Tag Archives: school

Book Reviews: July 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Part 1: Finding Dory and Facing Problems

Standard

I read just a ton of picture books this July—24 to be exact—21 of those new to me or not yet reviewed on this blog. I’m not going to subject you to a blog post that is 21 reviews long; I don’t want to read that in one sitting, and probably neither do you—and frankly, I just haven’t finished reviewing all 21, even though we are now into the second week of August. So, please, peruse part 1:

Dory

26245967Three Little Words by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Grace Lee. Disney, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

What three word phrase is perhaps the most memorable of the whole of Finding Nemo? “Just keep swimming.” So of course, those are the three little words of the title. This book is a book of advice on how to approach life, including “just keep swimming,” “look both ways” at a crossroads, and “if you ever lose your way just call out to your friends.” “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do?” The illustrations in this are some of the best of book that I’ve seen come out in conjunction with the Finding Dory film. They are soft, gentle, seemingly watercolors (Kelly Knox reveals the pictures are actually made in Adobe Photoshop—wow!), and if I was unfamiliar with the films and the characters, I might suspect that this was an ordinary picture book—unaffiliated with any franchise. They look like they belong in a bedtime book. This is by far the book on the display of Finding Dory tie-ins to which I am most drawn. As a book of life advice, the text passes, but there’s really no story, so I’m going to mostly gloss over that—other than to say that I might try to get it back in as an alternate to Oh, the Places You’ll Go! next graduation season as I think its message is similar. This book went over far better at story time than did Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, being both shorter and less dark. Especially with the younger graduates (those moving up from preschool to elementary or elementary to middle school) I think it will find more resonance and love than does Seuss.

***

97807364351169780736435062Finding Dory Little Golden Book by the Walt Disney Company. Disney-Random, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Finding Dory Big Golden Book by the Walt Disney Company. Disney-Random, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

These two Golden Books are retellings of the plot of the film Finding Dory. The Little Golden Book as its name suggests is a shorter, smaller book, with less detail. Otherwise the two books are very similar. I was prepared to read the shorter of the books for story time, but the Big Golden Book actually held the attention too of my audience, which ranged in ages from I would guess five up. (Now, they were all there for a Dory-themed party, so they were, it must be said, prepared for the story—and in many cases, already knew the story.  I was interrupted by many comments about their favorite characters and the details that they remembered that were not covered in the book.)

***                             ***

Big World Problems

MarvelousCornelius_JKT_FnCrx-page-0Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner and illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Based on a story that he heard about a New Orleans street sweeper and on his later research into the man—which included correspondence with his mother—Phil Bildner attributes a folk hero quality to this recently departed man. Cornelius—the person and the character—wowed New Orleans citizens with his performances—tricks and dances accompanying his work as a garbage man. In the story, when Hurricane Katrina floods the city, it leaves behind piles of garbage as tall as church steeples, and Cornelius is at first overwhelmed but—to ironically borrow the British motto—he kept calm and carried on. He did his job, and others pitched in because he had brought them joy in the past and because they too loved their city. Even people from far away came to help Cornelius clean up New Orleans. Cornelius’ spirit lives on in New Orleans. I appreciate the glorification of this person: a working class African American man with a hoop earring and a job that is often seen as the lowest of low class. We need more books with heroes like this. Please. This month Phil Bildner was honored for this book with one of the first ever Margaret Wise Brown Prizes in Children’s Literature, a prize recognizing the best text in a children’s book published the previous year chosen from nominations by children’s book publishers.

****

worldthatjackThe World That Jack Built by Ruth Brown. Dutton-Penguin, 1991. First published 1990.

Conveying an activist message like that of Seuss’ The Lorax, this book follows a beautifully illustrated black cat and a blue butterfly who wander from the house that Jack built to the next valley over where a rainbow-colored stream cuts through a dead meadow and flows past the place where the trees used to grow by the factory that Jack built. Jack is the villain here, living in beauty while creating horror and environmental terror. The text reverses itself, building from the house out to the valley then from the valley to the factory. There is repetition, but enough to seem lyrical more than annoying; there’s a camp song quality to the style for me because it reminds me of the bird in the egg in the nest on the branch on the tree with the roots in the hole and the hole in the ground and the green grass that grows all around. This story does a lot in and with just a little—and the illustrations are just stunning. The message—conveyed almost completely through the illustrations—is more simplified even than it is in The Lorax though, and it’s not as simple an issue as this book would make it seem, I don’t think. From the story itself, the evidence seems clear: factories bad. But a well-managed factory can do a great deal of a good for a community—and even a poorly managed might do some good for the community even if its short-sighted policies cause more harm than good ultimately.

****

6402385The Enemy by Davide Cali and illustrated by Serge Bloch. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2009. First published 2007.

