Tag Archives: picture book

Book Reviews: October 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Monsters, Monster Trucks, Female Icons, and Daniel Tiger

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

Elbow Grease vs. Motozilla by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first Elbow Grease, though I’m not sure that I could put my finger on why if you asked me to do; perhaps it just isn’t living up to my expectation now that I have a more favorable expectation for Cena’s books. In the first, Elbow Grease learned the worth of his personality and how to use his skills, and his brothers learned to respect Elbow Grease. Now Elbow Grease is craving some of the adulation that his brothers receive. He decides that they need to defeat the biggest, baddest new truck in the monster truck world, and he devises a plan for he and his brothers with the help of a contraption made by their female mechanic Mel to work together to take down the monster. I don’t know. The plot and the lessons both fell more flat in this one for me, though the length was better, shorter. I really do think that this is just a case of my expectations being too inflated from the success of the previous book.

***

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

No More Monsters Under Your Bed! by Jordan Chouteau and illustrated by Anat Even Or. JIMMY Patterson-Little, Brown-Hatchette, 2019.

This book relied too heavily on its gimmick—a patch that according to the tale turns you invisible to monsters—in much the same way that Santa’s Magic Key was an explanation of why a person was giving you a key or The Elf on the Shelf is an explanation of why someone wants to give you a creepy elf plush. It begins by introducing a boy who is scared of monsters and then describing all the different types of monsters that scare him. His parents give him a patch which when pressed turns him invisible to monsters, which erases his fear. Becoming bored without anyone to scare, the monsters move on, and the boy passes on his patch to another friend, who passes it to another, and so on, until it reaches the reader, I suppose, who gets the patch by buying the book. This isn’t really teaching a reason to not fear so much as it is preaching a belief in a token.  It is though I suppose a lesson in sharing tools that have helped you.

**

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

Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did I think like this one just a bit better than the first of Eva Chen’s books. Chen has changed the rules of her magical closet. Now, Juno does not become the women whose clothing she obtains but rather interacts with famous historical women, who gift her clothing and advice on her quest to capture her brother who has trespassed in the magical closet—and it isn’t until I am writing this now that I have to wonder about the implications of a boy intruding on a woman’s private space, a space held open for interactions with other women. Does his interaction with the space change the space and how? Certainly now the conversations that Juno has with the other women have become conversations about her brother, how Juno can catch up to her brother. It does pass the Bechdel test, though the conversations with named women are either about catching Finn or about Juno’s clothes. In her wanders through the closet, Juno gains not only the means to apprehend her brother but a unique outfit for school photo day, which earns her the title “Most Likely to Be Herself and No One Else,” a little ironic since she is quite literally borrowing the fashions of the others.  Her class is a diverse group that includes children of many hues, a child in a wheelchair, and a child wearing what appears to be a patka, a head covering for Sikh boys.  Her teacher, Miss Dahlia, is a black woman, a thing that is more rare in a picture book than you would expect and than it ought to be.  I read an ARC.  The book is out now.

**

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

Peek-a-Flap: Boo by Rosa Von Federer and illustrated by Gaby Zermeño. Cottage Door, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2+.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little board book which has suggestions for celebrating the Halloween holiday, labels to make it a primer, and facts about the holiday—a few of which even I did not know. I still love how sturdy these Cottage Door Press board books seem. Most other flaps are cardstock, but these are the layered cardboard that make up board book covers and pages. The illustrations are bright.  This is a Halloween book that is more about how humans celebrate with costumes and candy than centering any of the monsters.

****

Daniel Tiger

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

Big Enough to Help adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1, Ages 3-6.

Daniel isn’t big enough to do everything, but there are many things that he can do, and there are some things that he has to do be small to do, like play in his new playhouse. “Everyone is big enough to do something” is the refrain of this book.  Reading this aloud, I avoided the ending catchphrase, which is unfamiliar to me, and any singing (on all three of these).

***

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

Daniel’s First Fireworks adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel helps his little sister overcome her fear of the fireflies, which she has never seen, by holding her hand and showing no fear himself. She holds his hand as does his dad as the fireworks start, and they are louder than Daniel thought that they would be.  This is a sweet story about encountering new things and helping others experience new things that might be frightening.

***

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

Daniel Chooses to Be Kind adapted by Rachel Kalban and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel asks King Friday what it is like to be king, and Friday declares him king for the day. He gives Daniel a list of things that he needs to bring to the castle at the end of the day. It’s never quite clear what King Friday intended to do with these items. After acquiring them, Daniel gives them all away in the course of the day to cheer up or help his friends. He never acquires replacements for the items that he gives away, which seemed a little odd honestly.  Though Daniel visits shops, he doesn’t seem to pay.  There’s seems to be some economy run on trade of services.  I really don’t remember much of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood anymore, and I have never seen Daniel’s Tiger’s Neighborhood.

***

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 2018

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I’m realizing now in October that I never posted about the books with LGBTQIA+ representation that I read in 2018. I posted about the books that I read in 2017 during 2018’s Pride Month, but during 2019’s Pride Month I was laid up with a sprained ankle, sad that I was missing the month’s events, and I suppose in that pain-induced haze I missed my opportunity to participate by posting a celebration of LGBTQIA+ representation in literature.

But, surprise! It turns out that there is an Ace Awareness Week (October 20-26, 2019), and I am beginning writing this post on Ace Awareness Week’s first day! (Unfortunately there are no openly ace characters in this list from 2018. Ace characters are particularly difficult to find, though I have now found several and read about one: Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; you will hear more about her in future posts.)

I read far fewer books with LGBTQIA+ characters in 2018 than I would have guessed: 8 books out of a total of 163. I don’t even know if I want to do the math to find out that dismal percentage (.05% if I round up to the nearest hundredth decimal place… which actually is higher than the percentage from 2017). I have no excuses but can report having read 15 such books as of October 20 in 2019. Here’s to hoping again that next year’s percentage is higher.

We need more LGBTQIA+ representation in books for all ages, and we are getting it, but sometimes the turning of the tide feels awfully slow.

But without further dismal ado, let’s see what books I discovered in 2018:

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

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis.  Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2018.

A prince does not connect on a romantic level with any of the princesses that he meets, but when he and a knight join together to battle a dragon, there is an immediate spark. The two marry and the kingdom and the royal family rejoice. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2014.

