Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Book 144: Donut Chef

Donut Chef, by Bob Staake, Golden Book (Random House), 2008.  Preschool to Elementary.

My four-year-old son received five books for Christmas this year:  A Thomas the Tank Engine book, a Dr. Seuss Book, two Eric Carle books and Donut Chef.  I let him choose one new book to read at his bedtime.  He almost chose the Eric Carle kangaroo book because he also received a plush kangaroo for Christmas, but, in the end, he chose Donut Chef.

Donut Chef is a longer rhyming text picture book, so perhaps it was a mistake to make it the fourth picture book I read tonight -- Christmas night -- after a very long day.  Normally, when I encounter longer picture books, I skim them; that is, just read what I need to in order to make the story work.  With Donut Chef, I had to read every line.  Every rhyming line was needed to tell the story properly.  Every rhyming line is needed.

I first bought a Bob Staake children's book for the artwork.  I love the artwork.  I didn't really expect to like the text.  I was pleasantly surprised, delighted, and mildly annoyed when I did like the writing in the first book.  I'm no longer surprised.  Now I buy the books because my son REALLY loves them.  I know he likes the artwork, but he also really likes the text.  He likes the text so much that when he received a robot today for Christmas, he stared quoting "Hello, Robots".

I buy Mr. Staake's books for self-preservation:  If I do have to read a Bob Staake book to my son every day, and usually more than once a day -- which I do -- it is good if I have a few choices.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book 143: The Fourth King

The Fourth King: The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Ted Sieger, Candlewick, 2006.  Preschool to Elementary.

There are a few modern versions of this classic Henry Van Dyke tale.  I chose this one because I liked the whimsical drawings.

The story tells us of another wise man beyond the well-known three.  Every time he tries to catch up with the three wise men, he would encounter a situation where he needs to help a person or people.  Because he stops to help, he arrives at the stable too late.  Joseph has already taken his family and fled to Egypt to escape Herod.  But the fourth wise man didn't really miss the Christ Child -- He was present in every person that was helped, and in one case, literally, although the fourth wise man did not know it.

The illustrations are whimsical, which keeps this tale from feeling too heavy.  The whimsical illustrations also make this book very appealing to young listeners.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book 142: Christmas Lullaby

Christmas Lullaby, written by Nancy Jewell, illustrated by Stefano Vitale, Clarion Books, 1994.  Baby to Toddler to Preschool.

Two years ago, I checked Christmas Lullaby out from our local library.  I thought it was a charming poem with lovely illustrations.  My then two-year-old son thought we needed our own copy.  I ordered one before the three-week check-out period elapsed.

Christmas Lullaby IS a charming poem.  It is simple, sweet, poignant and even funny.  It could easily be read to the very youngest of listeners.  And older ones will enjoy reciting it or reading it to you.

The illustrations ARE lovely.  The medium looks like a water color or gouache on grained wood.  The effect is stunning, especially for the night sky.  Each page turn progresses the action closer and closer to the true reason for celebrating Christmas.  The artwork, like the text, is simple, sweet, poignant and even funny.  In short, the illustrations match the text perfectly.

We've been reading this book for three Decembers.  I predict that we will be reading it for many more.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book 141: Bear Stays Up For Christmas

Bear Stays Up For Christmas, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Before I found Karma Wilson on Facebook earlier this year, I thought she must be a lovely older lady with a beautiful spirit because her writing is so perfect and wise.  I was a bit wrong.  She is lovely and she does have a beautiful spirit, but she is actually a few years younger than I am.  Sigh.  I have forgiven her for being younger than I am because of the beautiful spirit that infuses all of her books for children.

I fell in love with Karma Wilson's "Bear" books early on in my years as a children's librarian.  They are a joy to read out loud, either to an audience of one or thirty.  The rhythm, meter and word choice is always perfect.  And there is always a "heart-tug" moment.  Karma Wilson paints with her words:  every one is needed, not one is wasted.  In this book, Bear takes time away from his hibernation to give his friends a special surprise at Christmas.  He succeeds, but he, also, is surprised.

Jane Chapman's beautiful illustrations give even more life to Bear and his woodland friends.  I don't know how she does it, but she manages a realism that is not frightening and a sweetness that is not twee or precious.  Her animals are instantly recognizable for what they are, with expressions that completely match the actions and words that Karma Wilson gives them.  Her artwork is also instantly recognizable as her own.

So far, we have four "Bear" books in our house.  We won't be stopping there.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book 140: The Mouse Before Christmas

The Mouse Before Christmas, written and illustrated by Michael Garland, Puffin Book 1997.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

When I was growing up, beside the Biblical account of Jesus' birth, two books were read in our house every Christmas Eve:  The Night Before Christmas and Santa Mouse.  I think Michael Garland grew up with the same two stories.

The Mouse Before Christmas feels like a loving homage to both Christmas classics.  It also feels like a fresh, new tale (pun slightly intended).   It is charming and sweet, lyrically perfect, and just the right length for Christmas Eve reading.

Michael Garland's illustrations are also charming and sweet.  His Santa Claus has the kindest eyes I've ever seen in illustration.  And the world tour is stunningly beautiful.

My little boy just turned four last month.  This Christmas Eve, beside the Biblical account of Jesus' birth, we will be reading The Night Before Christmas, Santa Mouse AND The Mouse Before Christmas.  It is good to have traditions.  It is even better to make them your own.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Book 139: Santa Retires

Santa Retires, by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge, 2012.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

I would have bought Santa Retires based on the cover.  In fact, I kind of did.  The story is adorable, and understandable.  It's not really a stretch to think that Santa would want to retire:  He spends an entire year building toys, and then has to zip around the world in one night to deliver them.  It must be exhausting.  And such a thankless job, really. Poor Santa.  He needs a break, and David Biedrzycki gives him one.

