Tag Archives: Pigeon

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

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

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

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

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

***1/2

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

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

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

****

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Book Reviews: June Picture Book Roundup

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This June I read a lot of picture and board books and little else.  I seem to have a harder time reviewing in depth such books, but I don’t want to utterly ignore them either, so I’ve opted for a monthly roundup of such books, each with its own brief review, starting now.  I want to mention that the idea owes some to Rick Riordan, who posts monthly brief reviews of books that he’s read.

BabyLit: Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I built this book up too much in my mind and didn’t realize it was a number primer/counting book.  This book counts 1 English village, 2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters… up to 10 thousand pounds a year!  Round about the middle—maybe it was by 6—the numbered objects became more nonsensical—horses and soldiers—unless there were actually only that many horses and soldiers mentioned in the books (which I find unlikely), then it’s rather brilliant.  I expected Pride & Prejudice to be more like the Les Petits Fairytales, the illustrations for which I find more appealing, softer, more childish, and more complete.  Some counting books are masked in a plot, but this one, while it might use a plot as its basis, cannot claim to tell the story coherently through its pages.  I have a difficult time with stories without a plot—even when I know that plot is not the point.

*1/2

Les Petits Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillain, 2013.

I’ve been reading a lot of books in this series because they are quick and I can read them while I walk them back to their assigned shelf.  I have read Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel besides.  These are board books, meant to be the earliest introductions to the fairy tales.  These are the fairy tales reduced to their simplest ideas, nouns attached to illustrations, simple and complete illustrations, not like those that are attached to Eric Carle’s Favorite Words books. Belle et al.’s books seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it.  They cannot really be read aloud—or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud.  These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Are You a Cow? by Sandra Boynton.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

A simple story in which the characters of Boyton’s books ask the reader if he or she is a cow, a dog, a duck, a frog, etc.  It ends with the affirmation, “You are YOU,” sure to get a giggle out of most young children, whom I’m sure will take it as a responsive, interactive book, sure to mean a little more to readers who return to it as more aware children, teens, or adults.

****

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  Candlewick, 2011.

The illustrations say so much that the words do not.  The bear searches for his hat, asks a number of creatures whom he meets about his hat, always politely, always thanking them for their denial.  Young readers might spot the hat in the pages, might guess before the bear that the wearer’s fierce denial should be taken as an affirmative.  The bear gets the last laugh, squashing the thief and winning back his hat.  It’s a much darker book than I expected.

****

What Makes a Rainbow: A Magic Ribbon Book by Betty Ann Schwartz and illustrated by Dona Turner.  Piggy Toes, 2003.  First published 2000.

Magic ribbon is right!  If I at 23 am marveling over it, I can only imagine the wonder in the face of a child of the appropriate age.  This is meant for the very young, a concept book to teach colors, and given a loose plot to string the colors together—and what better way to string the colors together than in a rainbow?  The little rabbit asks his mother “what makes a rainbow?” and she sends him across the forest to query his friends, each of whom responds with a color needed to make up a rainbow that also happens to be their primary color. The pages are bright.  The text is nothing stellar but neither is it entirely forgettable.  With the turn of each page, the appropriate color is added via a ribbon to the rainbow growing at the top of the pages over the gutter.

***

Bluebird by Bob Staake.  Schwartz & Wade, 2013.

This is a powerful book.  I was left staring at it in my hands after I was done.  Bluebird is a wordless picture with lessons in moving past grief after a loss and death, anti-bullying, and true friendship and love.  A young boy befriends a bluebird that follows him on his way home from school through the city, even into a dark and twisted forest where they meet several bullies who throw sticks at the boy and bird.  One stick catches the bird and kills it in the air.  The bullies and the boy are appalled.  The bullies run away and the boy is left to mourn his dead friend.  Then they are descended upon by a flock of brightly colored birds that lift boy and bird into the sky where the bluebird undergoes some kind of resurrection and flies away.  I’m not entirely sure what Staake meant the ending to mean.  While the resurrection of the bird and the soaring boy give hope to children dealing with loss, I’m not sure that the ending doesn’t also give unrealistic expectations—of birds, of death, maybe even of friends, though I count myself extremely fortunate in my friends.  Yet, I cannot say that the nebulous and potentially overreaching ending much diminishes the power of the book.

****1/2

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.  Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2013.

Willems’ retells Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck, itself arguably of the Red Riding Hood tale type.  I wish I’d realized before or while reading it that that was the premise of this book.  The tale stirred distant memories, but I thought it an old Aesop’s tale maybe.  Retelling Potter is better.  Jemima was foolish and had to be rescued.  Willems’ heroine can save herself.  Not only that, she can manipulate the situation from the beginning.  Women and tricksters win!  Illustrated to remind audiences (mostly the parents who will understand the reference while the kids, I’m almost sure, will not) of silent films, this tells a common story, a fox and a mother goose meet by chance the fox invites the duck back to his home for supper.  The audience of the film within the book—a flock of young goslings whom I assumed from the get-go were the geese’s children—yell at the screen that what the characters are doing is not a good idea, really, really not a good idea, don’t do it!  In a twist both in the age-old story and my imagination and understanding, the duck throws the fox as the last ingredient into his own stew, and the chicks, it is revealed, were warning him not her of the danger.  I enjoyed the surprise, I enjoyed the twist, I enjoy it all more that I realize its inspiration.