In the previous book in the series, one character is forced to out himself as gay before another and before Cupid. In this book he becomes a hero to both demigod camps, outs himself to his former crush, and develops another crush on a boy who likes him back. He accepts his homosexual identity in ways that he had not in the previous books.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Riordan doesn’t shy away from Apollo’s bisexuality in this novel, bringing up again that one of the loves of Apollo’s many centuries was Hyacinthus. Apollo is both the protagonist and the POV character for this series.

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim.  Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

Danny’s love for Colton is forbidden not just because the two of them are boys. These two are the series’ OTP, but there is at least one other gay or bisexual character who kisses Danny.

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.

In these books, two of the protagonists fall for one another, two protagonists who happen to both be boys. One of the boys is bisexual, earlier dating a third protagonist in the series.

Adult (Ages 20+)

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

This was shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, the writer having credits in late night comedy show script writing. Santa is helped by his loving husband in his stressful business. The gooey eyes that these two make at one another are adorable.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller.  Chronicle, 2018.

This was published by the crew of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in response to the first of a series of picture books released by Charlotte Pence and her mother Karen Pence, the family of Vice President Mike Pence, who has pushed anti-LGBTQ laws in his home state of Indiana. The first book of the Pences’ uses the Pences’ rabbit, Marlon Bundo, to explore the White House and the president’s role. In this parody, Marlon Bundo meets the bunny of his dreams, a boy rabbit. Their love is cheered by their friends, but a Stink Bug that looks a bit like Mike Pence himself shouts that they can’t be married. Their friends suggest that differences should be celebrated. The friends vote the Stink Bug not in charge, and the bunnies are married by a cat who brings her wife to the ceremony. This too is shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, but I know it ended up in several middle school classrooms. “Stink Bugs are temporary, but love is forever.”

And I’m realizing too that I never actually wrote a review for this book.  So, we’ll count this as a review space for it too.  This was a good book for what it was, a pointed jab at the Vice President and his anti-LGBTQ policies and a reminder of the power of democracy.  Was it a great book when compared to other picture books?  Not really.  The story is a bit too heavy-handed to be enjoyable apart from its political message.  But I like that this book exists.  It’s a flare of hope in a dark world and its publication was a petty, successful attempt to overtake the sales of Charlotte and Karen Pence’s book with profits benefiting The Trevor Project and AIDS United, though it was well-received by the two Pences, which was almost a flare of hope in itself.  Almost.  The publication of this book probably boosted sales of the Pences’ book too, and the proceeds for their book went too to charities, Tracy’s Kids and The A21 Campaign, so really, everyone won when this book was published.  The two bunnies and their friends are wonderfully cute, Marlon in his bow tie and Wesley in his glasses, the badger with his shirt cuffs.

***

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

Book Reviews: September 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Good Books

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

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jamie Kim. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text and the illustrations in this picture book are both beautiful! This sentiment is beautiful! A little girl, frustrated by repeated questions that imply that she and her family are not from “here,” asks her abuelo’s advice on how to answer them. Her abuelo gives her a beautifully lyrical answer: She is from each of the strong and brave ancestors before her, she is from the beautiful land that they came from, and she is from the love of her family, “my love,” her abuelo says, “and the love of all those before us.” I assume that the girl like the author is Argentine American, but there is no specific reference to the country. There is mention of the Pampas, but the lowlands stretch across several countries in South America. This is a book about feeling proud of one’s heritage and provides a comfort and an answer to the too often asked question. I don’t share Méndez’s heritage, but I was still stirred by Méndez’s words and sentiment and Kim’s illustrations. I think I would be even if I had never met the first generation of my family to immigrate to this country. I think this book will stir something in everyone. I do think, though, that more than the text, I will remember the sentiment and the illustrations.

*****

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

How I Met My Monster by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Flashlight, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is the third in a series of books but the first one that I have read thoroughly enough to write a review for this blog. The illustrations in this are so wonderfully saturated and detailed and fun. This book reminds me somewhat of Monsters, Inc with its concept of monsters learning the rules for haunting a child at night. These monsters don’t seek the child’s terror, though. Instead their goal is to keep the child in bed until they are asleep, an aid not a trial for parents. A class of small monsters and their teacher emerge from beneath a boy’s bed and try to frighten him into bed, but the boy doesn’t find them particularly scary, mostly funny, though one, Gabe, is kind of awesome and just a little scary with his long claws, gurgling stomach, and feigned penchant for human toes. The boy enjoys being just a little scared though. The book ends with Gabe proclaiming that this seems like “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and an illustration of Gabe curled up beneath the boy’s bed, looking like an overlarge canine or feline. This was just the right length for my group of three littles at story time. Anything longer would have been too much. They enjoyed counting the eyes under the bed and shouting out the colors of the monsters. They wanted the monsters names sooner than the story supplied them though.

****

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

A Busy Creature’s Day Eating! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Here’s an unusual alphabet book, which begins with breakfast food and, the creature running out of food, devolves into eating all sort of unusual things like Furniture, Gravy, a Hoagie, Ice cream, and a Jacket. And then at O, the creature begins to feel sick from its unusual diet and runs to the Potty. It is cared for, given basic foods to calm its stomach, Vomits anyway, is kissed by its guardian (XO-XO-XO), and sleeps away the ache: Zonked. The story is completely gender-neutral, which is a nice change, with no actual indication that the guardian is a biological parent. I liked that this included unusual words beside those more typically used in alphabet primers. I liked that this has a storyline. So many alphabet books are list books without a story. I have read clever alphabet primers before: Animal Homes ZXA: an Out of Order Alphabet Book, Animalphabet, and even A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book and Arctic Bears Chase. This is still perhaps the only one that really tells a story, though, a story that makes sense (Arctic Bears tries to build a story from one sentence, but it is a fairly nonsensical story). For what this is, this is a very good, a very unique book. I am surprised that no one that I know of has done this before, but no one that I know has done it. Willems does it with characters’ exaggerated expressions and humor in the text.

*****

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: August 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Month of Inspirational Reads

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Out of work for almost the entirety of June and July, I didn’t read any picture books during those two months to review, so we’re leaping from May to August.

