over music.

***

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, sample pages, and interview.

Animal Homes ZXA: An Out of Order Alphabet Book by Barbara Gibbon. Mascot, 2017.

There’s so much to this book. This animal and alphabet primer groups the animals by their habitat, very basically defined in the text and illustrated, rather than alphabetizing them and highlights some more unusual animals rather than sticking only to the tried examples. By rearranging the letters, the book and the alphabet are less predictable, and those learning the alphabet can rely less on memorization of the sounds and have to put together more assuredly the shape of the letter and the sound it represents. Including unique animals (zebu, quokka) in the text helps to eliminate the same memorization technique. The illustrations include both lower and uppercase examples of the letters and beautiful animal portraits to associate with each letter. The endpapers are illustrated to show the animals and the letters that they represent reorganized alphabetically so as not to lose that element of instruction, which adds an element of familiarity and closure to the book.

*****

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Princesses Wear Pants by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. Abrams, 2017.

Told in rhyme, this princess Penny is known for her gowns and tiaras, but she prefers pants when she exercises, when she gardens, when she flies her plane, when she judges the science fair, and when she relaxes. A conservative lady, Lady Busyboots, is sure to be at the ball though, and Penny doesn’t want to be subject to her wagging finger. She decides she doesn’t want to go if she can’t wear pants, so she hides her swim trunks beneath her gown. When Penny’s cat, Miss Fussy, falls into the moat, Prince Phillip can’t save her because his suit will get wet; he’s not properly dressed. But Penny pulls off her dress, beneath which she’s wearing her swimming trunks, and hops into the moat to save the cat, winning the admiration of her subjects for her bravery and also Lady Busyboots’ approval of pants as a practical garment. Some of the text is a little heavy-handed in its message of female empowerment through fashion choices, but on the whole I approve. I liked that Penny’s royal duties extended to flying in the air force, judging science fairs, and helping to feed the hungry—duties that really are part of today’s expectations for royalty but which are rarely acknowledged in children’s books. It helped make this princess story feel more modern. The illustrations are bright and playful with many pineapples worked into the details. I’m giving it only four stars though because there were places where consistency seemed to be an issue. In the beginning, Penny doesn’t mind dresses, but she minds them when she should wear one to the ball? And she wanted to wear pants to the ball not swimming trunks.

****

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7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Ross MacDonald. Hyperion-Disney, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is one of those times when I have to argue with the publisher’s listed intended audience. My toddlers didn’t get it. The audience member who laughed with me was nearer 7 if not older than that. This book is filled with wordplay and math puns, and most of that seemed to sail right over the heads of my toddlers. 7 Ate 9 is a noir detective story, where Private I, a garish pink letter I in a striped tie and a fedora, has to solve the mystery of 9’s disappearance when 6 comes into his office screaming that 7 ate 9. No numbers were actually eaten in the making of this picture book.

***

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The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak. Dial-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this and how much my kids enjoyed this because I always enjoy and often judge a book by its pictures. Like Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Book! (one of my favorites), this book explains and then relies on the reader reading everything that the book says—no matter what. So where Gerald and Piggie laugh hysterically at the reader being forced to say “banana,” this book makes the reader say things like “My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt” and “The kid I’m reading this book to is the best kid ever in the history of the entire world” and sing and read a whole page of ridiculous nonsense words. Asides—complaints about what’s coming, comments on the ridiculousness of what’s been said—are included in the text, and while the are fun to read aloud, in places—especially toward the beginning I feel—they are a bit too intrusive. And I want to read the book again, but I’ve just been made to say please don’t ever make me read this book again. Overall though, this was a lot of laughs.

****

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Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. HarperCollins, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Nancy likes fancy things and using fancy words, but her family doesn’t understand. She puts an ad on the fridge for fancy lessons, and the whole family obliges and comes. They dress up in a wealth of fancy accessories and decide to go for a fancy dinner. It’s all going very well till Nancy, carrying a tray of ice cream sundaes, trips and drops the tray, splattering the whole restaurant in ice cream and whipped topping. Nancy’s feeling upset.  They go home, get cleaned up, and have ice cream in their pajamas. She thanks her parents for being fancy, and they all exchange “I love you”s, which can be said no fancier or better way. Nancy’s parents are A+: showing up when they’re requested, showering her with love, appreciating and encouraging her interests. There’s some fancy vocabulary to give this book more of an educational feel. This is all around a good book.

*****

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After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This whole of the book is narrated by Humpty in the past tense as though he is telling you the story while sitting in front of you.  Humpty loves sitting up high on the wall. He likes to be up near the birds. But he fell off that wall.  The kings’ men put him back together again—physically—but they can’t heal the emotional scars he carries from his accident. He’s scared of heights now, and he can’t enjoy the things that he used to. It affects everything, even his sleeping and eating habits. He settles at first for watching the birds from the ground, then creates a paper airplane, crafted to look like a bird, so that some part of him is with the birds.   But accidents always happen, and his plane lands atop the wall from which he once fell.  Instead of walking away this time, he climbs the wall to retrieve his plane.  Having conquered his fears, he cracks apart, and becomes a fully-fledged bird, finally able to fly with the birds that he loves—finally one of the birds that he loves. That first reading, there was something off-putting about the end for both me and for one of the parents who was there when I was reading it.  It seemed less off-putting a second time for me, maybe because I knew it was coming.  I’m not sure how much of the recovery from trauma my toddler audience understood.  The illustrations are amazing—as Santat’s always are—saturated with clever use of space and color with impressive attention to detail.  It’s the sense of off-ness I got the first time–and that was expressed by another at the reading–that prevents this from getting five stars.

****

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Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2009. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob rhyme all the time. Or Ed, Ned, and Ted do. Bob does not. Ed, Ned, and Ted take turns rhyming with one another, but Bob is too distracted by the end that’s coming towards them and doesn’t rhyme. Neither Ed, Ned, nor Ted realize that Bob is trying to warn them and is not playing their game, so they correct him, chastise him for his warnings not rhyming. This is a good lesson on paying attention to your friends, on listening, and on rhyming. The illustrations are simple, really just four fluffy monsters each a different color but surprisingly expressive and a few simple lines on a few pages for setting.

****

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A Pirate’s Life by Salina Yoon. Price Stern Sloan-Penguin Random, 2007.

This is a super-cute lift-the-flap book about pirates with a surprising number of facts and tidbits of history. Pete prepares you—the reader—for your first voyage, making sure you’ve packed all the necessities, including sunscreen, fresh underwear, cured meat and fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s a list provided and a challenge to find everything on the list on the page. The second double-page spread tours the ship and establishes some pirate rules. The third spread is rhyming instructions to find the treasure and a map. Then, the treasure found, it’s time to party with another scavenger hunt. The last page declares you unanimously the new captain. There are stickers and a captain’s hat for you in your new quarters on the last page spread.

****

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

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

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Old Friends

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

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

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

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

**** 

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

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

***

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

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

***

New Friends

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

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

****

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

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

***

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

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

****

Real Life Celebrities

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

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

***

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

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

****

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

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

*****

Loving and Respecting Others and Yourself

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

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

****

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

****

Zombies, Frights, and Pumpkins

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

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

***

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

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

****

Click to visit Barnes & Noble's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.

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

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

****

Trains

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

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

*****

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