There is something very special about David Biedrzycki's artwork.  There is a dash of reality mixed in with loads of humor.  There are small touches that make each illustrated page a delight.  The "weather" page is hilarious.  I love how pretty and glamorous Mrs. Claus is.  She's is proof that you don't have look frumpy to look Christmas-y -- not one novelty sweater in sight.  My little boy likes the artwork because the slimmed-down Santa bears a strong resemblance to his Grandpap.  And you don't want to overlook the crab or the mouse.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book 138: Look! Another Book!

Look!  Another Book!, by Bob Staake, Little, Brown and Company, 2012.  Preschool to Early Elementary

I had planned to start writing about Christmas books right after Thanksgiving, but then I received my pre-ordered copy of Look!  Another Book! in the mail Wednesday evening.  I tried to ignore the book, but it was as impossible to ignore as Belgian chocolate.  And just as addictive.  So, I'm calling today the end of Thanksgiving weekend (I do still have pie left).  My next book review will be for a Christmas book.  This book, however, would make an awesome Christmas present.

Look!  Another Book! is, like the first, Look!  A Book!, is a seek-and-find book.  The text in seek-and-find books usually is just there to tell you what to seek.  Not so here.  Sure you get the directions, but so much more, and the writing is at least ten times funnier than you would expect.  That's all I'm saying about the text because I refuse to give away the best rhymes.

Every two-page spread in this book is a feast, or more appropriately, a smorgasbord, for the eyes.  Not one square centimeter is wasted.  My absolute favorite, though, is the art gallery.  So many wonderful homages on that page.  The engineering in this book is no mean feat.  It made my brain hurt to try to figure out how those cut-outs can highlight individual characters or objects but seem to disappear when the page is closed.  Finally, I figured it out:  It's magic.  Don't tell me otherwise.

If you do get this book, don't skip the end-papers or the dedication -- I'm just saying.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book 137: Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, retold by Jon Scieszka, pictures by Mary Blair, Disney Press, 2008.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Usually any book with the name "Disney" in the title would cause me to run in the opposite direction.  I can tolerate Disney films for my son, but "re-told" Disney books generally leave me cold.  My one really huge exception is "Alice in Wonderland".  I own at least four copies of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", including an annotated version, and I've owned the Disney film in every incarnation:  VHS, DVD, BluRay.  I've watched it many, many times and for many, many years.  So when I saw this book with the story retold by Jon Scieszka and with pictures by Mary Blair.  I had to have it.   For me -- although, I will read it to my son.

Jon Scieszka first popped up on my children's books radar with his "Stinky Cheese Man."  He has stayed on my radar ever since, although, I've only recently learned how to pronounce his last name properly.  His writing, especially of retold fairy tales, manages feel both contemporary and timeless.  I could still hear Sterling Holloway's and Ed Wynn's voices when I read the story, but the dated parts that I (sometimes) fast-forward through in the movie have been given new life in this book.

It turns out that Mary Blair was a conceptual artist for almost all the Disney films that I will watch for the artwork:  Sleeping Beauty, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter Pan, Cinderella and, of course, Alice in Wonderland.  She managed a balance of dark and light in her illustrations that is perfect for fairy tales, and, really, pretty much any children's book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book 136: Cars Galore

Cars Galore, written by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake, Candlewick Press, 2011.  Toddler to Preschool to Early Elementary.

Today, my son developed a reaction to his 'flu inoculation.  He was miserable.  To cheer him up, I gave him a new book:  Cars Galore.  It worked; he was cheered up, briefly.

Cars Galore is a really fun read.  It is exactly the sort of book I would have chosen for Toddler/Preschooler story time at the library.  It reads as if Peter Stein wrote it by reading it out loud to a four-year-old.  It is silly, funny and packed with visual words and onomatopoeia.  And now I love it even more because I got to use the word "onomatopoeia" in a review.

I love everything about Bob Staake's artwork for this book, from the cover, to the end papers, to every illustration inside.  Again, this would be a perfect book for story time, not just because of the text but because illustration stands out and could easily be seen from a distance.  It is silly, funny, visually appealing, and if there were a word to describe artwork like "onomatopoeia", I'd use it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book 135: A City Is

A City Is, poems by Norman Rosten, illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg, Henry Holt & Company, 2004.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

"A City Is" is a collection of poems about life in New York City throughout the year.  Some are charming and resonate well, even with non-city dwellers; others are very New York City-centric.  All, however, are just the right length for reading to pre-schoolers.

Melanie Hope Greenberg's illustrations have a joyful playfulness that seems to mark her work, and I just love it.  She was an excellent choice of illustrator for this book because she can make all the poems in this collection relatable to everyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book 134: Pets Go Pop!

Pets Go Pop!, by Bob Staake, L.B. Kids (Little, Brown & Company) 2009.  (Preschool)

As a children's librarian, I had a love/hate relationship with pop-up books.  I loved them because they were fantastically cool, so cool that kids always wanted to check them out, which was great.  What I didn't like was how quickly the ones that were for circulation fell apart, or even worse, some of the more elaborate pop-up books were turned into reference books and could not be checked out at all.  As a children's librarian, pop-up books frustrated me.  Now, however, I buy books as a mother, and I just love pop-up books.

As much as I want to jump in and write about the mechanics of Pets Go Pop!, I'll stick to my formula and write about the text first.  The text is simple and it works.  I don't buy pop-up books for the writing, so if is at all amusing, I am happy.  And I am happy.