Be Kind

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

We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I have yet to read Palacio’s Wonder, so I can’t speak to how similar or dissimilar this picture book is to the novel. This picture book left me a bit unimpressed. It introduces us to an unnamed character depicted as having one eye and his dog, Daisy. He narrates from the first person, saying that he does things that other kids do but doesn’t look like other kids. I am pleased to see that the other kids are depicted in a range of colors and gender presentations including one wearing a hijab. When his and Daisy’s feelings are hurt by the mean things said by other kids, he puts space helmets on them both and imagines them traversing the galaxy and visiting Pluto where there is a race of one-eyed aliens. The narrator hopes that people will change the way that they see, since he can’t change the way that he looks, and that they will come to see him and themselves as wonders. This book offers one coping mechanism for kids who are bullied—imagining themselves away and the world different—and may help kids who are bullied to feel understood.

***

Be Loud, Be Proud, Be You

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample, reviews, teacher's resources, and activities.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There has recently been a wealth of picture books about particularly the worth of girls and the worth of girls of color. This one’s text does not particularly stand out among that crowd. It’s not a story so much as a series of affirmations, well intentioned and sweet but forgettable. I listened to a woman reading the book on YouTube, and it definitely rings better if read like a poem. But I would have to turn the pages so quickly to read it as she did that I feel I wouldn’t be appreciating enough the illustrations, which I find far more memorable than the text. The illustrations feature very realistically rendered girls of all colors and shapes, and include a girl in a wheelchair playing with a jump rope and a girl in a hijab. From the cover a young black girl with natural hair stares directly out at the world with a fairly neutral expression, wearing only a hint of a smile, and hers is certainly a memorable and eye-catching face amid the shelves. The characters mostly float in a white environment, the horizons and a few trees and pieces of playground and gym equipment sketched in with chalky lines.

***

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

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, trailer, reviews, and activity.Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse and Paris Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Dear Boy, by Paris and Jason Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

These are written in the form of letters and advice on how to interact with oneself and with the larger world in more healthy and affirming ways. Hatam’s characters are simple, most without noses or any shading to the faces, but the settings when she decides to include them are detailed, including some mixed media art. The format and even some of the text is echoed between books. Occasionally these books take a moment to combat toxic masculinity. Reading aloud, I skipped some of the greetings, the “Dear Girl”s and “Dear Boy”s. The final lines of each read “Dear Boy/Girl whom I love,” but I did not find this as awkward to read to strangers in a story time environment as I do, say, Nancy Tillman’s books about parental love. These are a good length. I like the books’ suggestion to “whenever you need an encouraging boost, […] turn to any page in this book.”

***     ***

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

Isabella: Artist Extraordinaire by Jennifer Fosberry and illustrated by Mike Litwin. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018.

This is a book for artists and art-lovers more even I think than it is for kids. The text is full of allusions to and puns related to famous art pieces like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans framed in a narrative about her family deciding what to do with a day off. All of the puns are marked in a different font style. In the end, Isabella proposes that they use the house as a museum to her artwork. This must have been a very fun book for Litwin to illustrate, incorporating Isabella and her family into famous pieces done in famous styles. The original art pieces are included with their attributions in the back. I don’t like that the characters are referred to as “the father,” “the mother,” and “the little girl”; that reads very awkwardly to me, but that is a very small critique. The educational value and the fun illustrations bump this story up a star. It’s a good classroom addition.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and other titles in the series.

Elle the Entrepreneur by Andrea B. Newman. Petite, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades 1-3.

I found this story heartwarming. Elle makes centerpieces for the family dinner table with flowers that she picks from the garden during the summertime. Her dad suggests making centerpieces for the neighbors, and with her parents’ help, Elle makes flyers and sets prices. She traverses the neighborhood with her flyers and is rebuffed at the first few houses but at the third house meets her first client. Her success leads to a dream of one day owning and decorating elegant restaurants. Her family is wonderfully supportive. Elle is very sweet towards her brother, deciding early on that she will save her earnings to buy him a new baseball for his birthday, and gently deflecting him when he wants to play and asking him to color with her instead. She’s the sort of businesswoman that I as a 30-year-old woman experimenting myself with business ideas can look up to. I don’t know that I would have found this a particularly exciting or engaging read though as a child—unless perhaps an adult had paired it with a business-like endeavor that I had initiated, a lemonade stand or yard sale or some such. I would remind writers that ending a story with “the end” is often awkward.

****

Search Your Feelings

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

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Lang. Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

There are a lot of good lessons here: the physical manifestations of grumpiness and of happiness as Jim Panzee tries to mask his grumpiness so that his friends will stop calling him grumpy and stop trying to cheer him but also the vital lesson that sometimes grumpiness has no definite cause, sometimes it must be felt, but it will pass like the sting from a boo-boo. Jim Panzee’s friends’ prodding questions about his well-being just make him grumpier because he can’t answer them. They suggest things that make them happy, but Jim doesn’t want to do any of those things. I am reminded reading this story of a favorite that I have not seen for a while: Grumpy Pants. Grumpy Pants had a similar lesson about grumpiness not always having a reasonable cause and not always having an easy cure. I like that Grumpy Monkey proposes so many things to try to alleviate grumpiness even if none of them help Jim Panzee. The suggestions made by Jim’s friends are certainly more socially acceptable than the one used by the penguin in Grumpy Pants (at least to try in a public setting) and also more fun to act out during a story time. The bright red cover of grumpy monkey while certainly making it stand out among other books actually is too red and too glaring for me, inciting feelings of anger and danger, but the inside is hardly red at all and far more palatable to me; don’t let the cover turn you away.

****

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

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas. Sterling, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This monster’s friend helps him sort out his confused feelings. She lays out jars for the monster’s feelings, and helps him identify each feeling. Each is a different color: happiness is yellow, blue is sadness, red is anger, black is fear, and green is calm. And there’s one more: an unnamed, pink feeling that surrounds the monster with hearts. There is a flat version of this book, but because the pop-up was available to me, I read that. One of the last pages in this pop up, allows the reader to put the sorted feeling into the bottles, a white bottle-shape covering and uncovering the colorful feelings with pull-tabs. I was reminded of Inside Out reading this book, with its emotions depicted as colors: yellow Joy, blue Sadness, red Anger, purple Fear, and green Disgust. The book was I think originally published in Spanish in 2012. This English pop-up version was published the same year that the film was released, 2015. The pop-ups were the great draw of this book. They are fairly delicate pop-ups, not suited for toddlers without adult supervision. My little at story time did well with I and his father there. We let him play with the tabs and run his fingertips along the blue, taut twine used for rain, the twine used to hang the hammock in the calm illustration.

