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Book Reviews: December 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Mostly Wintertime. Was It Blue?

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Click to visit the book's webpage for links to order, summary, activity kit, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Storybook Knight by Helen and Thomas Docherty. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2016.

My manager and I were both won over by the illustrations and story and concept of this book. It’s all excellent. A little mouse is in training to be a knight, but he doesn’t want to fight as his parents insist that he must; instead he’d rather read and study. His parents see an advertisement for a dragon slayer and send their son to the aid of the village. Along the way, the young knight on his fat, shaggy, expressive pony meet several monsters, all of whom he subdues by appealing to their vanity and sharing with them stories about monsters like themselves—gifting the book to each before they part ways. He subdues the dragon the same way but adds that the dragon must help clean up the village that he terrorized before the little knight will read more to him. As the dragon cleans, the villagers lose their fear and eventually work beside the dragon and knight to right their town. The characters are all wonderfully expressive. The illustrations are filled with delightful and surprisingly realistic detail.

*****

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

Peek-a Choo-Choo! by Nina Laden. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This little board book hasn’t got much of a plot. This might be considered a primer for transport methods. Peek-a choo-choo. Peek-a flew. Peek-a canoe. Peek-a shoe. Peek-a I see you. It all rhymes. But that’s the extent, really, of the text.

**

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A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer and illustrated by P. D. Eastman. Random, 1989. First published 1961. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I really enjoyed introducing it to a young generation of readers who all crowded close around me on the stage. It was sort of a happy accident that I read it. I was supposed to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I had a huge crowd, many of whom arrived early, so as I was sitting in front of them, I offered to grab a story to read to the early-birds, but by the time I got back to the stage and introduced myself properly, it seemed the last stragglers had arrived and it was time to begin story time-proper. So I read The Grinch. Then I gave them the activities that I had for them to do. Then a dedicated little huddle asked me to read the second story and crowded around me on the stage. It was precious. It was more precious because it was one of my favorite childhood stories. As an adult I was struck by the remarkable helpfulness of the police and firefighter. My kids wanted to know how Mr. Carp had gotten Otto small again. They weren’t satisfied it seemed particularly with my explanation that we don’t know and aren’t supposed to know.


Winter Wonderlands

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

Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

This preciously illustrated book evoked a reminiscent smile from me as the friends discuss several foolproof ways to ensure a snow the following morning. Several of those methods I’d tried, and my audience and I enjoyed brainstorming other methods that the friends missed in the post-story time discussion. Hedgehog assures them all in what becomes a somewhat repetitive refrain that it will snow when it’s time, Hedgehog drawing on other examples of things that can’t be rushed but always come—like the flowers in spring and the dawn. Hedgehog seems oddly out-of-sync with the rest of the book, too deep for the lightheartedness that the rest of the book displays and maybe a little preachy. Also the snow is not nearly as universally dependable as Hedgehog’s other examples, so the advice falls a bit flat. While I understand Hedgehog was necessary for the book’s message of patience, I think I would have enjoyed this advice from another source, or for this message to be less veiled by poetic similes.

***1/2

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

Hap-Pea All Year by Keith Baker. Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Grades PreK-3.

There… wasn’t much to this book either. Each month gets two or three sentences. “Happy January! Let’s get going, grab your mittens—hooray it’s snowing!” That’s… not even particularly good punctuation. The gimmick of this book is the pea characters, who have appeared in board book primers before: LMNO Peas, 1-2-3 Peas, and Little Green Peas. I think I would have liked this book better as a board book. As a picture book, I expected more from it. There are some creative details in the illustrations. For example what is once a sprout becomes a flower. I had to read it a second time for story time, and it was less objectionable the second time through—maybe because I was prepared for what was coming, maybe because I was less stressed. There may not be many books teaching the months, but there are definitely better: I loved Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice as a kid.

**

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

The Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a surprisingly tender picture book. The snowman Drift is lonely, “built fast and then forgotten,” without any clothes, picked on by the other snowman and left out of snowman games. When several children (one a darker-skinned boy) gift Drift with clothes and his much-desired carrot nose, Drift is the happiest and the most beautiful snowman, the envy of the others, and included in all their fun. But these gifts prove ephemeral. A blizzard tears his hat and mittens from him. Drift despairs and searches for his torn away clothes, but finds a lost bunny with no shelter in sight, and gives that bunny his warm scarf, and though he recognizes it as a sacrifice, his carrot nose, returning him to his original imperfect form.  But because of his actions he becomes not just “the perfect snowman” but “the most perfect snowman of all.” This does not discuss the other snowmen’s reaction to him after his sacrificial act. Perhaps a little heavy-handed in its message, but so generously sweet that it is easily forgiven. This is a well-constructed story too; especially for a picture book, it follows well the rules of plot. Pair this with the Buehners’ Snowmen at Night perhaps.

****1/2

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

Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The duck dresses up as Santa and uses a zip line to reach the roof to surprise an excited Farmer Brown but gets stuck in the chimney, so every animal one after the other—and getting progressively larger—comes to extract him from the chimney but gets stuck as well, and the real Santa flies closer and closer in his sleigh, his silhouette growing larger and larger on each successive page. But Santa’s magic. Where the animals failed, he succeeds. Everyone—Santa too—tumbles down the chimney, cinder-covered, into Farmer Brown’s living room, where they all have a laugh and celebrate Christmas. The “ho-ho-OH NO!” refrain is repetitive but could be a lot of fun.

***

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

Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Virginia: A Christmas Adventure by Eric James and illustrated by Robert Dunn. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015.