In general, the only way that Bob Staake's artwork could possibly be improved would be to make it 3D, like a pop-up book, like Pets Go Pop!  The engineering of this book is beyond amazing.  My husband is an engineer and mechanics of this book fascinated and baffled him.  He kept opening and closing the book to see how everything fit together until my son had enough and took the book back.  My son doesn't yet appreciate engineering; he just loves the way the crazy, colorful animals jump off of the page every time he opens the book.  So far, this book has stood up to my Tornado Thomas.  That also makes me happy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book 133: How to Bake an American Pie

How to Bake an American Pie, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

How to Bake an American Pie was written to be a Fourth of July book.  I didn't have this book on the Fourth of July.  I do, however, own it in time for Veterans' Day, which still feels quite relevant.

The text in How to Bake an American Pie is a lovely poem about ideally what it is to be an American and what forms America.  Karma Wilson, author of the charming "Bear" books, is equally charming here and surprisingly poignant.  As an adult, it reminds me of what is best about my country and countrymen.  After a fractious election season, I savored every heart-warming word.  For a child, the book gives ideals that are attainable, if not always present.

As much as I love Jane Chapman as the illustrator for the "Bear" books, I think Raul Colon was a perfect choice to illustrate this sweet and powerful poem-story.  In addition to his illustrations also being sweet and powerful, they are wonderfully whimsical in a way that actually enhance the poignancy of this book.

So I will read this book to my young son for Veteran's Day, and later for the Fourth of July, and many, many days in between.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book 132: Blue Chicken

Blue Chicken, by Deborah Freedman, Viking 2011.  (Toddler/Preschool)

I saw an image from this book and that was enough to make me want to buy it.  I am so not disappointed.  This book combines farm animals AND art.  Brilliant!  The artwork in this book propels the story, but the text is still delightful and simple enough for the youngest of listeners and the youngest of readers.  My son as been known to capsize his paints and color more than he intended, so this story is very relatable for him.

Of course, the illustrations are wonderful.  As much as I love the helpful, clumsy blue chicken, I think it is the blue-yellow duckling that captured my heart.   I highly recommend this adorably whimsical book, especially for preschoolers, whose "help" can sometimes lead to some colorful situations.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Book 131: Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books

Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books, 2012. (Toddler/Preschool/Early Elementary)

I bought this book because I remember owning as a child a Golden Book collection that featured Mary Blair's "I Can Fly".  All the stories in that book were very good, but I remember Blair's work the most of all.  In the "Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books", the illustrations are bigger, and, therefore, even better.   I think parts of the Golden Book of Little Verses were also in my childhood book, because I remember some of the illustrations, but none of the text.  Two of the stories in this collection are completely new to me.

Anyone who has been to Disney World or Land has seen Mary Blair's work.  Yup, it's a small world.  Really -- "It's a Small World"; which explains why the animatrons are so charming even if the song is so annoying.  Also, her work heavily influenced Disney's "Alice in Wonderland", which probably explains why it is my favorite Disney animated film.  And "Ichabod Crane", another film with intriguing illustration.

It wasn't until I flipped to the songs in the back of the book that I realized that I already owned something quite spectacular:  The New Golden Song Book, illustrated by Mary Blair, from 1955.  My copy was loved and used quite a bit before I inherited it, but still...!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book 130: Hello, Robots

Hello, Robots, by Bob Staake, Viking 2004.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

One last book before Hallowe'en, because who doesn't want to be a robot?

I heard "Hello, Robots" before I saw it, and because I was distracted, it didn't quite grab me like other Staake books did.  My then three-and-a-half year old son, however, was immediately interested and wanted to check out the book.  So we did.  Then he didn't want to bring it back to the library, so we had to buy our own copy.  Now whenever we read this book, i.e., every day and usually more than once a day, my son "reads" the refrain in a robot voice.  I get it now.  It's funny.

The illustrations are typical Bob Staake artwork, which is a shorthand way of saying that they are brilliant, funny, a bit twisted, and convey the unexpected.  The two pages showing the robots in the rain so intrigue and worry my little boy that he has painted his own scene of robots in the rain.  Good children's books entertain.  Great children's books spark the imagination.  Excellent children's books inspire.  It's pretty clear to my young son what kind of books Mr. Staake creates.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book 129: The Ballad of the Pirate Queens

The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon, Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1995.  (Preschool/Elementary)

Hallowe'en is quickly approaching and, trust me on this, not every girl wants to be a princess.  Some would much rather be a pirate for a day.  And if you plan to be a female pirate, you should be a Pirate Queen, like Anne Bonney or Mary Reade.  I wish I knew about them when I was younger.

The Ballad of the Pirate Queens is a book that I picked up long before I ever planned to have a child or work as a children's librarian.  It was just one of the books that are so stunning and so intriguing that I felt I had to have it for my own library.  It was also my first encounter with Jane Yolen's writing.  I have since become a huge fan of this amazingly prolific writer.  Every book she writes, and she writes a staggering array, is pitch-perfect.  The Ballad of the Pirate Queens with its mix of poetry and history reads like a troubadour's song.  I dare you to not lilt as you read it out loud.  What I love best about this book, however, is the spotlight on the female pirates.

This book also introduced me to David Shannon's work.  Powerful and beautiful only just begin to describe the illustrations in this book.  Some of the pieces of artwork in this book are so stand-alone-gorgeous that I would frame them and hang them on my wall if they were available as prints.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book 128: Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning

Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning, written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Brian Ajhar, Dial Books for Young Readers 1994. (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Scarlett Angelina Wolverton-Manning is a beautiful Halloween book, which is what attracted me to it in the first place.  It is also a very funny book, in rather a twisted way, which is why I bought it.  I won't give any details because I don't want to give away the story, but the ending is well worth the buildup.  I will say that this a wonderfully well-written book, which is not surprising, because Jacqueline K. Ogburn was a children's book editor before she became an author.