**** 

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Book Reviews: April 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Empowered Children and Specialized Vocabulary

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

Woke Baby by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This young black baby is ready to raise a fist like a little panther. Using activist phrases and historical references, this little one wakes ready to take on a world without a glass ceiling to shatter, with no one to tell this baby no. The text is poetic, beautiful even, and clever, empowering, loving, describing the child’s fists, toes, eyes, voice, dance all as acts of self-expression and tools to change the world for the better.  The text addresses the child in second person:  “Here are your hands.”   The illustrations are of the child waking, wailing for a parent, being heard, and being lifted from the crib, playing, and resting. The intended audience is certainly young children, toddlers, but I would love to wake up to this myself.

*****

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

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach. Scholastic, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I didn’t love this story as much as I had hoped to do, and I’m struggling a little to determine why. The premise is simple enough: an impatient caterpillar who doesn’t realize at the beginning of the book that becoming a butterfly is even possible for it is impatient to be a butterfly now. It doesn’t like having to wait in its chrysalis to become a butterfly. I know the caterpillar’s impatience and its ignorance, its constant questioning are supposed to mimic a child’s behavior, and certainly it gives Burach the time to include some facts about the caterpillar’s/butterfly’s transformation process (terminology and the length of time that the transformation takes), but I found it irritating, and more so I found the other caterpillars’ (or whatever one calls a caterpillar halfway through a transformation) responses to it irritating too. They are irritated, sometimes yelling, so I felt irritated reading their responses aloud, reading in tone. Told in dialogue and soliloquy, I feel like this is the type of book better acted out and probably better with two actors. The impatient caterpillar finally overcomes its impatience through meditation and deep breathing exercises and emerges as a “changed” butterfly, ready to be patient, though the final page hints that its transformation may not have been so complete as that.

***

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

100 First Words for Little Artists by Kyle Kershner. Familius, 2019.

Familius has been publishing this series in which each book in the series offers 100 words of a particular specialized vocabulary. I read 100 First Words for Little Geeks in 2018, which took its words from various sci-fi and fantasy fandoms of literature and film. This 100 First Words is all about the world of art, the tools (including coffee) that an artist uses to create in a wealth of mediums. Some of these are words that I, a 30-year-old woman who took art classes through high school, never learned. As a series, this is a neat concept. There are words and phrases in these primers that you will never find elsewhere. But I think that the market for these may be narrow. It’s definitely a fun book for young artists that are becoming parents.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and letters from from the author and Julia Bascom.

Family Forever: A Julia Storybook by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by MaryBeth Nelson. Sesame Workshop, 2019.

This book, exclusively printed for Barnes & Noble but otherwise available digitally, is a gem of an education tool! Julia, one of the newer Muppets to join the Sesame Street cast, has autism. Never is autism or Julia seen by any of the characters in this book as an inconvenience. She and her family (mother, father, and brother) go for a picnic. While at the park, she and her brother leave the picnic blanket to play with Elmo and Abby. Julia’s big brother Samuel is excellent at making sure that Julia is included and her strengths acknowledged. He suggests a game. He asks Julia to be the leader first. Julia is upset when she realizes that sometime during the play, she has lost her stuffed friend, Fluffster. Her family and friends help to locate the toy. Sometimes Julia expresses herself in different ways, but her ways are not seen as lesser. She uses a talker sometimes to help her communicate when she can’t find the right words.  Elmo at one point even uses Julia’s talker when Julia doesn’t need it to express herself.  She flaps her hands when she is excited sometimes, and she rocks when she is upset.  The story itself—of a missing toy lost and recovered—has a good, full arc and is relatable I think to most children (and adults), but it means all the more when it offers a too rare example of a child with autism in a picture book, handled with compassion and love and empathy.

*****

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

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Candlewick, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Julián and his abuela see a few women on the subway dressed for (research tells me) the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Julián loves mermaids, the idea of swimming in sea with the fish. On the subway, Julián is reading a book, probably about mermaids. Julián tells his grandmother that he is a mermaid too. His abuela goes to take a bath, and while she does, Julián dresses himself as a mermaid with fern fronds and flowers in his hair and curtains as a tail. When upon seeing what he has done, his abuela walks away without a word, Julián becomes momentarily uncertain of himself and of his outfit, until she gives him beads to complete his outfit, and takes him to the parade. Julián is awed by the mermaids, which his abuela comments are “like you.”  Together they join the parade. This won the Stonewall Award in 2018, an award given to books that best represent the GLBT experience. I use the he/him pronouns for Julián because even in her loving acceptance of Julián, his abuela continues to use “mijo” when referring to Julián, which I have most often heard translated to son, but Love carefully uses no pronouns in the book, so I am not 100% which pronouns Julián prefers. Julián uses the term “mermaid” for himself, but I take mermaid as more gender neutral than necessarily feminine, though at no time does anyone “correct” Julián and tell him that he is a merman. Men are not discouraged from participating in Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade as far as I can tell. Without the Stonewall Award sticker though, I’m not sure that I would have read this as a representation of the GLBT experience; its messaging to me was that subtle. I love the casual usage of Spanish in this book. The Spanish words are not italicized or marked any differently than the English. I love the body diversity and positivity in this book. There are curvy, older women in bathing suits. There are young girls in bathing suits. There are older men wearing shorts with thin legs and knobby knees. Most of the women are bare-armed, wearing spaghetti straps or strapless tops or dresses or towels. Almost all of the characters are people of color. I just love Julián’s abuela. She is so wonderfully accepting and supportive. If the A stood for Ally, I would give her an A+. She gets an A+ anyway, just not that A. The text does not describe many of the actions of the book, allowing the illustrations to speak for themselves. The text is primarily dialogue. Only reading this through a third time am I noticing the echoed pattern of the scales of the fish and his abuela’s dress as each offers Julián a necklace.

*****

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

Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight by Rachael MacFarlane and illustrated by Spencer Laudiero. Imprint-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader’s copy of this picture book about feeling and expressing what you feel without thought to convention or societal expectation. Even the adults do not conform to expectations, Harrison’s mother taking him to football games while he and his father pick wildflowers together. Harrison dances when he wants to because it makes him feel strong. He cries when he is sad or when he is moved or hurt. He implores others to explore and express themselves with confidence as he does. The text is admittedly maybe a little heavy-handed in its message, but until we start living these truths, maybe we need a little heavy-handedness.