There’s a book almost identical to this for every state in the U.S. We were a bit disappointed that our city was not among those chosen for the book. Children of many races grace the pages. Ultimately one character is groggily half-asleep wandering through the house, just barely missing Santa hiding around the corner, behind the drapes, behind the broom.

****

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

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert Lewis May and illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014. Text first published 1939. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did not when I read this realize that this is the original Rudolph story. I enjoyed this version maybe even better than the Rankin/Bass story that most of us I’d guess know best. First Caparo’s illustrations are beautiful with deep hues, realistically rendered (is that Percy Jackson asleep in that bed?). In this version, Santa doesn’t know about Rudolph till Santa is trying to deliver presents to the reindeer and stumbles across a sleeping Rudolph, whose nose lights up his room and makes delivering presents easier. There’s so much detail in the text, which I enjoy but made the story really probably too long for my young audience; we got through about all but the last nine pages before the kids’ attention wavered and they began questioning everything to try to shorten or change or interact with the story—but those last pages are all after the climax and really add little to the story, so maybe be prepared to end with Rudolph’s first “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight” if your audience is getting antsy; they won’t miss much. It’s all written in rhyme, and uses some aged language and syntax—well it’s from 1939.

****

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

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. HarperCollins, 2000. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The mouse forgot very quickly about the movies, distracted by popcorn, which he wanted to string together to hang on a Christmas tree, which they didn’t have, so they had to go buy a Christmas tree. It’s an excuse it seems to engage in Christmastime and wintertime activities, led by mouse and mouse’s demands. He’s such a demanding mouse. You try to do something nice, but he wants more and more, and you have to do more and more for him.

***

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

The Red Prince by Charlie Roscoe and by illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole. Templar-Penguin Random, 2016.   Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This book was intense! I liked the cover, and it looked wintery, so I put it up on display this month. I did not expect the story inside. While the king and queen are away, mysterious, uniformed foreigners attack and overcome the castle, locking the young prince in his red pajamas in the dungeon with his dog. Once I’d started, I worried a bit about my young audience, but the one who stayed to pay attention was probably 7, and I comforted myself thinking that it was just the prologue to a Disney film, like Frozen, where the parents go off on a boat, and the boat is caught in a storm, and the parents never come back. The prince escapes but is hunted by the invaders, his face posted on wanted posters. My audience enjoyed trying to spot the prince on each page and in each crowd. His subjects help him evade capture, ultimately all of them dressing in bright red too to confuse the invaders. Unfortunately he is still found and his people must come rescue him again. The people, perhaps united by their love of the prince and their group effort earlier, chase away the invaders. It really didn’t have as satisfying an ending as I’d hoped for. I’m not sure what I wanted though. The prince is safe, and the invaders are chased off—peaceably. While the ruling family is white, the kingdom is racially diverse. Cole’s illustrations are the reason to read this one. They incorporate creative angles and bright colors and contrasts.

****

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

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

The kids in my audience wanted to assign genders and birth order to each of the penguin children, but both changed page to page. With blocky illustrations of arctic scenes the book chronicles an anthropomorphized penguin family’s snowy adventures first outside then inside to get warm. Minimal text done as almost exclusively dialogue, though lacking any quotation marks or speech bubbles to proclaim it so, begs for different voices for each penguin.

***

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

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Book Reviews: April 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Celebs from Children’s Literature and Beyond

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The Classics 9780394800271

Snow by Roy McKie and P. D. Eastman. Random, 1962.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a very simple story and it employed a lot of repetition—almost a Dick and Jane amount of repetition. Dr. Seuss recruited P. D. Eastman to children’s literature and the rhythm of this book bears a strong resemblance to Seuss’ works.  At times the rhyme seemed forced—by which I mean, that in order to rhyme, the sentence was made awkward or bordered on senseless. Some of this manifested in what seemed at the time an odd refusal to name certain common snow games: Making snow angels became “making pictures with your backs.” Cross-country skiing or skiing in general (this is not a sport I know well. In the absence of a ski lift, I suppose one walks to the top of a hill in skis even if it’s not cross-country skiing?) becomes “we put on long, long feet”; the word “skis” is never used but there are several mentions of skis as “feet.” “Snow man” is used once, but mostly the snowman is referred to only as a man, once as a man of snow, and the exclusion of “snow” as a modifier seems odd. Overall, it’s a book about playing in the snow told with a very young child’s vocabulary. As a book about playing in the snow, it’s cute. And the Seussian rhythm keeps the book rolling, so long as you don’t stumble too much on the forced rhyme and refusal to introduce new words or phrases.

***

9780394823379The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Random, 1971.  Intended audience: Ages 6-9.

This is a meaty book. It was a bit too much for story time, especially when my audience are toddlers. With an older audience, I think I would have enjoyed this reread more. With an audience of toddlers, and the kids not mine, I felt like I was filling their brains with images of the horrors of big business and greed that maybe didn’t need to be blackening their childhood bubbles yet. The story has a very clear business-bad, nature-good message that lacks the subtlety of reality but leaves little room for too in young minds. Now there are gems in this book: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Messages like that I don’t mind imparting to young ones.

****

9780399173875The Little Engine That Could by Piper Watty and illustrated by Loren Long. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2015. Full story first published 1930.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Who knows how many years it had been since I’d read this story? Many. Many, many. Enough that I didn’t really remember even the bones of the story—just the mantra that gets repeated: “I think I can. I think I can,” later replaced with the proud, “I thought I could. I thought I could.” This was an abridged board book, and there was still much more to this story than I remembered there being.