As I said, this is a beautiful book, and yet the illustration still seem to be properly sinister --  a delectable combination.  Every page is stand-alone wonderful.  I'm not sure what other books Brian Ajhar has illustrated, but I would like to find out.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book 127: Come to the Fairies' Ball

Come to the Fairies' Ball, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Gary Lippincott, Windsong 2009.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Jane Yolen is a dream come true for a children's librarian -- she writes superbly well for all ages.  This book is every bit as wonderful.  In fact, I read this book out loud to my young son, who is a huge fan of her "How Do Dinosaur..." books, and he sat enrapt through the entire tale.  The story itself is a bit "Psyche", a bit "Cinderella", a bit Christina Rossetti and all charm and pure magic.  It is as delightful as any classic fairy tale, with a markedly modern twist.

Gary Lippincott does an amazing job keeping up with, and illuminating, Jane Yolen's marvelous story. Every illustration is breathtakingly beautiful, and like the writing, all charm and pure magic.  My favorite illustration is the two-page spread of the ballroom -- I could get lost in there and never want to return to the real world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book 126: The Spider and the Fly

The Spider and the Fly (10th Anniversary Edition), classic poem by Mary Howitt, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, Simon & Schuster, 2012.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

First confession:  I own two copies of the Tony DiTerlizzi illustrated version of The Spider and the Fly; one I bought in 2002, and one I just bought last month.  I wouldn't let my young son "read" my 2002 version of The Spider and The Fly because I wanted to keep it pristine.  Now I will just keep the 10th Anniversary Edition to myself.

Pretty much everyone knows the opening lines to The Spider and The Fly, and with good reason; they are pretty amazing first lines.  The rest of the poem, although seldom quoted, is just as great.

The Spider and the Fly was my initial introduction to Tony DiTerlizzi's artwork, and I've been a fan of his work ever since.  There is a bit of Rackham, Gorey, and Brian Froud living in his work, but the combination is pure DiTerlizzi.

Second confession:  I bought the original The Spider and the Fly long before I was a mom.  I wasn't even married.  I just really, really wanted the book because of the black and white, film noir illustrations.  And the fly looked very much like my younger sister, Luna, at the time (although, she does only have two arms and two legs.)

Third confession:  For the Hallowe'en party of the library in 2006, my fellow librarian, Louise, and I did a Reader's Theater version of this book.  We pre-recorded the dialogue and acted it out in costumes for the kids at the party.  Louise was the spider.  I was the fly.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book 125: Five Little Pumpkins

Five Little Pumpkins, pictures by Dan Yaccarino, Harper Collins, 1998.  (Toddler/Preschool)

Last October, I had to spend a few days in North Carolina without my then-almost-three year old son.  I wanted to bring him back something special, and, when I was out running errands, I saw this book.  I love Dan Yaccarino's joyfully brilliant illustrations, and my son loved (and still loves) pumpkins, so I figured this book would be a winner.  I was right.

We, of course, read it every night up until Hallowe'en.  Then Thanksgiving.  Then Christmas.  It did get a bit of a rest during the spring and summer, but it is out again, and this time, HE reads it.

Five Little Pumpkins is a very old poem that we used every year at the library's Hallowe'en parties.  With Dan Yaccarino's quirky-charming illustrations, the poem become alive and fresh, making this book a Hallowe'en classic for many years.  I am quite partial to the ghosts.  And cats.

If you are lucky enough to find this book this year -- it was published in 1998 -- pick it up and pass it on to your favorite kid.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book 124: This is NOT a Pumpkin

This is NOT a Pumpkin, by Bob Staake, Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division) 2007.  (Toddler/Preschool)

 I did not read this book through before I gave it to my son -- a potentially risky move on my part -- because as soon as he saw it, he wanted it.  So, we read it together.  My son, at the time, was three-and-a-half years old.  I wasn't sure he'd "get" the book.  I was wrong.  He laughed like a maniac when he reached the final two pages.   We read this book several more times -- that same day.  And he laughed, every time.

The cover, of course, is what my son saw first.  And it is quite tantalizing in a wonderfully Magritte sort of way.  This is, and probably will be, the only Bob Staake book where I can refer to the artwork as "illustration", as in singular.  But it works because it is a singular illustration.  I refuse to give away the ending, so no details on why the illustration works.

If you are looking for a book for a toddler or preschooler this Fall/Hallowe'en season, you cannot go wrong with this one.  My little boy still carries it everywhere.  And HE reads it.  All the time.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book 123: Miss Smith Under the Ocean

Miss Smith Under the Ocean, by Michael Garland, Dutton Children's Book 2011. (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Miss Smith, that awesome red-headed, red-shoed teacher, reads again, and this time characters from "sea stories" come to life.  Starting with "The Owl and the Pussycat", so that Miss Smith and the students have a boat, of course, Miss Smith wastes no time in conjuring the whale that eluded Ahab.  The marvelous Miss Smith reads through so many adventures and the class meets so many characters, but it is the visit from Captain Nemo that makes me jealous.  What I would give to bring the Nautilus to life!  Clearly, Michael Garland loves books.  He makes me want to go back and re-read every one of those classic tales.

As wonderful as this story is, it is the completely brilliant, slightly manic illustrations that breathe life into this book.  My son, at not yet four, is too young to understand the literary allusions, but he can understand what is happening on each page because the illustrations are so absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book 122: The Reluctant Dragon

The Reluctant Dragon, written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, Holiday House 1938.  (Elementary)

"Read to Your Dragon" month is drawing to a close, so I decided to review The Reluctant Dragon.  Kenneth Grahame, best known for writing The Wind in the Willows, wrote this book.  Ernest H. Shepard, best known for illustrating Winnie-The-Pooh, illustrated this book.  With a winning team like that, it is no surprise that this well-loved book has become a classic.

The plot of this story is straightforward enough:  A dragon moves into a cave near a village.  The villagers want the dragon gone.  The villagers hire a knight to fight the dragon.  But there are such delightful twists and turns along the way it is easy to forget that the plot is straightforward.  For example, the dragon is not a killing dragon; he is a poetry reading dragon.  And the knight that is hired is none other than St. George.  The knight and the dragon do fight and the conclusion is most satisfactory.