***

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: March 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Growing Up and Getting Lucky

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St. Patrick’s Day

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Pete the Cat: The Great Leprechaun Chase by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was impressed by this book; I went in expecting little.  Pete the Cat is trying to capture a leprechaun; he has started a business catching leprechauns for his classmates. Pete expected catching Clover the Leprechaun to be easy, but it is not. The leprechaun taunts Pete in limericks, which is a fun gimmick and fun to read aloud.

I was surprised by how many kids thought that we could actually catch a leprechaun, that I might have leprechauns running about the store, awaiting their traps. I was glad that in this book, the point is made that leprechauns can only be caught on St. Patrick’s Day. It saved me being the one to disappoint them on the Saturday before.

That Pete catches only one leprechaun for his three different customers, that Pete takes more orders without first fulfilling previous orders is not really addressed.

Clover teaches Pete that luck doesn’t come from catching a leprechaun. Having friends, Clover says, is what makes a person lucky. So Pete lets Clover go, and he help his friends prepare for their examinations, recitals, and matches. Hard work and practice, not luck, helps the friends succeed.  They are lucky to have a friend willing to help.  This was a great message and a surprising one to find in a book about leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day.  What a hidden gem.  This will be one I will probably read every St. Patrick’s Day-themed story time from now on.

*****

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

How to Trap a Leprechaun by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Emma Randall. Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2017.

This book has only one kind of trap that it suggests setting for a leprechaun who will grant wishes and give you his gold: a cardboard box with gold-painted rocks as a lure, a rainbow slide to mark the gold, and glue on the rocks to keep the leprechaun from escaping the lure. This leprechaun, Liam, tells the kids, a diverse group, not to fret that he escaped but to go enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and to try to catch a leprechaun again next year. The text is told in rhyme, but lacks Pete’s limericks.

***

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

Ten Lucky Leprechauns by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook and illustrated by Jay B. Johnson. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2013. First published 2012. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

The book counts up as redheaded male and female leprechauns are added to this group in a forest. The text is extremely formulaic:  One, two, three, etc. leprechauns see or otherwise become aware of a [adjective] “wee elf” who performs some action illustrated on the page that rhymes with his or her assigned number. “Feedle-di-fizz, ‘tis magic, it is! It’s leprechaun number…” TWO, THREE, etc.  I found it too formulaic, and I found the nonsense words awkward, an attempt at… what?  Sounding Irish I suppose but without using a lyric recognizable from any song.  Perhaps this text would work better sung?  The nonsense was maybe too near fiddle-de-dee, used as an expression of dismissal since the late 1700s, and colored my vocalization and sense of the nonsense.

**

Growing Strong and Smart

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I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book.  Much—almost all—of this story is told in the illustrations. The text itself is affirmative, many “I will” statements. The protagonist, a young girl, a woman of color and likely Indian or perhaps Pakistani, sets off to what seems to be a first day of school. (The surnames on the mailboxes in the atrium of her apartment are Phag, Huang, Caimoi, Warren, Jain, Bers, Rao.  Rao and Jain are both of Indian origin according to Behindthename.com, and Phag is a surname most prevalent in Pakistan according to Forebears, and the illustrator is of Indian descent.) The girl imagines herself as an adventurer in a high fantasy, driving back dragons (dogs on the street) with bubbles, walking with giants (older students), and tricking the Guardian of Wisdom (the smiling librarian) into revealing her secrets while her steed is a trusty school bus. She stands up against bullies and makes friends with a rejected girl in glasses.  I also like that at the end of her day, the girl rests. The protagonist seems to live with a grandmother. Her armor is a comfortable-looking, rainbow-striped pullover.  Though a small detail, I like that the protagonist’s hair isn’t perfectly sculpted, strands escaping from the shape.

*****

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

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3+.

I loved this book so much that when I didn’t get the chance to read it for one story time I brought it out for a second weekend. A grandmother in the city brings her granddaughter a lemon tree sapling in a coffee tin as a birthday present. It’s not the high tech toy that the granddaughter wanted, and she at first tries to get rid of the tree, but ultimately, she becomes protective of the growing tree. When the tree produces its first crop, the grandmother returns and helps her granddaughter turn the lemons into lemonade and the lemonade into enough money for the high tech toy that she had originally hoped to receive for her birthday. But the tree has inspired a love of gardening that supersedes her desire for the toy, and she returns from the store with a wagon full of more plants to add to her garden and share with her neighborhood. There are so many wonderful lessons here: about hard work and perseverance and money earned, a practical recipe for lemonade, a love of gardening to engender in a new generation, especially one bound in the concrete of a skyscraper city, how to respond to unwanted gifts, the wisdom of our elders, and that sometimes something you first disliked may become beloved. The lessons and the expressive characters superseded my usual dislike for this type of text, which lists things that a universal “you” should and should not do as in books like Elise Parsley’s stories about Magnolia, the books in the How to Catch series by Adam Wallace, and the series of how-tos by Jean Reagan. Both grandmother and granddaughter are women of color.

*****

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Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

There is a great deal to love in this book too. First, this is a lift the flap book the flaps of which extend the pages in different ways, at times doubling the page’s size outward or upward or downward.  Sometimes the flaps are large and sometimes they are small.  Simply interacting with the pages was fun and exciting, but the whole book too is a guessing game.  “Who can slither better than a rabbit? A snake! Who can growl better than a snake? A tiger!”  The animals are alphabetically mentioned. There are peep-through holes in many creative shapes in the pages that hint at the following page but rarely at the hidden animal. Often the question itself hints at the upcoming animal, mentioning some act associated with that animal, as snakes are known to slither and tigers are known for their growls. For a primer, this is a very delicate book, but what a wonderfully colorful, wonderfully creative book. I think its silliness, its beauty, and its creativity will shine for older readers too. I hope that they will.

*****

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Corduroy by Don Freeman. Penguin, 2014. First published 1968. Intended audience: Ages 0-5.