First: female trains. Yes, more female protagonists in male-marketed books. Because it is much easier right now to get a girl to read a “boys’ book” than a boy to read a “girls’ book,” so if there aren’t females in the boys’ books, boys might never encounter female characters. And I don’t think the world is in any danger yet of being oversaturated with female protagonists. (Just last night I saw another kids’ movie that failed the Bechdel test by never having two named females on screen at the same time, but it had at least seven named male characters, five protagonists and two villains.)

These are not the illustrations that I—so probably your parents and grandparents—grew up with, but I like them. They are softer but at least as colorful and maybe even more expressive for their rounded realness compared to George and Doris Hauman’s. This clown is also less creepy, maybe because it has less makeup, more hair, and a more realistic face beneath the makeup. I don’t know. He seems less frightening to me. It’s fairly clear though that Long intentionally harkened back to the Haumans’ while making the work her own.

****

And the Big Names in Children’s Literature

26030671Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

This is a fun twist on the classic “Are we there yet?” plot of a child complaining in a car ride to his parents with a good moral. Drifting off possibly and entering an alternate dreamscape where all the pages are upside down, the boy in this story goes hundreds, thousands of years backwards, encountering cowboys, pirates, and dinosaurs. His parents are appalled by all of these strange encounters, but the boy doesn’t notice the wonders they are passing in the car till he sees the T-rex. But when they can’t go back any further they somehow end up too far forward in time, and Grandma’s house is gone. How will they make it to the party? I’ve been told the QR codes in the illustrations of the future world are worth checking out, but I don’t have the app for that, so someone’s going to have to get back to me with reviews and insights on those. I think this might be the first time that an illustrator has incorporated QR codes. The story ends with an emphasis on the importance of family and celebrating family.

*****

26075973Let’s Play! by Hervé Tullet. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

A yellow dot with a lot of emotion and energy in its small frame narrates a traceable adventure through the pages of Tullet’s latest book. The yellow dot doesn’t confine itself to the pages either, at one point jumping onto the reader’s head, which was fun to play with. I expected this to be a bigger hit with my story time audience, but they weren’t really into it, even when I gave them each a book to play with. Granted, one at least was probably too young and two were ESL learners, so maybe some of the word play or instructions were lost in translation. I enjoyed playing with the book. I like the clever situations that the book character asks the readers to follow him into. I liked the potential to talk about bravery with the scary pages. But there were less educational elements to this than either Press Here or Mix It Up!

***

my-first-busy-book-9781481457910_hrMy First Busy Book inspired by Eric Carle’s works. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2015.

This clever primer has it all, each on its own page! There’re colors, numbers, shapes, first words, animal sounds, and a mirror. Each page asks a question of the readers. One page for example asks readers to trace the raised numbers, giving the book a touch-and-feel element too. Another page has flaps to lift. Because primer books are rarely meant to be read anyway, the idea of including a just a bit of everything seems smart of the publisher and cost-effective to parents too. This is a perfect go-to for the indecisive, thrifty, or low on funds. And besides that, it has elements of Carle’s famous illustrations, so it’s bright, inviting, familiar, and creative without sacrificing realism.

*****

The Celebrities from Outside

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Derek Jeter Presents: Night at the Stadium by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Tom Booth. Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

As a Red Sox supporter, it was difficult to be enthusiastic while reading the first line of this story: “The Yankees win!” I actually thought this a fairly successful celebrity sponsored picture book—if the self-insertion of Derek Jeter seems—though it makes some sense within the text—a bit… forced. I wasn’t too fond of the repetitive “Talking [noun]?” “Of course we talk.” “We all talk,” though I recognize that repetition is often a hallmark of texts for young audiences—maybe not for the audiences of this book, with its nine-year-old protagonist. Talking food is always a bit of a sticking point for me too. Why have to eat, so do we want to imagine our food as characters? I’m more okay with it in a world free of humans—as with Peanut Butter and Cupcake. This team—Jeter and Blinder and Booth—gets points for an interracial protagonist. Some of the illustrations are pretty stunning, just wonderfully vibrant. The book for its emphasis on baseball, and the Yankees in particular, and its jargon of the sport, has a limited appeal, but there are surprisingly not all that many picture books about baseball—and many of those are bios or histories, so such a book may be a welcome gift to many young fans of the game.

***

y648Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond and illustrated by Diane deGroat. HarperCollins, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Charlie is magnanimous towards his silent friend Suzie. Suzie doesn’t have droopy eyes or dangly ears like Charlie, but he doesn’t hold that against her. She’s better at running and jumping. Charlie’s never been very good at jumping. Charlie has a lot of work to do with Suzie. He’s a morning dog, but she isn’t—except she’s up. She’s out the door. Charlie sometimes likes to let Suzie do things to feel important, but he knows his mama couldn’t get along without him. While he’s talking to the reader about all the things that he needs to do, Suzie has done or is doing them. Charlie keeps drifting off to sleep and waking with a “Huh? What’d I miss? Oh I must have accidentally closed my eyes for a few seconds.” Suzie and the humans go off without him during one of these naps, but because of that, he is home to scare the cows out of his mama’s beloved garden.

Charlie’s unique voice was what made this book stand out, though I’m not sure I like that Charlie’s is the only voice in the story.

***

naughty-mabel-9781481430227_hrNaughty Mabel by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott and illustrated by Dan Krall. Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I was kept from enjoying this book as much as I otherwise would have by the French-bashing and stereotyping, the worst being an oblique suggestion that the French don’t like to bathe. Who says things like that? Who thinks it’s okay to publish books that say that?