First of all, I did a little digging on Cali, and I have to insert just this tidbit: The Italian-born Swiss who now lives in France has written many books in many languages: Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Just… wow. He also writes under the names Taro Miyazawa and Daikon. With simple drawings with lots of white space, Cali and Bloch tell the story of two soldiers (we will call them the soldier and the enemy) in trench warfare. The soldier that is the POV character has never seen his enemy but believes that the enemy is inhuman and will butcher the soldier’s family and animals if the enemy is not killed. The soldier wants the war to end. He is tired and miserable and doesn’t like the rain, but he doesn’t believe that the war can end till the enemy is dead because the enemy is not a rational human, and he will not stop. One night the soldier sneaks into the enemy’s trench—which he finds abandoned (the enemy has slipped out disguised as a lion), but there are photographs of the enemy’s family and a manual that says that he—the POV soldier—is inhuman as he believes his enemy to be. The soldier believes that his enemy must have done as the soldier has done and that the enemy now occupies the soldier’s trench, so he stays in the enemy’s trench. At last he decides he must do something to end the war, and he writes a message to the enemy and lobs it in a bottle towards his trench. The story ends there. It does not show how the enemy—if the enemy actually is in the soldier’s trench—responds or how the soldier responds to his enemy’s silence if as I suspect the enemy is not there but has deserted the war already. This is subtitled “A Book About Peace,” but peace is never achieved within the story. This book well illustrates the mentality of war, the way that wars must be fought, how an enemy must be created in order to have war, how an enemy is too often created, dehumanized in order to “justify” a war and how much that dehumanized enemy is as much a false face as a lion skin concealing a human.

*****

Social Dramas

9780399176197Milk Goes to School by Terry Border. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Milk is confident, sure that she is special—la crème de la crème as her dad says—but her new classmates see her as spoiled. This book is full of puns—puns everywhere—in the text and in the illustrations themselves. The refrain of “spoiled” gets tired pretty quickly and for the most part it seemed to me that Milk’s behavior was wrongly classified as spoiled by a bullying Waffle—who does not waffle at all from his opinion of Milk—established because she says that her glittery backpack was given to her by her father who says that she’s “la crème de la crème.” How is that spoiled? I want to applaud Milk with her high self-esteem and detest Waffle for bullying her, but I’m not sure that my opinion is shared by Border. At the end of the book, Milk does see herself as somewhat spoilt, and she wants to change. Her classmates only change their opinion of Milk and begin to see her previous kindnesses after she has been tripped and has spilt herself and is crying. They help to put her back into her carton and treat her with more kindness, but I don’t see a genuine change from them, and tears and blood/milk shouldn’t have been necessary to curb their bullying. I liked—maybe even loved—Peanut Butter and Cupcake. I’m not sure I can like this one because I see it as portraying a negative, almost dangerous moral that I think was unintended. This is illustrated as Terry Border’s other books with photographed food with arms and legs of paperclip wire.  The kids I read this too were an observant bunch. They were the ones who pointed out that Milk wears a different hair bow in each illustration; it gave them something to look for.

**

9780375840685Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Duck has a new friend. Thistle is fast.  She’s athletic.  She’s good at math. Duck is very impressed. Goose tries to keep up, but Thistle keeps beating him in every contest that she starts. Goose doesn’t like to be made to feel like a loser. He’s tired, and he misses Duck, but Duck doesn’t seem to need him, so he slips away. Eventually, Duck misses Goose, and he goes looking for him despite Thistle’s disparagement of his friend. He finds Goose in one of their favorite spots. Goose admits to Duck that he’s tired and that Thistle makes him feel badly about himself. Duck admits that he’s getting annoyed by Thistle too. Thistle follows. The two friends trick Thistle into showing off as the world’s best napper and go off to play by themselves. That ending didn’t sit all that well with me; what the two friends do to Thistle is not very friendly nor is it at all likely to solve their problem long-term or help Thistle at all. I wanted the story to say that it is all right to have more than one friend; instead, it was sort of a lesson on how to ditch annoying show-offs. What? The beginning did some nice character set up with Goose sanding very still in order not to scare off a butterfly had landed on him and which he wanted to show Duck, but that set-up went on just a bit too long with the introduction of the bluebird and the discussion of which way was west. Reading the first pages, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, how long exactly this book was going to be and how long I could expect my audience to tolerate it.