The illustrations, as all good illustrations do, illuminate the text, add charm and character.  Created by Shepard's deft hands, they are nothing short of perfection.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book 121: Me and My Dragon

Me and My Dragon, by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge 2011.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

September is "Read to Your Dragon Month," and there is no better book to read to your dragon than "Me and My Dragon" by David Biedryzcki.

When I was a kid, I wished I had a dragon just like the one in this book.  For one thing, he would have eaten my brussel sprouts.  Actually, that alone would have been enough of a reason.  The dragon in "Me and My Dragon" is such a friendly dragon that my almost-four year old son thinks he says, "Good morning, little boy.  Have a wonderful day".  And he probably does; I'm just too old to hear it.

The story is adorable, but what really sets this book apart and made me want to buy it are the fabulous, whimsical, slightly off-beat and ridiculously brilliant illustrations.  The cover artwork is only a taste of what is in store for readers of this book.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book 120: Boats for Bedtime

Boats for Bedtime, written by Olga Litowinsky, illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg, Clarion Books 1999.  (Toddler/Preschool)

 Apparently, today (September 19th) is Talk Like a Pirate Day.  It's a new holiday for me, but I can work with it.  Boats for Bedtime seems like the perfect book to review today.

The text for Boats for Bedtime is simple; at times only one or two words per page, but every word is well-chosen.  I especially like "Sail among the stars.  Play around the moon" -- so evocative.

Melanie Hope Greenberg's illustrations manage the exactly right amount of magic and whimsy to match the lyrical text.  Her lines are clean and her colors are brilliant.  Her illustrations propel the story and take it from book's pages and into a land of dreams.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book 119: Look! A Book!

Look!  A Book!, written and illustrated by Bob Staake, published by Little, Brown and Company, 2011.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Finding out that Bob Staake writes, as well as illustrates, children's books more than three years after after I stopped working as a children's librarian is like showing up late to a really great party.  I'm a bit annoyed that all these people have been having so much fun for so long without me, but, on the other hand, I am glad that I finally made it to the party.  Had I known sooner, though, I would definitely have brought other people with me.

Look!  A Book!  is the perfect example of why I wish that I had discovered the weird and wonderful world that is a Bob Staake children's book earlier.  The text is simple, fairly straightforward, and at times, silly;  all that is great, but team that text with the brilliant, zany, cram-every-inch-with-action-on-every-page illustrations and the results are nothing short of magical.  And those magical illustrations? -- they grace everything from the jacket, cover and end papers and every delightful page in between.

My son, at not quite four, seems to be the perfect age to enjoy the beautiful madness of this book.  Maybe I did show up to the party at exactly the time, after all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book 118: Nite Nite Soldier

Major Manners Presents Nite Nite Soldier, written by Michael and Beth Hafer, illustrated by Russ Cox, Out House Ink Publishing, 2012.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

The dedication in this book won me over right away.  Nite Nite Soldier is dedicated to military families.   As the sister of a retired veteran, I loved that; as the nephew of a retired veteran, so did my son.

Nite Nite Soldier sets getting-ready-for-bed activities to a cadence, so it is a fun read for the adult reader.  It is also fun for the listeners who get to repeat parts of the cadence.  What makes Nite Nite Soldier really special, however, is the delightful artwork.

On every page, Russ Cox's vivid illustrations pop with humor and texture.  I giggle every time I see Major Manners parading around in his pink bunny slippers.  And the expressions on the children's faces  have to be seen to be enjoyed.

There is also a CD with this book.  I have yet to listen to it because I want to read the story.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book 117: The Red Lemon

The Red Lemon, by Bob Staake, Golden Book/Random House, 2006.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Instead of trying to explain why I like this book, I decided to write down what my three-and-a-half year old son said when we first read this book: "Wow", "Beautiful", "Delicious", "Awesome", "This is wonderful."

If you still want more information on why I bought this book, I could tell you how we've read this story almost every day, and usually more than once a day; how I had to hide it to write this review; how Bob Staake is my new favorite author/illustrator for the preschool set; how delectably brilliant the illustrations are; and how the quirky writing borders on ridiculous without crossing over.  Or I could just let Thomas sum it up:  "I love it!"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book 116: Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook

Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook, by Michael Garland, Dutton Children's Books, 2003.  (Preschool/Early Elementary)

Some years ago I drew a pen and ink graphic for the literacy program at our library.  It showed an open door with stacks of books and some of the characters come to life.  I thought I was pretty clever.  I was not, however, as clever as Michael Garland in Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook.

Miss Smith is the second-grade teacher that you wished you had.  She has rather punk-y red hair, red cat-eye glasses, and best of all, she sports red Converse high-tops.  She reads from an incredible storybook that brings characters to life, not just in an imaginary way as any good reader can, but in a way that fills the classroom.  Imagine the possibilities, and you have Michael Garland's book.

Michael Garland is an artist of astounding range.  The illustrations for this book are phenomenal and add to the magic that is this story.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book "series" for young readers -- 4

The "Pigeon" books by Mo Willems.  (Baby/Toddler/Preschool/Early Elementary)

Mr. Willems' first "Pigeon" book is now a classic:  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  There is even a plush toy that says, in Mo Willems' voice, "Let me drive the bus!".  Of course, we have that toy pigeon, too.

When I was a children's librarian, I would use at least one of the "Pigeon" books for my story times for the toddlers and pre-schoolers.  The toddlers, who had mastered the word "no" loved the book, because they could shout "no" at the book -- something which they probably were discouraged from doing at home.  The preschoolers, who still loved to shout "no", understood the humor a bit more and would laugh at the silliness.  My favorite memory, however, is when another librarian and I had the pigeon flying a space shuttle for a local kindergarten class.  When I, as the pigeon, said "How about I give you five dollars" (to fly the shuttle), one kid piped up, "Make it 20, and we got a deal!"  You can't buy that kind of interest in a book.