Mabel’s a pampered French bulldog who thinks she is and acts as if she is a spoilt human child to her rich human “parents.” Mabel doesn’t believe her parents’ description of her as naughty is fair. She believes she is and revels in being VERY naughty. Most of the story is backstory, really, for the main event, when Mabel is forced into a bath that she—with her cat friends—decides is a sure sign that her parents intend to throw a party. But Mabel’s not invited to the party. So she dons a pink tutu and pearls and claims that she will try to blend into the crowd—but the allure of a pile of pigs-in-blankets proves too alluring, and she becomes again a dog with a mouthful of stolen food, spoiling the party by running across the table and startling guests into spilling their drinks on their fancy clothes. Mabel stands out still more when those pigs-in-blankets come back in a big, noxious cloud of fart—and she clears out the party. She expects though that her parents are secretly glad that she ruined their party because it means more time for just the three of them.

That’s a dubious message for children. Misbehave and your parents will still love you? Sure. Absolutely. Please. But misbehave and your parents will be secretly glad? Mmm….

There are some funny moments in this—the fart is not one of them to me. The book had some potential. I like Mabel’s unique, posh voice, directly addressing the readers as “darlings.”

But Mabel knows nothing of being French.

**

9780736429702Rapunzel’s Wedding Day by the Walt Disney Company. Disney-Random, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I never saw the Disney short about Rapunzel’s wedding, Tangled Ever After, but I expect that this story replicates that one almost exactly. The illustrations seem to me like screen captures. It was a cute story focusing on the animal “sidekicks” from Tangled trying not to ruin Rapunzel’s wedding when they accidentally drop the rings. Generally I’m not sure about the emphasis placed on weddings, particularly in media aimed at children. Weddings—heck—marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life, as many Disney movies seem to suggest. That being said, this is more about hijinks that ensue in two friends’ efforts to rectify their mistakes without their mistake going noticed. And Tangled already promised us a marriage.

***

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 Review: The Dark Is Rising: The Dark, the Light, and Christianity

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1513207I found Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence—wow—fourteen years ago? It was around the same time as that I was devouring J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Diana Wynne JonesChronicles of Chrestomanci, after Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

That list alone should give you some idea of the genre and the intended audience—or an appropriate audience.

I don’t think I began to really understand its complexities and nuances until maybe four years ago (at the latest). I had always sort of imagined the Dark and the Light as synonymous with the Christian symbolism with which I was most familiar. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV Ps. 119:105) and “[…] the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail” (ESV 1 Sam. 2:9). I think it was the last book that I was reading, Silver on the Tree, when I realized that Cooper’s Light and Dark has very little to do with Christian ideology (and I think that I’d read one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series not long before, which is I think heavily influenced by Christian mythology, and seeing the two book series in contrast may have helped to make this revelation so jarring.)

God—the Judeo-Christian God, that is—or any other god for that matter, except perhaps Herne the Hunter, who might according to some theories have evolved from one of several pre-Christian gods—really doesn’t enter into Cooper’s story at all—as much as this book in the series happens around Christmas and the protagonist, Will Stanton, is raised in a Christian household. In Christian ideology, man cannot succeed, cannot be saved apart from God. In Cooper’s mythology, the Old Ones of the Light and the masters of the Dark are more than men, almost gods, and they rely on their own power and on men for success.  That is the starkest divide between Cooper’s mythology and Christian mythology—the source of might and of salvation and the reliance of men on God or gods on men.

Perhaps had I been raised outside of the Christian faith, I would have more fully understood Cooper’s ideas of the Dark and the Light sooner, maybe even when I first read them in middle school.

For all that I’m talking about this now, realize that as a child, I missed the nuance, I missed the replacement of God or any god with more-than-men-but-not-gods. I don’t discourage Christian parents from sharing this story with their children by any means. It’s an excellent story about the conflict of Good and Evil and demonstrates the perfectly human powers of teamwork, phileo love, persistence, and sacrifice needed to combat Evil, and it gives to Evil both a human face and an otherworldly face that I think is congruent with Christian beliefs.

That, again, being said: You may need to be ready to one day have this discussion with your child. They may like me be rocked to find on a reread that the book series that they loved as a child seems now like not the same series.

But this is a beautiful book series, excellently written, neither too poetic nor too prosaic. This book has been a favorite Christmas story for a long time.  I enjoyed rereading it, and I will do so again, probably come next Christmastime.

*****

Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book 2: The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 1973.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Aladdin Paperbacks, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: November 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Part 2: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

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Brace Yourselves. Winter Is Coming

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Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. First published 1971.

Katie was one of my nicknames as a child, so I have some vague sense that this is one of the stories that was read to me with some regularity—enough regularity that when I was told that I had to read a story about a snowplow, I recalled that this story existed, even though it must have been years since I’d had any reason to consider it. Or maybe I remembered seeing it in the shelves when I was re-alphabetizing the picture books a month or two ago. Either way, Burton’s books are classics; this one is 44 years old and still being read, still in the bookstore. Katy is an unstoppable plow who likes hard work. She saves up her efforts for a big snow, something only she can handle. She drives around the town, clearing roads for policemen, firefighters, mailmen, ambulance drivers, electric and water company employees…. I have sort of mixed feelings about this story, honestly. Katy helps everyone. Helping everyone is good. But does Katy take care of herself? She gets a little tired, but she keeps working. There are no reinforcements, no offers by anyone to help Katy. The villain here is the snow, and Katy and her tirelessness and persistence are the solution, but Katy really doesn’t reap any benefits except… a job well done? a chance to rest when—and only when—the work is done? What sort of message is that? Help everyone and don’t expect to be thanked, don’t expect any sort of reward? I suppose that, yes, that is a laudable and important moral, but maybe not one I’m willing to instill in my children, not at this age. I’d rather that they know that they can speak up for themselves, that they have the right to say no. I do like that this is a boy book—a book about trucks, which get thrown more often at boys than at girls—but with a strong, female protagonist.