Here is a true classic. Corduroy the bear has sat on the shelf of the toy store a long while waiting for a child to bring him home. When a mother concerned with the expense when refusing to buy the bear that day for her girl comments that Corduroy doesn’t even look new, that he’s lost a button, Corduroy takes a nighttime quest around the department store to find his missing button. Corduroy is endearing in his innocence of the world. He mistakes an escalator for a mountain. He mistakes the furniture department for a palace. He has never slept in a bed. He has always wanted a home. I wonder how much longer a department store will be a relatable setting for young children. Corduroy makes a ruckus trying to retrieve a button for himself from one of the mattresses. Without having attained a button, his quest a failure, the night watchman returns Corduroy to the shelf, where the next morning he is discovered by the girl from before. Lisa has counted her own money, and she has enough to bring Corduroy home. Lisa likes Corduroy as he is, but she thinks that he will be more comfortable if she replaces his button, which she does herself. She is considerate of his comfort, she knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she wants, but she respects her mother and is polite to the salesperson. She loves Corduroy through his external flaws. She is independent, purchasing Corduroy when her mother does not, and fixing his overalls herself. The two recognize one another as friends. Lisa and her mother are African American, notable and laudable especially for a book from ‘68.

*****

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

We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and illustrated by Julianna Swaney. Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2019.

To read this one out loud, I cut sentences, I cut paragraphs, I cut pages. It was just long. Honestly, it was a chapter book trying to be a picture book. It would have benefited greatly from more editing.  I suspect that Gaines was able to rely a bit on her celebrity to get the book that she wanted instead of the book that this could have been.  I don’t need to know everything that happened in and to and before this garden to read a good story, nor do I need to know all of the science behind healthy gardens to enjoy a story. The family’s father brings home one fern. That fern dies from overwatering. Another fern is acquired. A watering schedule is established. More ferns are acquired. The ferns become a dream for a larger, outdoor space and more plant variety. The garden grows. It is enjoyed. Another child is born. Animals come and destroy the garden. The garden is regrown. There were lots of facts sprinkled into the text, definitions of terms, advice for growing, explanations of the garden ecosystem. The pastel illustrations were soothing though. The lessons of perseverance through adversity were good. Everything just felt overexplained. And too much seemed to happen, too much seemed to want to be said in the span of only 40 pages. The book is told from a plural first person, the kids collectively narrating.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, video of the author reading to her daughter, and printable activity.

You Are My Happy by Hoda Kotb and illustrated by Suzie Mason. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

A family of bears (a parent and cub) reflect on the things that made them happy throughout the day as they are settling down for the day: marks of growing and friends and families that they observed and with whom they interact. I could have done without the refrain “that’s what made me happy.” The list rhymes. The story ends with “the one I’m thankful for you is you. You are my happy.” It’s sweet. It’s a nice ritual to establish with a little one, listing the things that made you happy before bed.

***

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

Little Blue Truck’s Springtime by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4+.

This lift the flap, animal primer uses the Little Blue Truck character to introduce readers to farm animals and their offspring. More and more toads (that really look more like frogs to me) gather on the truck, and I made a game of counting the toads on each page. There are nine ducklings and ten piglets to count too and a passel of bunnies. The text is very simple, very short but rhymes. The flaps tend to hide the animals.

***

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 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Puppies and Love

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

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This little, brightly colored, riotously detailed board book depicts families of various make-ups (two dads, two moms, biracial families, grandparents raising grandchildren) doing the little, everyday things that express love, mostly spending quality time together—waking up early to children’s music, baking a birthday cake, splashing in puddles, helping retrieve a lost teddy bear, knowing where to find everything, watching a play. The refrain “love is” begins each page. This is a good reminder that love doesn’t have to be grand gestures, that love does not have to come just from biological parents or even from biological relatives.

****

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

I Need a Hug by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2018. Originally published 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This porcupine wants a hug, but no one wants to risk its spines. In rhyming question and response, the porcupine asks various named animals for a hug, only for them to run away or to tell it to leave. But they all come running back towards then past the porcupine, followed by a snake who laments that “all [it] did was ask for a kiss.” The book ends with the porcupine and snake cuddling one another.

Others on Goodreads have already pointed out the somewhat problematic nature of this porcupine who responds to the animals’ refusals by lamenting to the reader that “no one will hug me. That’s not very kind.” While I fully support teaching that it is okay to admit your needs for touch (many are touch-starved in a culture that teaches that physical touch can only be romantic and never platonic) and to request consensual physical contact, it is equally as important to accept a refusal without question and without resentment. Yes, the animals could have refused the porcupine’s request more kindly, but the fact of their refusal is as necessary and important as is the porcupine’s request.

The story seems cute, seems silly, but I don’t know that Blabey thought much about the message—I almost hope that he did not.  What is the message?  Everyone needs hugs and kisses?  Even that I disagree with, though I know we are in the 1% and grossly underrepresented in fiction.  (Any other aces reading this?)

I am glad that the two animals find what they need in one another though. It’s a sweet ending.

**

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

Clifford the Firehouse Dog by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2010. Originally published 1994. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Emily Elizabeth and Clifford are visiting Clifford’s brother Nero (yes, Nero) at the firehouse, and a school group is visiting the firehouse. Nero demonstrates Stop Drop and Roll for the schoolchildren, and Clifford thinks that he can repeat the demonstration, but being so much larger, he rolls right on top of a street vendor’s cart. Clifford causes a little more trouble by clearing the streets for the fire truck when a siren calls the firemen away.  But he uses his unusual size and strength for good at the site of the fire, rescuing people from the upper floors of the building, helping to unreel the hose, and loosening the cap on the hydrant. This is an exciting and amusing way to teach the role of firefighters to children and the steps that firefighters need to take to put out a fire. In the back of the book is a list of fire safety tips.

****

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

The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue-to-Royalty Puppy Love Story by Nancy Furstinger and illustrated by Julia Bereciartu. Houghton Mifflin, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

There really are so many reasons to celebrate this marriage—and I do truly hope that it is a loving and fulfilling and lasting marriage for the two of them. I’m not immune to the excitement around this union that is shaking up the highest echelons of British monarchy. But this book focuses on the union from the point of view of Guy, the rescue beagle adopted by Meghan Mountbatten-Windsor, née Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, while she was living in the United States and is to told from Guy’s POV. Guy loves Meghan, but he isn’t fitting too well into the refined life of the family that she is planning to marry into—not with the children, not with the queen’s dogs, and certainly not with the queen. But on the wedding day, Guy catches the queen missing one of her own dogs and comforts her, earning him her acceptance at last and a spot in her limousine as they head off to the chapel to witness Meghan and Harry’s wedding. It’s a cute story about struggling to fit in, and I think its message could speak especially to kids joining new families or new social groups. Mostly though I think its appeal is in being based on a true rags-to-riches, Cinderella fairy tale, for both the duchess and her dog.