Now that I have my own young reader, we have the "Smidgeon of Pigeon" books as well as the more sophisticated other "Pigeon" books.  My son loves to shout "no" at the books and laugh at the ridiculous pigeon.  Again, you can't buy that kind of interest in a "series" of books.  You can, however, buy the books, and they are worth every penny.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book 115: Good Boy, Fergus!

Good Boy, Fergus!, by David Shannon, Blue Sky Press 2006.  (Toddler/Preschool)

Fergus is the cutest little white Scottish terrier, ever.  And David Shannon is a genius at capturing Fergus' expressions in his darling illustrations.  Anyone who has ever been trained by a dog will recognize themselves (and their dogs) in this story.

So how does it go over with the target audience?  Extremely well judging by the giggling that occurs when this story is being read.  It might help that we have a dog named Sophie who behaves much the same way as Fergus.  If anyone is wondering:  Yes, Sophie does have us trained.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book 114: My Friend Rabbit

My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rothman, Roaring Brook Press 2002.  (Toddler/Preschool)

 The fact that My Friend Rabbit won the Caldecott Medal made me pick the book up.  The fact that it was a funny book made me buy it.

Sometimes my three-year-old son tries to "help" around the house.  Usually his "help" means a great deal more work for me, but the kid means well, so I praise the effort.  The rabbit in the book means well, but his efforts do not often succeed as planned.  I guess I should be grateful that my son doesn't employ an elephants, hippopotamus, alligator, rhinoceros, etc., to carry out his plans.

Eric Rothman uses a bold outline for his "ink-block" illustrations.  It works.  The animal expressions are comical, and yet the animals are rendered in such a way it is very clear what each animal is.  Cartoony, confusing animals are one of my pet peeves in children's literature.

I don't always like books that won the Caldecott Medal.  I do very much like My Friend Rabbit, though.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book 113: Mudworks

Book 113:  Mudworks.  Creative Clay, Dough, and Modeling Experiences, by MaryAnn Kohl, illustrated by Kathleen Kerr, Bright Ring Publishing 1989.  (Preschool/Elementary)

I bought this book on the recommendation of two of my Facebook friends; one has a house-full of active children, the other was Denise Fleming.  Between the two of them I had creative activities for children.  Perfect.

So far I've only made up one recipe of dough from this book:  Basic Art Dough.  It was labeled as being the best and easiest unbaked dough for children over the age of one.  Again, perfect.  I halved the recipe a week ago, wrapped it in wax paper and stored it in a wonton soup container when not in use.  My son has been playing with it every day, at least once a day, and it still models easily and relatively cleanly.  Perfect, perfect.

I'm sure I will experiment with the other recipes in this book over then next ten years or so, but having one perfect recipe for creative fun is more than worth the price of this book.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book "series" for young readers -- 3

If You Give..., by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond.  (Toddler/Preschool)

I just read the review I wrote over two years about "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".  I still agree with it, so I will repeat part of it here.

You cannot go wrong with any "If You Give..." book. Numeroff's stories are sweet and silly, funny and charming, but what really make these books so well-loved by so many children and adults is the magic that is Felicia Bond's illustration.  Even when Numeroff's writing becomes perhaps a little stilted or overly-silly after having written so many "If You Give..." books, Bond's illustrations swoop in and save the day.  The whole becomes greater than the parts when an excellent storyteller is teamed with an excellent illustrator.

Interestingly, I've read a few books that Felicia Bond has written.  Her writing is fine, and, of course her illustrations are wonderful, but I find the books lack the spark that makes the "If You Give..." series so endearing and enduring.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book 112: The Orb of Chatham

The Orb of Chatham, by Bob Staake, Commonwealth Editions, 2005

Truth be told, I bought this book for me.  But my little boy saw it when I opened the package, and he said "Have it!"  I'm not even going to try to explain to a three-year-old why he can't have a picture book, so I guess we'll have to share.

I bought this book for the illustrations.  You may not know Staake's name, but most likely you know his artwork; it often graces the covers of the New Yorker, and shows up in many other places.  His works features clean lines, remarkable shading, and simple subject that virtually jumps off the page.  It is always beautiful, in a sort of modern Art Deco way.  The illustrations in this book are all that and a bit of film noir --  and nothing short of breathtakingly brilliant.

The story, which I thought would be secondary in this book, surprised me with its Goreyesque quality. I was delighted.  And heartened, because even though Edward Gorey is no longer with us, Bob Staake still very much is.

I should confess that I have yet to unlock the key.  I started at 11:30 last night, and I made a half-hearted effort for about half an hour before I gave up for the night and went to bed.  So I'm no puzzle whiz, or I'm just really bad at math.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book 111: Nana's Gift

Nana's Gift, by Agy Wilson, 2012.  (Elementary)

The opening line for Nana's Gift was simple, poetic and a perfect set-up for the story to follow.  The tale itself is nothing new -- it is a timeless story of forgiveness and redemption -- but it is told in such a personal way that one can feel an almost immediate connection with the author.  It is as if we are being invited into her home and into her memories.  There are places in this book that could benefit from the "tightening up" of a very good editor, as long as none of the illustrations are sacrificed.

All the illustrations in this book are good, but a couple of them jump out as being something special.  A kitchen scene and an outdoor scene, in particular, are beautifully evocative.