One of Burton’s books, The Little House, won the Caldecott medal in 1943. Burton’s illustrations in this book are detailed. Take a look at the margins. Take a look at the maps. Look at the use of white space. The illustrations I like better than I like the story. I think the illustrations bump the story past three or three and a half stars to

****

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The Little Snowplow by Lora Koehler and illustrated by Jake Parker. Candlewick, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

I actually think that this is a better book about snowplows—if you’re ever asked to pick just one. The story here is better. The little snowplow is picked on by the larger trucks. He works hard to make himself strong. He exercises daily and pushes himself to lift and pull and push more and heavier weights. When the snows come, the little snowplow is sent out and the snow is too much for him, despite all that he’s done to strengthen himself. Help—a dump truck—has to be called in, and the dump truck complains about having to do work that it feels is the snowplow’s responsibility. But when an avalanche stops the dump truck, only the snowplow is small enough to get in to help the dump truck, so he stops clearing the roads to help this larger truck that has been mean to him, that has grumbled about having to help the snowplow. The snowplow proves himself not only useful but also compassionate, kind, and forgiving. The dump truck and snowplow finish clearing the streets and everyone cheers. They cheer not because the snowplow proved the big trucks wrong by clearing the streets himself—in fact the trucks are proved right and the snowplow does have to accept help—which he does with good grace—but the trucks cheer because he was kind.

This is a great boys’ book for that reason. The snowplow is not a macho, by-your-own-bootstraps plow; it cannot be, and that’s okay because not all men are macho.  It proves that not all men must be macho to have worth.

The kids in my audience picked up too on the moral of don’t be mean to little people and mentioned it themselves afterwards without being prompted.

There is mention of a big, female snowplow that retired to Florida, and I like to think that this is a reference to Burton’s Katy, but that was set in Geoppolis, and this is in Mighty Mountain.

This book more fully earns its

****

Gobble! Gobble!

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Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book, written in what I would dare to call verse goes through the motions of everyone’s tasks to prepare a Thanksgiving meal: Mama, fetch the pot; Daddy, stoke the fire; Sister, knead the dough for bread; Brother, baste the turkey; Grandpa, make the cranberries…. The meal and the celebration bring all the family together. Even the little baby gets a mention, told to hush and be quiet as a mouse, a refrain that I had to read quietly, giving the book an even more musical feel. The book is set in the 19th century according to Miller (this interview with Publisher’s Weekly includes a few pages not to be found elsewhere outside of the covers). There are too few historical fiction books in any genre, so this is one of which to make note—perhaps even outside of the Thanksgiving season. The family is clearly religious but the text is not particularly so, so it should avoid offense, I’d hope. This story really gets back to the root of Thanksgiving: thankful for food, family, warmth, and a place to be safe and together.

****

The Goose Is Getting Fat

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Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2005. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I read and enjoyed the Buehners’ Snowmen at Night, so I thought that I’d enjoy this one too. The illustrations are just as stunning as were Mark Buehner’s in Snowmen at Night, and the text had a good lilt to it with its rhyming lines. I was at a Santa’s Breakfast when I read this—a clearly secular event—and I stumbled a bit at the unexpected reference to the religious celebration of Christmas (that’s really on me as I didn’t read but only skimmed the story before bringing it with me to the event)—with the snowmen singing carols about a King—but I think that reference is subtle enough as to not be too off-putting to all but the most radical—as whether or not one does oneself celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, one can’t really deny that some will sing about a King during the season—which is all that these snowmen do. Otherwise, the snowmen’s Christmas is about window displays, holiday noms, and playing with friends.

***

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The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Charles Santore. Applesauce-Simon & Schuster, 2011. Text first published 1823. Intended audience: Grades PreK and up.

I won’t critique this text, but I’ll go ahead and make note of the illustrations, which reflect the period nature of the text, though not with its art style (which is more modern: realistic, bold, deep-hued, detailed) as much as with its depiction of the period itself (men in nightgowns and long nightcaps, nineteenth century decoration, architecture, toys, and tech). The Santa figure is very classically Santa. One of my audience commented on Santa having shrunk to fit down the chimney; he was small, then larger on the next page; I explained this as magic. I enjoy the gray tabby on most pages too. This is all beautifully done. A book like this, with text so classic, so often memorized, can really only be a chance for an illustrator to shine—and I think Santore does, but as I’m looking at illustrations and thinking back on all the versions of this book that I’ve seen, I’m wondering, is it time for someone to modernize the illustrations, to have Santa maybe putting away gadgets and gift cards instead of trumpets and china dolls?

The illustrations are beautiful but just not very original, so maybe overall, I’d give this version just sort of a meh

***

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Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas by Rubin Pingk. Simon & Schuster, 2015. First published 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is a wonderfully fun and unique Christmas book. A young ninja wants to have a snowball fight, but none of his friends will join him because they have to practice to be good ninjas to impress Santa. The first ninja, Yukio, blames Santa, and when he hears Santa arrive, he rings the alarm bell and calls “intruder!” The ninjas pour out of the dojo and drive-off the red-clad intruder, who at one point appears as a samurai with a snowman army. It is only after Samurai Santa has been driven away that Yukio realizes that because of his actions, his friends will have no presents from Santa, but presents are under the tree and there’s a note for Yukio from Santa, saying that he hopes that Yukio enjoyed the snowball fight that Santa arranged for him. The illustrations in this book are all brick red, black, white, and gray, but the colors somehow feel festive (like a red Starbucks cup). There are times to shout “Epic!” and “Banzai!” as you read this story aloud, which make for a bit of extra fun.