****

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

Love, Z by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Jessie Sima is becoming one of my favorites. With a rather unique color palette, this tells the story of a robot finding a damaged letter in a bottle, of which only the signature “Love, Beatrice” is legible. Z doesn’t know what love is, but Z thinks that it might be important. For the first time ever, the older robots aren’t able to answer Z’s question; love “does not compute” for them either. Thus begins Z’s quest to find Beatrice, the only creature that Z is sure can tell the robot what “love” means. Z meets a collection of fun characters, including a cat who captains a boat and a multitude of characters happy to share what love means to them, including a black woman who runs a bakery and a schoolyard full of diverse children, including one girl in a wheelchair. Just as Z is about to give up, Z and the cat stumble upon Beatrice on her island. Beatrice invites them in. Z asks her about love, but Beatrice rather than giving Z a quick answer, bakes cookies and plays and dances with Z, demonstrating love I think. When she does answer, she tells Z what love feels like to her: safe and cozy and warm. Z’s family arrives at the door, worried about Z. Z realizes that Z has known love all along. Z feels the way that Beatrice describes love when Z’s concerned family tucks the robot into Beatrice’s borrowed bed, safe and cozy and warm. Z and Z’s family just had never had a name for the feeling before. Now they all know it as love. Z writes Beatrice a letter in a bottle before taking the cat’s boat back to home; the cat stays with Beatrice. There are so many stories left untold in this text, hinted at and left to be finished by the reader. Why did Beatrice send her letter by bottle? For whom was it meant? Very likely, knowing Sima’s other works, Beatrice letter is meant for the young, darker-skinned woman illustrated with her in her memory of feeling safe. Is she by any chance the same woman in the bakery? (I don’t think that’s likely; they don’t look much alike, but it would make a good story.) Why does the one girl in the schoolyard think that lawn gnomes are love? In a picture book with few words and few illustrations, Sima has managed to create a host of intriguing characters that feel tantalizingly distinct and real, the heroes of their own stories. I get the feeling that Sima might have backstories for them all, in much the way that J. K. Rowling does for many of the most minor characters in Harry Potter (fans have made up backstories for the rest of them). I did not catch that Z is left as agender, but others on Goodreads pointed out that detail, and I’ve gone back to change my review accordingly. That makes me wonder if the name Z is not just marking Z the youngest of the robots who are named things like L, Y, and I but also a shout-out to the agender ze/zir pronoun usage (ze being pronounced usually like Z).

*****

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: February 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Living in Community

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Almost all of these books—and there are a lot of them this month—come back to the idea of community, living together with your fellow creatures, sharing resources, and showing kindness.  One exception is Another Monster at the End of This Book, where two friends argue over the course of action that they should take, one excited for the promised thrill and the other frightened of the promise.  The other exception is Hamilton’s The People Could Fly.

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

The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader copy of this book, which comes out April 2. This is a story about sharing. The Little Guys are tiny creatures like acorns with stick person legs and arms and bulbous, orange noses that travel in a pack. The pack makes them mighty. They are unstoppable through the power of teamwork, able to cross dangerous terrains and “beat up” any animal that they encounter. On their quest to find breakfast, they steal and hoard the forest’s resources—“every… thing…”. But being too greedy results in the creatures tumbling into the forest stream. The animals that they have stolen from band together to help the Little Guys. The Little Guys realize that caring about only their own pack isn’t enough, that they are not as indomitable as they had thought, as the whole pack would have been lost if not for the care of others.  They learn that they need to work with the larger forest community, made up of all of the different creatures that inhabit the area. The text itself is fairly simplistic, told in the plural first, the boasts of the Little Guys. The illustrations tell the larger story.

***

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

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Knopf-Random, 2004.

I bought this book for a graduate class in 2007, and then found out that there is a collection of folktales edited by Virginia Hamilton and bearing the same name and that that was the book we were going to need for class. (The collection was published in 1985; this story is taken from that larger work.) I kept the picture book though. This story is a retelling by Virginia Hamilton of an old tale and beautifully, movingly illustrated by the Dillons. Told in a conversational vernacular style, it’s the story of a people from Africa whose beautiful, black wings shed under the cruelty of slavery and the Atlantic crossing, but whose power of flight is unearthed again with the help of an old man in the fields who comes to the hurting people and whispers the magic words to help them remember.  He can’t help all the people fly; not all of them can fly. In the note in the back, Hamilton explains that the power was often associated with the Gullah (Angolan) people. This is a tale of magic, of reawakening.  It’s a tale of the indomitable desire for freedom.  It’s a celebration of African American resilience and strength.

*****

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

The Bad Seed by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

John Jory takes on the nature v nurture debate in this picture book. The Bad Seed had a rough life. He ended up in a bag of sunflower seeds, chewed upon by a human, and spit out, crash landing beneath the bleachers, and living for a while in these grubby surrounds. He becomes depressed, never smiling, without purpose. He breaks all the social mores and the rules. He hears the other seeds call him a “bad seed.” But he makes a decision to turn his life around. He decides that he is going to begin apologizing and saying please and thank you and holding doors, trying to be more pleasant in his interactions with others. He is going to try to change his mindset and his actions too. He’s not perfect, but he’s trying, and the other seeds are beginning to acknowledge that “he’s not so bad anymore.” It’s definitely an oversimplification of recovery from trauma and depression. It’s not that simple to turn a life around, I don’t think, and I hope no one takes it as a formula for healthy recovery. But it is nice that Jory acknowledges that the Bad Seed doesn’t need to be perfect to improve, that he is not bad if he fails, that his situation is improved by trying.