This is the first "book" I've read on a computer, and nothing against the story, but I won't be giving up my bookcases any time soon.  I could see a grandmother and child reading this book together, and turning the pages together.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book "series" for young readers -- 2

"Over in... " by Marianne Berkes and various artists.  (Toddler/Preschool/Early Elementary)

My first introduction to this "series" was a few years ago when Marianne Berkes visited the library where I worked.  I loved her and her books pretty much immediately; it would have been hard not to.  She is a former children's librarian turned children's author.  She took everything she learned about enjoying and sharing books and wrote books that can be enjoyed and shared.

I'll always have a soft spot for "Over in the Ocean" because that was only book in the series at that time and I was able to "help" her perform it at the library for a children's program.  But I love this whole series from "Ocean" to her newest, "Forest".  I never tire of singing them, which is fortunate, because my son wants to hear at least one "Over in..." at least once a day.  I should also add, that even though more than one artist illustrated this series, the chosen illustrator does an amazing job interpreting Marianne Berkes' text for each of the books.

Be sure to visit Marianne's website to see ALL of her wonderful books.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book "series" for young readers -- 1

I'm taking a break from reviewing individual books because I've noticed a lot of moms in the library on Story Time day are looking for authors of multiple books, or series, for their young readers.  So my first series to recommend:  How Do Dinosaurs....(anything) by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  (Baby/Toddler/Preschool)

These books were my son's introduction to dinosaurs.   The first book I read/bought (same thing for me) was How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You.  My little "dinosaur" had no trouble recognizing himself in the dinosaur-like behavior, both good and bad.  Any book that can engage a young child (he was two at the time) right away is a winner for the writing.

Mark Teague's illustrations for this series are nothing short of brilliant.  Thomas had never seen a drawing of a dinosaur before we read the first book.  After seeing the dinosaurs in the "I Love You" book, Thomas had no trouble spotting dinosaurs in other illustrations or drawings, and he's even drawn some himself.

We own four of the Dinosaur books already, and we'll be buying more, especially since there is a new one coming out for Christmas.  Thanks, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book 110: Over in the Forest, Come and Take a Peek

Over in the Forest, Come and Take a Peek, written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jill Dubin, Dawn Publication, 2012.  (Toddler/Preschool)

Question:  How much does my little boy love this book?  Answer:  I've had this book for about ten days and have read it easily over twenty times.  Simple Answer:  A whole lot.

Just like every other Over In... book by the talented Marianne Berkes, this one is set to the tune of Over in the Meadow.  That premise make this an easy book to read to toddlers.  Not to give anything away, once again, I learned something from Marianne Berkes' text.

The illustrations are delightful.  My favorite part, though, is the ascending number of animal tracks, because I learned something from the illustrations.

Any time a book entertains a child and educates an adult, it is a winner.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book 109: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and other bedtime lullabies

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Other Bedtime Lullabies, Grandreams Limited, 1989.  (Baby/Toddler)

  Two weeks ago I broke my left leg, and, yes, last May, I shattered my right. So, once again I am hobbling around the downstairs on crutches. And once again, my choice of books is pretty limited. In fact all the ones my son brought downstairs have been reviewed. This one was sitting by the computer so I could look up the tunes. Now that I have looked up a few a the tunes for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Other Bedtime Lullabies, I do like it better.

 I thought at three-and-a-half, my little boy might have outgrown lullabies, but at least once a day he climbs into my lap and wants me to sing to him. Awww. It is good to have a choice of songs. The reason I picked this book up in the first place was because of the illustrations. They have a bit of the Joan Walsh Anglund quality that I grew up with, and so, to my was comforting and familiar. I swear I had a pink robe just like the one a girl is wearing in one of the illustrations. Not only do I have a stash of new songs for my son, but also, I can share with him some of the features of my childhood.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book 108: Dog Train

Dog Train, Words and Illustrations by Sandra Boynton, Workman Publishing Company 2005.  (Toddler/Preschool)

Yet another of Sandra Boynton's brilliant book/CD combinations. Michael Ford wrote the music for this one, again; and, again, the music is brilliant. And the recording artists for this collaboration are phenomenal: Alison Krauss and Blues Traveler to just name two. So we have Sandra Boynton's silly illustrations and lyrics, great music and some stellar performers: What's not to like?

This is my little boy's fourth Boynton book/CD. What is really wonderful them is that I keep a couple of the CDs in the car and when he starts to get fussy, I can just pop one into the player and he calms right down. Even better, the music is quite sophisticated -- even if the lyrics are ridiculous -- so I don't feel compelled to jump out of the car when I should in fact be driving.

Everybody's happy!

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book 107: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins, written by P.L. Travers. illustrated by Mary Shepard, Harcourt Book 1931

I've talked about, and recommended, this book so often that I can't believe I haven't reviewed it before now. But I haven't. So here is the review: I love this book!

More specifically, I love how this book is written. If you ever have had a three-yeard-old, you probably know they will not sit still through an entire children's novel, nor will they follow the thread of a story from one night to the next. A book in which each chapter tells a complete story and tell a larger story on the whole is an entirely different matter. Add to that the wonderful illustrations of Mary Shepard -- daughter of E. H. Shepard -- and you have a delightfully charming children's book.

Don't look for the penguin waiters, runaway carousel horses or rooftop dances scenes -- Yeah, I love that about the movie, too -- but the chapter on the dancing cow will more than make up for it, I promise.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book 106: Ten in the Bed

Ten in the Bed by Jane Cabrera, Holiday House 2010

This is another book that my little always picks out for himself, so I would guess that makes this a perfect book for a toddler/preschooler.

You probably remember the song from your childhood -- if not the tune is simple and easy to pick up -- but Jane Cabrera changes the words a bit. For example, the first one out of bed is the snorer -- Hooray! Those slight changes in the text make for some fun illustrations.

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book 105: Hop on Pop

Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss, Random House 1963

This was another book that I thought my son would soon tire. I was wrong. Oh, that Dr. Seuss! I couldn't tell you why he likes the book, even when he is not paying any attention to the illustrations. He just does.