****

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How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2012. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

My audience for this book really got into it. The beginning of the book, the text is all questions: “Does he rip open presents under the tree?” and all of my kids said, “No!” They also enjoyed telling me what kind of dinosaur was on each page and stomping like dinosaurs. As I walked away to the next group, I felt a little like the babysitter who’s given the kids too many cookies and left them to their parents. In the end the text is all things that a good dinosaur would do, like eating all his dinner and clearing the dishes—one grandmother piped up her support for this idea. Mark Teague’s vibrant illustrations with realistic dinosaurs that nevertheless manage very human expressions and actions done with opposable thumbs are pretty fun, and there’s enough detail there that one could spend some time with each drawing.

****

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: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

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Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

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The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

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Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

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

Challenge: Legal Theft: To Fly (291 words)

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“It’s a shame about your face.” It was a stupid thing to say, but it smothered the insults that Darryn might otherwise have shouted.

Aidan touched his cheek then looked at the blood on his fingers. “A few scars never hurt anyone,” he told Darryn.

“I guess,” Darryn babbled, “no one but you was hurt, and nothing broke—except the sled—so—”

“So how many seconds was I in the air?” Aidan begged. His grin stretched the cuts on his face so that they leaked a few more droplets of blood. “How many?”

“I—” Darryn had promised to count, but that promise had been drowned out by Aidan’s exhilarated yell, and the silent scream in Darryn’s mind as he had watched the sled shoot off of the roof like an arrow loosed through the air where no man had a right to be for as long as Aidan had been, then by the crunch of his own feet on the snow as Darryn had run after the sled, trying to determine where it would fall.

Aidan groaned, tossing his head back. “Darryn.”

“I’m sorry. I thought you would die when you crashed, and I—”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter.” Aidan smirked. “I’ll just have to try again, and now that you know that I wo—”

“Don’t you dare! Don’t you ever do that again!”

“You are such a wet cat.”

“Better a wet cat than a skinned one.”

Aidan touched his cheek again. “It’s not that much skin.” He looked up at Darryn. “Is it?”

Darryn shook his head. He grabbed Aidan’s arm and tugged his friend to his feet. “Come on,” he grunted. “We’ll get you to Gitta. She can patch you up. I hope.”

This week and for the remainder of the summer, we’re doing something a little different for legal theft.  Each Thursday, we band of thieves will all steal the same line so that there will be up to 6 short fiction pieces all using the same first line.  This week, the line was stolen “Old Prejudices” by Bek at Building A Door.  I’ll provide links to all of the pieces using the line too.

I misread the line a bit.  It should actually have read: The first thing that she ever said to him was, “It’s a shame about your face.”  I plan on rectifying this and posting another more properly thefted piece later, but in the meantime, I was proud of this one, and it’s staying up.

While you await my corrected piece, please enjoy:

“First and Last” by Gwen on Apprentice, Never Master.

“When You’re Blue” by Kate Kearney on More Than 1/2 Mad.

Book Reviews: April Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read many picture books this April and so as I did in January, I’m splitting the reviews into two groups.

Les Petits Fairytales: Little Red Riding Hood by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott, illustrated by Oliver Lake. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

I’ve reviewed Les Petits Fairytales on this blog before, always positively. This latest will join those ranks. Les Petits Fairytales seek to bring the classic stories down to a toddler level, taking on the style of a primer while still maintaining a story, which is something few primers bother to do. Lake’s illustrations help to offer a cohesive plot that this story even lacks in some tellings for older audiences, making the woodsman obviously a witness to the girl’s entry into the house (though one wonders why the woodsman peeks through the window at girl and “grandma”; perhaps his angle just happened to be right to glance up at them through the window, but that seems unlikely). This more than the other Les Petits Fairytales shies from the Grimm version. There is no explanation of why Grandma is not in her bed, and the wolf is merely stripped of Grandma’s clothes, her clothes returned to her, and the wolf sent slinking from the house. Personally, I can understand the desire to spare children the bloody death of a wolf on the edge of a woodsman’s ax, and I can understand not having Grandma ingested, but I would have hoped that Lake might have found a way to subtly imply these ideas. Perhaps the word “rescue” stumped him. The only images that I can concoct for “rescue” that level with Grimm’s original details is a woodsman raising his ax and looking menacing or the wolf split and Grandma rising from its stomach, and neither, but particularly the first, is an image to give children for “rescue.” Since I too am struggling, I think that you get a buy for backing out of this more gruesome ending, Mr. Lake. Still, barring the difficulties of “rescue,” I’d have liked to see Red in wolf’s fur cape by the end.

****

Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! by Sandra Boynton. Workman, 1993. Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This book reminds me a tiny bit of Seuss’ one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish rhyme; “Dinosaurs happy and dinosaurs sad. Dinosaurs good and dinosaurs bad. Dinosaurs big and dinosaurs tiny. Dinosaurs smooth, and dinosaurs spiny.” This is an opposites book with dinosaurs done in Boynton’s classically adorable watercolor illustrations and with her moments of humors, with dinosaurs crammed in an elevator and dinosaurs singing a dinosaur song with the text broken up and printed below musical notes as if it were a from a songbook. The book breaks the fourth wall by having the dinosaurs gather at the end to say goodbye to the reader.  Definitely more fun than the average opposites primer.