**1/2

Liking the You in the Mirror

22318389I Don’t Want to be a Frog by Dev Petty and illustrated by Mike Boldt. Doubleday-Random, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

A frog decides he’d rather be anything but, and his father calmly explains that he can’t be anything but a frog because that’s the way the world works. It takes a wolf coming along saying that he will eat anything but frogs because they are slimy and gross to convince the frog that being a frog is not so bad. What is this picture book? This is not what I was expecting. This teaches that you should be glad that you’re slimy and gross and that you can’t be anything but what you are born and it has the darkness of a villain that comes along to threaten to kill the protagonist. The awful thing is that I pulled it off the shelf, lured by its funny title and cute cover and echoes of Mo Willems’ much better and more wholesome I’m A Frog! and didn’t remember till halfway through the book that I’d already rejected this once as a story time read. Well, I’ve read it through all the way now. I can set it aside and not pick it up again, right? Goodreads reviewers are lauding this as a book about self-acceptance, and yes, self-acceptance can be good in certain circumstances, but I don’t like the presentation here nor that self-acceptance comes about because others are more likely to be killed by a predator; that to me is just not a good message and echoes too closely on too many hot-button, personal issues.

*

9781484712399Ellie by Mike Wu. Hyperion-Disney, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Ellie’s zoo is closing, and the animals are helping the zookeeper “spruce [the zoo] up a bit” in an attempt to save their home.  Everyone seems to have something that they can do–everyone except the tiny elephant, Ellie.  But the zookeeper leaves Ellie alone for a moment with a paintbrush, and she discovers a new talent—one that the zookeeper quickly encourages, and one that saves the zoo—albeit the zoo is now a gallery for Ellie’s artworks as well as the animals’ home.  I warned the child that I had at story time that this story started sad but ended happily.  He didn’t much like it, but I did.  I know at times that I feel useless, and it’s good to be reminded that everyone has something they can do, that maybe I just haven’t yet found my talent or passion.  I had fun with the illustrations, particularly the talented Ellie recreating the “Mona Lisa.”  I like the brightness of Ellie’s artworks after the muted colors of the opening pages when the characters are sad.

***

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.

ve

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Reviews: July and August 2015 Picture Book Roundup

Standard

9781419705441_s3Library Mouse: Home Sweet Home by Daniel Kirk. First published 2013 by Abrams.

Apparently Chick-fil-A hands out glossy, magazine-like paperbacks instead of toys with its kids meals? I found a copy of this book discarded and abandoned on the floor, and couldn’t bring myself to just toss it. Library Mouse is a series, and this book is not the first in the series. It was obvious to me that Sam and Sarah’s friendship and backstories have been laid out elsewhere. Sam and Sarah are precious, opposite gendered, platonic friends, something I think lacking too often in literature today (though less often in picture books than in books for older children). The text was a little too focused on education for my tastes, Kirk slipping definitions awkwardly into the friends’ conversations. Those definitions could I think have been given less awkwardly if the wording had seemed more colloquial than textbook or if related words had not been shoved into the conversations: i.e. after using the word and Sarah questioning it, Sam providing the definition of architecture is natural; his defining architect subsequently is not. That being said, I think education was one of Kirk’s end-goals. I liked but wasn’t enamored of the illustrations, which were bright and cleverly detailed, but the characters’ expressions did not translate as well as I would like.

***

23507512If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2015. Intended audience: Grades PreK-3.

This was a story hour book, and a fairly successful one, though my audience was too young to have much experience at school, and went to a school without show-and-tell to give the book context. With something of an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie pattern, Magnolia tries to keep her alligator from getting her in trouble with the teacher, but his drawings make her laugh during class, and when he gets hungry, he takes a bite out of one child’s thankfully generous afro, and when Magnolia tries to keep his teeth occupied, the bubble gum ends up everywhere. This was a fairly memorable picture book, with humorous text and humorous illustrations. The core text stands alone fairly well from the illustrations (which is helpful for aloud readings), but there is text in the illustrations for expanded readings. It was a good book to introduce some of the rules of classroom behavior and offers some compelling reasons for those rules, making it an especially good classroom read.

****

9780385391757Busy Penguins by John Schindel and photographs by Jonathan Chester. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2000. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

I was fairly unimpressed by this board book. It consists of photographs of penguins in their natural habitat, and two word sentences describing their actions, including a very memorable picture of a penguin pooping, which I don’t think I really needed rattling around in my mind. I think there are a fair few parents who will feel the same way. It’s possible that this primer might appeal to penguin-lovers, but I sort of feel that that may be its only market. There are other books by the same author for other animals, but I’ve not read them yet nor do I know if they suffer from the similarly memorable photographs.