****

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion, 2005.

This book starts out simply enough, listing a few basic modes of transportation: a bus, a train, an airplane, objects that seem to catch the interest of many young boys.  Following these is a twist.  “A hot dog?  What is that doing here?”  The duckling explains that a hot dog can go too—right down into his stomach.  It works as a board book, meant to have a simplistic “plot” and a few pages, but I don’t think it would work as a hardcover, where I expect a little more.  This is a book for the very young—and the parents tired of reading books that are solely lists and in need of a good laugh; call it a variation on a theme.

****

An Elephant and Piggie Book: A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

Elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie are back, and a big guy has taken Piggie’s ball.  Elephant Gerald is big too.  He’s going to get the ball back for Piggie.  But the big guy is very, very BIG, and he says it’s his ball.  Gerald returns empty-handed, but he’s soon followed by the big guy, but like many other side characters in The Elephant and Piggie books, he seeks to share Gerald and Piggie’s friendship, and whale ball is invented.  Elephant and Piggie stories are often heartwarming and always funny.  Best friends like Elephant and Piggie are hard to find—in real life or fiction.

****

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

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2011.

Elephant Gerald feels excluded because he’s not a pig and feels he can’t celebrate with his friend.  Gerald’s sadness makes Piggie sad too, but Happy Pig Day isn’t just for pigs.  This book shows kids how exclusion feels and reminds them to include everyone—a common theme in The Elephant and Piggie books.

***

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: The Pigeon Finds a Fan!

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Mo Willems, one of my favorite authors, has written a series of seven picture books thus far featuring the Pigeon and occasionally guest starring the Duckling.  I have read five of those seven and cherish every one for the Pigeon’s very realistically childlike voice—albeit that the Pigeon’s is frequently a very sulky or a very angry child’s voice—and the equally realistic youngest sibling craftiness of the Duckling, who always seems to get what he wants from the Pigeon and the world in general.

In the majority of these books—those in which the Duckling is absent—the Pigeon directly speaks to the reader.  In those that feature the Duckling, the Pigeon interacts primarily with the Duckling, though the Pigeon will turn aside to comment to the reader, “Can you believe this guy?”

Both the lifelike voices and the Pigeon’s outlandish desires and stories make the stories scintillate with humor.

The illustrations are cartoonish.  The characters are boldly outlined—if I had to guess, using the side of a pencil’s lead—and speak mostly in speech bubbles.  The Pigeon’s anger is expressed by a dark pall that hangs over his head, and grows larger the angrier he becomes.  The color palette is soft, which actually tends to contradict rather than compliment the Pigeon’s excitement but would be soothing to a child at bedtime.

The books tend to follow a simple storyline.  The Pigeon wants something—to do something, to have something.  He tells the reader why he wishes this.  He complains about how unfair it is that he cannot or does not have it or is not allowed to do it.

[SPOILERS] In The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, the Duckling comes to inquire all about the taste of a hot dog, which he claims to never have tasted before.  He takes notes.  The Pigeon sees through his ploy to acquire the hot dog, but eventually caves to the Duckling’s request to split the hot dog in half.  There might be a lesson here about sharing.

In The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, the Duckling offers his cookie, after the Pigeon’s railing and ranting, to the Pigeon, then asks for the kind of cookie that he prefers.

In The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! the Pigeon tells the reader about his newest desire, only to be confronted by the reality of a puppy and decide he doesn’t want one after all.  He ends by desiring a more outlandish creature.

In Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! the reader is asked to put the Pigeon to bed by an adult who wanders away in the first few pages.  The Pigeon lists all the reasons he should be allowed to stay up, but ultimately falls asleep before the adult returns.

In Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! much the same happens, although this time the bus driver who forbade the Pigeon from driving the bus and asked for the reader’s help in enforcing the rule returns and drives away before the Pigeon can get on the bus.  A semi then drives past. [END SPOILERS]

Are these books particularly educational?  Perhaps not, but they are fun, and I think that they are books that children—and perhaps even more so adults—will enjoy for their lifelike voices.

Overall, I give the series

****

Willems, Mo.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  New York: Hyperion, 2003.

Willems, Mo.  The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!  New York: Hyperion, 2004.

Willems, Mo.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!  New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Willems, Mo.  The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!  New York: Hyperion, 2008.

Willems, Mo.  The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?  New York: Hyperion, 2012.

 Also in this series:

Willems, Mo.  The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too!  New York: Hyperion, 2005.

Willems, Mo.  The Pigeon Loves Things That Go!  New York: Hyperion, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Mo Willems or Hyperion Books for Children.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.