***1/2

Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperFestival-HaperCollins, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

When did the message of Easter become one of helping others? This isn’t the only Easter-themed book I read to suggest so (so does Deborah Underwood’s Here Comes the Easter Cat). So that quibble aside and trying to force upon myself a secular idea of Easter, I suppose I cannot fault the idea of a holiday that reminds us to help others. Pete the Cat has become a well beloved figure. Dean and Dean make helping into a game for Pete, and Pete enjoys the game. With stickers and punch out cards, this might have more merit an activity book than a storybook.

***

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades Pre-K-2.

Erin Stead’s illustrations! The soft wood block and colored pencil illustrations are beautiful, and she so clearly captures my view of late winter. This is a book that I needed towards the end of the winter and beginning of spring to remind me that green was coming after all of the brown. The story is relatively simple, one of planting and waiting for a garden and waiting for spring, but the simplicity of the text complements the soft illustrations, which are highly detailed, telling a great deal of story without text, and that simplicity is wonderfully poetic. This book is really fantastically well crafted. This would be an interesting book to read as a color lesson too, though I imagine most kids, by the time they want to read a book like this one, already know their colors, and rather it would be better paired with lessons on patience and plant biology and life cycle.

****1/2

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013. First published 2010. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3.

I’m going to go ahead and quibble with the listed intended audience here. This is a book I think that will appeal far more to parents than it will to children. This book compares a baby to a very particular CEO, and these are references that are likely to fly over the heads of children but make parents laugh at their poignant truth. Some of the vocabulary in this text is probably beyond most children too. The patterns and colors in this book along with the characters’ expressions really make the illustrations charming.

***

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2010. First published 1985. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book has become a classic and the hub of many spinoffs. I do like the cyclical story pattern. The little mouse does pay for his cookie and milk by doing all of the chores, but this poor kid had no idea what he was getting into when he offered to share his snack. I notice he’s napping himself by the second cookie, but he never does complain about sharing or helping the mouse. The boy here is really like the parent in a parent-child relationship where the mouse is the child. It doesn’t feel like a friendship particularly, and I don’t think that it should be lauded as friendship, though potentially as an example of selfless love. This can be a fun guessing book for kids.  This is a book I would rate very differently depending upon how it’s being introduced.

***

Challenge: Legal Theft: Reawakened (280 words)

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He hadn’t been expecting anyone and with the roads all blocked by several inches of new-fallen snow he didn’t know who could have come to the front door.  Jon lived some distance from the nearest neighbor.  He appreciated the quiet.  Nevertheless, Jon went to the door.  It opened onto the snow-dusted form of a woman, bundled in a puffy marshmallow of a white winter coat from which popped a scarlet scarf and black earmuffs that didn’t match the rest of the ensemble.  Suzanne had moved to the neighborhood not long ago.  A grown woman with streaks of white already in her blond hair, masking some of the snowflakes, Suzanne beamed now with her cheeks blushed by the cold like a child of seven.  “You,” she said without preamble, “have lived her a long while.”

“Yes,” Jon confirmed.

“Where is the best place to go sledding?”

“Sledding?”  He hadn’t been sledding in years.  High school had ended and college had begun and work had counted the hours between classes and study.  Friends had moved away.  The rare winter snowfall had become a time for rest or a time to catch up on what hadn’t been finished the day before.  Still, the elementary age delight in the snowfall had remained in traditions like putting a spoon beneath his pillow and wearing his pajamas inside out as he’d done the night before, the subtle childlike rituals that could be easily hidden from a world demanding a scripted adulthood.

“Yes.  Sledding.  And have you got a sled?”

Did he?  He looked past her at the snowflurry beyond the porch.  “There might be one in the shed.”

“Perfect.  Get it.  Get dressed.  Take me sledding.”

Bek at BuildingADoor is a thief!  She stole the first line of this piece to write “First Snow,” and she I were on near wavelengths this time.  Head over to her blog to check it out.

Book Reviews: January Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read a lot of picture books this January, and so I’ve decided to break the roundup into two parts.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The illustrations in this one are pretty fantastic, so detailed, so realistic—not just in style, but also in not whitewashing the neighborhood or the surrounding town.  Speaking of whitewashing, a reader on Goodreads commented about how this is an African American family—and that was the first that I’d taken notice of it.  This is an African American in a book with no social message or message of equality.  Better still, Jonathan Bean himself is not African American.  The story is every child’s experience of watching snow fall (and though it’s not explicitly stated in the story) waiting to see if the snow will be deep enough for snowy play like sledding.  It’s a story with which any child can empathize.  The mother distracts her son with household chores and baking.  The father comes home to play with him.  The only thing I can really complain about in this story is that the mother was home, cooking and cleaning, while the father was out at work—but isn’t that the typical American experience.  It would have been a nice choice to break the gender stereotype since Bean so nicely broke the whitewashed vision of the American family.  I do appreciate though that this is a family with both mother and father present and active and interested in the child’s life.

****

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.  Philomel-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I think most people know Eric.  The Hungry Caterpillar left quite an imprint on my childhood, though not as great an imprint as did the illustrations of Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? et al.  I was sadly unimpressed by The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.  The prose would have benefited from more zest, though I approve of Carle’s message that a good artist is not necessarily one who sticks to reality, promoting creative thinking and creativity, prompting children to put away enforced ideas of correct and incorrect.  At the same time that message seems self-aggrandizing even though the artist at the end of the book does not look like present-day Carle (it might be a boy Carle).