I'll tell you why I like reading it out loud. It is fun in a rhymy-whymy way. It has the cadence of a chant. It is funny. And the illustrations -- even upside down and backwards, the illustrations are colorful and whimsical. Even if my son is too busy dancing to the rhythm of the text to notice the illustrations, I find them a delight.

Enjoy Seuss' birthday month with this or another favorite of his books.

For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book 104: The Berenstains' B Book

The Berenstains' B Book, Random House 1971

During the night, my little boy tipped over his toy bin and used it to scale his bookshelves. This morning there were a pile of about twenty books on the floor and he wanted me to read every one of them. For the most part, he would lose interest after a page or two, but a few he listened to right until the end. Those books deserve a write-up.

That he listened all the way through The Berenstains' B Book surprised me. I did lose interest after about the fourth page, but he was loving all those Bs, so I read it to the end. This is a silly little book, which, not shockingly emphasizes the letter B. It becomes quite a tricky tongue-twister long before you reach the end of the book. I couldn't really tell you what specifically my three-year-old liked about the book, but he did really enjoy it.

The illustrations feature the funnel-snouted animals of the Berenstains -- cute and colorful, but not easily recognizable, and, therefore not my favorite style. Again, my little boy liked all the silly images and colors, even if he didn't believe me that the bear was supposed to be a bear.

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book 103: Philadelphia Chickens

Philadelphia Chickens, written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton, Workman Books 2003

I love good music, funny songs and Sandra Boynton, so, of course, I love this book and CD. Which is for all ages except 43. :) My favorite group on the CD has got to be the Bacon Brothers because they have that Brian Setzer swing-thing going on. Also, if you ever wanted to hear Kevin Kline sing, this would be your chance.

The lyrics (and therefore the written text) are perfectly ridiculous, with emphasis on the perfect. And Sandra Boynton's illustrations match, again perfectly.

For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book 102: Treasury of Fairy Tales

Treasury of Fairy Tales, written by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Sophy Williams, Oxford University Press 2003

Everything about this edition of fairy tales is soft and rather pastel -- from the cover art, to the inside illustrations, to the rendering of some very well-known fairy tales. That means, even when reinterpreting tales by the brothers Grimm, there is remarkably very little death, and what there is is quickly glossed over in this book. I don't mind the darker, sharper tales, in fact I often prefer them. When reading to a three-year-old, however, discretion should be practiced. As this book is very unlikely to induce nightmares (a rather noble goal), it is a very good introduction to fairy tales to young listeners.

The cover artwork and illustrations are both glowing and soft. I would be shocked if the medium used to produce the art was not pastel. Because the illustrator has managed to not produce the muddy effect so common with pastel work (well, mine anyway) and instead has created something bright and lovely, I'm impressed and quite stunned by the beauty of the illustrations.

For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book 101: Are All The Giants Dead?

Are All The Giants Dead?, written by Mary Norton, illustrated by Brian Froud, Magic Carpet Books (Harcourt Brace), 1997 (first published 1975)

When I was looking for Bed-knob and Broomstick to purchase, I came across this title by Mary Norton. The title grabbed my attention, but the illustrator, Brian Froud, made me want to buy the book. Visions of Labyrinth danced through my head -- hello, Goblin King!

So, of course, I bought the book. And read it. And loved it. Are All the Giants Dead? serves a healthy dose of fantasy to the imaginative and brings to life (and ages) many favorite fairy tale characters. For example, Beauty of Beauty and the Beast, left behind her svelte figure and took on middle-aged proportions not very different from mine. I had to love that. The book is a great romp as a read. It also was surprisingly educational. I thought Jack-of-the-Beanstalk was Jack-the-Giant-Killer. Not so! They originally were two separate people. Clearly, I am not the only one who mixed them up, because a movie coming out this year is entitled Jack the Giant Killer, but is about Jack of the Beanstalk.

The illustrations are perfect -- as can be expected from the premiere illustrator of goblins, hobgoblins and fairies of our age. Visions of Labyrinth will dance through your head.

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book 100: Bed-Knob and Broomstick

Bed-Knob and Broomstick, written by Mary Norton, illustrated by Erik Blegvad, Harcourt 1943 and 1957

This Christmas season, as well as watching Mary Poppins, we watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I loved that the movie was set during the second world war and I wondered how it was handled in the book, so I bought the book. Turns out it wasn't handled at all. The whole premise for the student witch to learn magic in the movie does not exist in the book. Further, the book was actually two books put together: The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks. The movie is very loosely based on the two books.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick is still a most enjoyable read. If I preferred the Miss Price in the movie to the one in the book, I preferred the Charlie in the book to the one in the movie. If I missed the noble intent in the movie, I liked the time travel in the book.

The black-and-white illustrations have a charmingly vintage feel. I think Erik Blegvad could have inspired Edward Gorey. And that is a very good thing.

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book 99: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins, written by P.L. Travers, illustrated by Mary Shepard.  (Elementary)

Over the Christmas holiday, we watched Mary Poppins with the always wonderful Julie Andrews. As enjoyable as the Disney movie was, I did find myself wishing for more of the book.

Mary Poppins is a perfect book to read to my son now. He doesn't need illustrations on every page and he can sit still for an entire chapter. Why Mary Poppins is so perfect, though, is because every chapter is a short story. The stories all fit together for form a longer story, but they also can stand alone quite well. My favorite chapter is entitled The Dancing Cow. Those who have seen the movie may not recall a dancing cow. That's because it is not in the movie. And that is one of the reasons why the book is so much better than the movie.

Mary Shepard was the daughter of E. H. Shepard, and E. H. Shepard, as every bibliophile knows, illustrated the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Suffice to say, the talent gene was passed on.

*For reviews on books to borrow, please see Louise's Blog in Blogs I Follow.