***

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The Good Egg by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book seemed to be written almost more for adults in the room—but then I was the kid who would have benefited from this lesson at a younger age too. This Good Egg does all the right things for the sake of being good, though he does not always excel at helping as when he paints the house with abstract stokes of multiple colors. But under the pressure of being good when all of his carton-mates are bad (when his carton-mates constantly misbehave) is causing the shell around his crown to crack from the pressure. He leaves his carton to find some peace, and to allow himself to heal, to escape the pressure caused by being at odds with his problematic friends, but he finds himself missing his carton-mates. He has to learn that he doesn’t always have to be good, doesn’t always have to follow every rule and all social mores, and that he doesn’t have to hold everyone to his own standard of excellence. He learns to relax a little bit, and that being good, doesn’t have to mean being perfect. He learns that breaking the rules doesn’t necessarily make you bad.  Now, there is some danger in this message too.  Not only that of caving to peer pressure, but returning to a toxic environment is not necessarily healthy even when one misses those familiar faces, and ignoring others’ toxic behaviors in order to be able to maintain one’s own peace is not always ethical or healthy.  This like the message of The Bad Seed I think needs to be taken with caution. John Jory’s text here follows the same formula that he used in The Bad Seed.

***

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Pirate Adventure by Karen King and illustrated Ben Mantle. Top That!, 2017.

I was actually truly delighted by this little tale. The pirate captain’s nephew Pete is coming aboard whether or not the crew likes it—and they don’t like it.  They see Pete as small and weak, the ship as no place for a boy. Pete does all the things that a ship’s boy is supposed to do, all the manual labor that is often glossed over in children’s picture books about pirates, which are often all about adventure and feature smiling pirates or ones who are grumpy and growly but in an endearing way to a rough-and-tumble child. When Captain Jim falls ill, Pete is put in charge of the crew and finishes the Jolly Roger’s treasure hunt. The pirates forget their dislike of Pete when they find the treasure chest. Here in the US, the book is available in Barnes & Noble’s bargain section. I did not (yet) buy the book to try to build the pop-out pirate ship.  It seems to have had multiple titles including Treasure Island and Pirate Pete’s Treasure.

*****

Sesame Street

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We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 1992.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book highlights different body parts in illustrations meant to look like a collection of instant photos. This page talks about the differences between the features in each of these photos: old noses, baby noses, round noses, big noses, small noses. The next page reveals a busy tableau of diverse characters, human and Muppet, and talks about how each of these features that appear different perform the same functions (“our noses are the same. They breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff”). Beyond that, the book confronts ableism. Some may need to wear helmets to protect their heads. Some need to take more time to form words with their mouths. Some won’t talk much. Some won’t talk at all. Some need glasses. Some are blind. One character is in a wheelchair but playing basketball with friends. It advocates asking for a break from a teacher if it’s needed.

The 90s fashion styles in these illustrations! I had to Google their names, but I recognize the old comedy sketch duo Laurel and Hardy in the illustrations. I don’t know why the pair appear in the pages of a book from the early 90s.

*****

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Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday Party by Naomi Kleinberg and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book, though a little long, was wonderful. Elmo and his mother prepare for Elmo’s birthday celebration, shopping, making cupcakes, filling the piñata, and setting up games. The text is simple, perhaps at times a little too detailed, but that also serves to spark ideas for the would-be-party-planner/reader (I got some ideas for stuffing my next piñata). Elmo and his friends enjoy the party, but Elmo’s wish when he blows out the candles takes this book to the next level. Elmo wishes to share his birthday joy with others, so they move the party to the nursing home, and continue celebrating, including the seniors there in the festivities. It’s enough to melt my cold heart. Elmo is too good for this world, and I hope young readers learn from his example; the world would be a kinder, better place. The paperback includes stickers, a crown for the birthday child, and a game to play at a party. It’s a party in a book! Just add cake and friends.

****

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Who’s Hiding? by Naomi Kleinberg. Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Play along as Elmo and other Sesame Street characters lead the reader through Sesame Street. Some of their friends are hiding, and the characters give you clues as to whom you’ll find (“His best friend is a worm.” “He’s green and grouchy.”), but to find out who is on each page, you’ll have to lift the flaps. The illustrations are photographs of the Muppets and actors on the Sesame Street set.

****

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Kindness Makes the World Go Round by Craig Manning and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018. 

Elmo’s mother gives him the gift of a camera on World Kindness Day (November 13 if anyone wants to celebrate) and a quest to go and capture examples of kindness on Sesame Street. Elmo spends the day photographing his friends performing little kindnesses, and then turns around and performs a kindness for his mother. This story is wonderfully sweet, in much the way that is Naomi Kleinberg’s Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday. This though is told in an enchanting rhyme.

*****

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Another Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. SFI Readerlink Dist, 2018. First published in 1996.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

Adding lift the flap elements to this story is an improvement on the first Monster at the End of This Book, but otherwise this book falls rather flat in comparison to the first. I would rather have The Monster at the End of This Book done in this format. In this, Grover and Elmo argue over whether or not to turn the page and come closer and closer to the promised monster at the end, and of course the monsters are just themselves as Grover was the monster in the first book.

***

Song Lyrics

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All You Need is Love by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is not the intended medium for this text. The repetition of the chorus, which itself is the word “love” repeated, just doesn’t read well. For a story time reading, I pulled out a tablet, and let YouTube provide the “reading” by finding a recording of the song by the Beatles. The book illustrates a bear who, woken by the singing of a bird, leaves his forest home, enters the city, and picking up a crowd along the way, interacts with the diverse people there, creating elaborate chalk drawings in the park. Some of the illustrations are bright and colorful certainly, but they would have just as much power I think separate from the book as overwritten with the song’s lyrics.

**

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What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and illustrated by Tim Hopgood. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

For this one, I also let Louis Armstrong via YouTube do the work of “reading.” This at least has more concrete images to illustrate. The cast is again diverse, with no real narrative this time to the illustrations beyond the text’s wonder of the world. This text at least works better as a narrative, as read aloud.

***

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

Puff the Magic Dragon by Paul Yarrow and Lenny Lipton and illustrated by Éric Puybaret. Sterling, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Peter, Paul & Mary did the “reading” for this book via a YouTube video of the song recording. I can’t remember ever having heard the full song before; I’m sure I did do in my childhood, but I doubt then that its story really sank in for me. The text itself tells of a lonely dragon who meets and befriends a boy, who as time passes, stops coming (dies the song implies, though the illustrations suggest he just became a busy adult and parent), leaving the dragon lonely again. The illustrations portray a young girl (presumably Jackie’s daughter), unmentioned in the text, coming to the dragon on the final pages, giving the story at least some hope, though she too will die and the dragon’s loneliness return. I like that Puybaret added to the story, took that extra step beyond the text.

***

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.