**1/2

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 1996.  First published 1977.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In retrospect, this was not a story I ought to have chosen for story hour.  It begins with two ladybugs who want to eat the same leafful of aphids.  Now aphid is a strange word, so I thought I had better explain it.  And then I realized what was going to happen to the aphids, and I wished that I hadn’t called them “baby bugs.”  And this whole story is about a ladybug that wants to fight—not exactly a great role model.  I tuned my voice to make the ladybug sound at least like it wanted to pick a fight for fun, for the challenge, the way a kid might ask, “You wanna race?”  In retrospect, I may have learned my lesson at least about screening Carle books before I take them to story hour.  As a story hour book too, the clocks in the top corner of the pages were nearly invisible to the children.  I explained where the hands were on the clock faces, at least at first, and was able to work that explanation pretty easily into the prose, but I didn’t really think any of them were there to learn to tell time and stopped after the first few pages.  Also, analog clocks are disappearing, though I think they are still more often in classrooms than digital clocks, so maybe it will be something that they’ll need to learn.  Reading this book makes me feel old.  Not only because of the analog clocks but also because of the political correctness that makes me wonder if such a violent little ladybug would have made it past an editor today.  The kids did pick up on Carle’s lesson that you shouldn’t be mean and that you should share, but it seemed like there were few pages on that.  Most of the pages were devoted instead to the grouchy ladybug asking larger and larger animals if they wanted to fight then dismissing each as too small—and I think at least one my kids was frustrated by the ladybug’s idiocy (she kept commenting that she was pretty sure this or that animal was large enough).  It made a better bestiary than a story it seemed to me as I read the same few words over and over with a slight variation.  That being said, that repetition can be very lulling.  I found it very easy to read and to play instead with my inflection than focus on the words when I was caught up in the repetition.

*1/2

What’s Your Favorite Animal? edited by Eric Carle.  Contributed to be Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems.  Henry Holt and Co.-Random, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8 (Grades Pre-K-3).

As a student and lover of children’s literature, I personally loved this book.  Some of the illustrations in this are amazing.  A lot of the memoirs are truly sweet and endear readers towards either the animal or the author.  Some of the poetry was humorous.  The book provided an interesting view into the minds and lives of some of my favorite illustrators.  The kids at my story hour were less enthralled.  I knew more of the illustrators than they did (many of them having not recently produced any bestsellers), and taken all together, this is a long book.  The eldest of my story hour friends was maybe eight.  Much beyond eight, it’s hard to see a child being thrilled with being read any picture book.  This book lacks the cohesion that can hold a younger child’s attention.  There’s not a story.  There’s no conflict.  The book includes flash memoirs, poetry, and cartoon panels of facts about octopi.  I think only the one (Nick Bruel’s) got a laugh out of any of my friends and that because of Bruel’s interaction with Bad Kitty, a familiar face for some of the kids, I’m sure, and the humor of Bruel’s entry.  Bruel’s didn’t read very well aloud, though, I thought.  There were so many individual panels and I don’t know how many of my friends were able to follow my eyes across the pages as I read.

****

Knight Time by Jane Clark and illustrated by Jane Massey.  Red Fox-Random House UK, 2009.

I loved this book, though I was biased towards it from the beginning as the cover was of an adorable towheaded young knight and a young dragon, each looking terrified into the dark forest.  Towheads and dragons, how could I not love this book?  It was cute in the way that I expected.  The knight fears dragons.  The dragon fears knights.  They meet and become friends after each seeing that the other is not so frightening.  I did not anticipate the inclusion of the knight’s and dragon’s fathers.  Both wander into the woods looking for their fathers and are each found by the other’s father.  The book is lift-a-flap.  If anything this made the book too interesting, too intriguing, too busy, but I loved that there was so much to look at and explore in this adventure.

****

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4 (Grade Pre-K).

I’ve never read the original Pout-Pout Fish so I think this book meant less to me than it is supposed to.  I think this would be fun to quote at young kids.  “Smile, Mr. Fish.  You look so down, with your glum-glum face and pout-pout frown.”  Followed immediately by, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.  When life gets you down do you know what you gotta do?”  I do dislike that the implication seems to be that a peck on the cheek by a strange should illicit a smile from someone who’s down.  I don’t really think that’s true, and I’m not sure it’s something that we should be teaching our children.

 **

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.

The trick is in the details with this one.  There’s a lot of humor from a careful inspection of Feeney’s illustrations, from the attempts of Little Owl to send his orange scarf to Peru to how he finally rids himself of the hated scarf.  While I sympathized with Little Owl’s plight and I really want to like this book even more than I do, I had a kid pipe up during story hour that he liked orange, and there’s was such sadness and hurt in his tone.  The scarf of course could be hated for being any color, and Feeney had to choose some color. There’s something so implicitly realistically childlike about Owl’s dislike of the scarf not only because it’s too long and scratchy but especially because it’s orange.  It reminds me of friends who hated and refused to wear anything pink simply for its color—and I’m glad that Feeney chose a color other than pink.  Pink would have seemed cliché.

***1/2

Buzz, Buzz, Baby!: A Karen Katz Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This lift-a-flap book is all about insects and bugs—perfect the adventurous and outdoorsy child in your family.  Katz’s protagonists are not strictly male even though the book is about bugs.  Katz’s illustrations and the use of flaps are what really appealed to me in this book.  The insects peek out from behind foliage making it easy to see where a child being read too could be prompted for an answer to the questions that the text poses.  The colors are bright—as are all of Katz’s.  Rhymes help with the rhythm of the text.

****