*

9780312645212The Crown on Your Head by Nancy Tillman. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2014. First published 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I frankly have come to expect better of Tillman. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You gave Tillman a broad canvas. Here Tillman focuses in on the forehead and suggests that there is an aura of individually which invisibly crowns every person’s head. She tries to turn the book into a call for acceptance of others’ unique quirks, personalities, and differences, and I actually think that that’s where the text went wrong for me. In a quick moment, it went from mushy parent-to-child love to almost preachy universal acceptance by all towards all. While I like the message, I feel like Tillman’s handling of it was more of a fumble. Tillman, though, handles the rhyming verse fairly well, and I like the magical realism of her details both in text and in the illustrations. Tillman’s illustration are as always absolutely, mind-boggling stunning: bright, realistic, whimsical, beautiful, the sort of thing I’d hang in a nursery in a moment (and in fact, I could do). As always Tillman is careful to include diverse races and genders in her illustrations, though here, with bright crowns on their heads, the children’s individual features were washed away even more so than is usual in Tillman’s art. The illustrations earn this book that extra half star.

***1/2

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

Book Reviews: August Picture Book Roundup

Standard

As I settle into a loving friend’s apartment in a new city, I hope you will all forgive me that this month’s picture book roundup is being posted late.

Noodle Loves the Zoo illustrated by Marion Billet.  Nosy Crow-Candlewick, 2013.

I was really enjoying this touch-and-feel book until I got to the last page where I was thrown out of the illusion by Noodle liking to roar.  Pandas do not to my knowledge roar; humans (represented that the anthropomorphized panda here) roar in imitation of other animals only, and so what had been a message of loving animals was degraded, Noodle’s love suddenly seeming a mockery—though in retrospect I recognize that this reaction of mine seems a little irrational.

***

 Birthday Monsters! by Sandra Boynton.  Workman, 1993.

This book is probably primarily meant to be a once-a-year read or an “I don’t know what to get” birthday present for a young child, but Boynton writes amusing, rhyming prose, and there is a message about selflessness if you care to look for it.  The birthday monsters show up (too) early on the young hippo’s birthday, and they seem to be bent on making his birthday a great celebration, but the birthday monsters ruin the celebration with their greed and selfishness.  They leave, but return to tidy their mess so that the young hippo’s birthday ends on a high note with his house clean and his birthday things returned to him.

***

 Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney.  Viking Juvenile-Penguin, 2013.

I very much enjoyed the original Llama Llama Red Pajamas (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads), but as important as this newest book in the series is for classrooms and indeed for all children who may encounter bullies (which is all children), I felt Dewdney’s style did not lend itself well to the subject matter, being simplistic and rhyming and fun, while the subject matter was one that is not fun at all.  Gilroy Goat disrupts the classroom and the playground by laughing at and ridiculing Llama and his friends.  His bullying escalates to playground violence.  Llama first stands up to Gilroy but when this fails to curb his behavior, Llama quickly tells his teacher, who puts Gilroy in time-out.  Gilroy returns, the teacher asks if he can be a friend, and Llama extends Gilroy one of the dolls that Gilroy had earlier ridiculed, which Gilroy accepts, playing nicely and participating in classroom activities thenceforth.  Gilroy and Llama part at the end of the day as unlikely friends.  Gilroy Goat perhaps learns his lesson a little too easily, but it is I suppose good to give young children hope that bullies can change (I believe that they can if I believe it is a harder thing for them to learn to curb such instincts than it is for Gilroy), and good to give children an example of how to go about dealing with bullies.  On a side note, Nelly Gnu is a returning character, I do believe, but I am glad to see Dewdney advocating friendship with the opposite gender.

***1/2

Good Morning, Good Night!: A Touch & Feel Bedtime Book by Teresa Imperato.  Piggy Toes, 2004.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  Each set of touch-and-feel pages shows the day of a particular baby animal, first upon rising, then, opening the flap, upon sleeping, with each animal sleeping beside a parent.  The story is told in rhyme and ends with the day of a toddler.

****

The Way I Act by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Janan Cain.  Parenting, 2010.

Barnes & Noble classifies this as a “growing-up” book.  It’s a message book rather than being plot-driven, meant to both teach and reinforce laudable qualities in a child and also to build that elusive self-esteem.  I was not overly thrilled with this book, first because I don’t necessarily like the implied opposite idea that a child is somehow worth less when they do not exhibit these listed traits, some of which are less attainable or teachable than others—or so it seems to me, though I’m no parent—and also because the language and style did not seem to quite suit the illustrations, which while colorful were not particularly memorable.

*1/2

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2010.

Elephant Gerald and Piggie decide to play catch.  A young snake asks if he too can play.  They try to include the snake, but the snake is unable to join them because he does not have arms.  The snake is ready to give up, but Piggie will not.  The friends find a new way to play catch so that they can include the armless snake.  This is a book that encourages the inclusion of new friends, different friends, and shows readers that there are sometimes unconventional ways to solve a problem and be sure that everyone has fun.  All these beautiful messages are of course delivered with Willems humorous dialogue and illustration style, which I love, and his keen insight into the world of children.

****

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.