Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book 162: Mermaids on Parade

Mermaids on Parade, written and illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg, G.P. Putnam's Sons Book, 2008.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

What could be better than a book about a mermaid?  A book about loads of mermaids in a parade.  And not just mermaids, but other sea creatures and spirits, including the King and Queen of the Sea who "open" the ocean for the summer.  How wonderful!  Melanie Hope Greenberg has an easy, folksy way of writing that manages to catch people like me who have never visited Coney Island up in the excitement of the Mermaid Parade.

The artwork for Mermaids on Parade is similarly folksy, colorful and accessible.  It was fun to find the little girl and her parents on each page and to follow their progress through the streets.  It was also fun to spot the grown-up author/illustrator on one of the pages and to search for the peace dove.

This will be the thirtieth year of the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island.  If you're going, be sure to pick up your copy of Mermaids on Parade.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book 161: Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes

Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes, written by Eric Litwin, Illustrated by James Dean, Harper Collins 2010.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

In my house, I have some pretty cool cats, but not one is as cool as Pete the Cat.  First of all, he wears Converse hightop Chucks (like me).  And he is completely unflappable (not so much like me).  He is able to turn any potentially bad situation into a good one (I wish that were me).  Anyway, my little boy heard this cool cat story at the library during a recent Story Time.  He told me that he wanted that book.  Instead of checking it out, I just went ahead and bought it.  We just got our copy in the mail.  He sang the story with me and said, "I love it!"

The illustrations accompanying the lovable text are equally lovable.  I love seeing those hightop Chucks change color, as does my son.  And the additional props in the drawings just add to Pete the Cat's coolness.  Such a winning book.  There is a summed up moral at the end of the story, which normally would annoy me, but Pete the Cat is far too cool to be gorpy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book 160: The Search Committee

The Search Committee, by Tim Owens, Tyndale House, 2012.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I buy books for myself.  Usually they are classics.  Or, like with The Search Committee, I know the author.  In this case, he is part of my writers' group.  I have read short pieces of his before and know him to have an intriguing voice in his writing and a strong sense of humor and some quirky characters.  All of that is present in The Search Committee.  I was, however, surprised by how Southern this novel is.

The real main character in this book is the setting.  I had just finished reading Barbara O'Connor's How to Steal a Dog before I started The Search Committee.  It was amazing how well the writing dovetailed -- it wasn't the same -- Ms O'Connor writes for children, but there is a quality to the writing that is shared by both authors.  In case you are wondering, I love Barbara O'Connor's writing, so I loved the writing in The Search Committee as well.

The Search Committee ostensibly is about the four women and three men who make up a committee searching for a new pastor for their church.  Every main character is given a view point and flashbacks to his or her past.  I don't really have a problem with that.  I do, however, think this book could have been improved by tighter editing.  That, to me, is more a reflection on the publishing house than on the author.

I do know that Mr. Owens is working on another book.  I do know that I'll be buying it when it is released. And I do know that I expect to enjoy it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book 159: How to Steal a Dog

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 2007.  Mid to Upper Elementary.

How to Steal a Dog opens with the best and most heartbreaking beginning sentence in any recent piece of children's literature:  "The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car."  When I read that sentence, I felt like I was sucker-punched.  Twice.

With a title like How to Steal a Dog, you might think this book was about the dog.  You'd be wrong.  It is about so much more.  It is about relationships.  It is about love.  It is about suffering.  It is about wrestling with the conscience.  It is about life.  I had no trouble relating to all the main characters in this book:  The mother, who was working two jobs just to try to provide the basic needs for her children and still failing to provide the shelter; Carmella, whose dog is her best friend, child and center of her life; Toby, the younger sibling who is called "stupid" when he points out flaws in the older sibling's plans; and the dog-stealing Georgina, who tries to give her family the help that they so desperately need.

I became so invested in the lives of these character during the course of the short 165 pages that I would have felt cheated if Ms. O'Connor gave them an easy, happy ending.  She didn't.  She gave this story a perfect ending, one that was full of hope and unresolved problems.  Just like life.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book 158: Bugs Galore

Bugs Galore, written by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake, Candlewick Press 2012.  Toddler to Preschool to Early Elementary.

It's Valentine's Day, so I gave my son a book:  Bugs Galore.  I definitely am not a fan of bugs.  I will rescue any ladybug unlucky enough to end up in our house; I won't kill spiders if I know they are innocuous; and I'll even leave fire ant nests alone if there are in areas where no one walks -- they prey on termites; and if I'm outside and the bugs leave me alone, I will leave them alone, but that's pretty much is the extent of my affection for bugs.  So, I wasn't really expecting to like a bug book.  But I did.  And more importantly, so did my four-year-old son.  He called this a "beautiful bug book".  The description is perfect.

We already have Cars Galore, and I really liked the writing in it.  If possible, I like the writing in Bugs Galore even more.  Peter Stein writes like he is reading out loud to a young child, which, of course, is the best way to write for young children.  I don't know how he manages it, but his rhyming scheme and meter never feel forced or artificial.  His text is so wonderfully picturesque that he just holds the door wide open for Bob Staake's illustrative wackiness to stomp right in.  And it does.

Again, although I am NOT a bug person, I like the artwork in Bugs Galore even better than Cars Galore.  Every page in Bugs Galore crawls with "beautiful bugs".  There is a wonderful freedom in the sprawl of the crawling bugs that could not exist with cars on the road.  I should point out that I am writing this review without having the book in front of me because my son took the "beautiful bug book" to his room and he won't let me have it back.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book 157: My Father's Luncheonette

My Father’s Luncheonette, by Melanie Hope Greenberg, Dutton Children’s Books, 1991.  Preschool to Early Elementary. 

My Father’s Luncheonette starts off with these lines:  “My father’s luncheonette is twelve hops on my left foot, eight hops on my right foot, twenty-three skips, and around the corner from where I live. “  And that perfect opening sentence sets the tone for this book.  The story takes place in an age that I did not live, and in a place that I have never lived, and yet, because this story is so wonderfully personal, I can relate to it.  It feels familiar.

The artwork also feels familiar.  Maybe because I’ve seen Ms. Greenberg’s work before and for a while – maybe Unicef?  Her illustrations are packed with charm and whimsy.  They look deceptively simple, almost as if the narrator herself drew them, if, that is, that eight-year-old narrator had an unerring eye for color and balance, and textures and patterns.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book 156: Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective

Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective, by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge, 2005.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

Some years ago, I saw a show at the Orlando Science Center that featured a bug in a trench coat who talked like Sam Spade.  I wondered what it was based on.  Now I know:  Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective. 

The voice in my head when I read this book had a Sam Spade accent still.  Maybe because I saw that skit years ago.  Maybe not.  In any case, Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective does read like Dashiell Hammett meets the insect world in picture book form.  It’s great fun.  And funny.  When I reached the line “I wondered if he had a license to pass gas” I laughed out loud.  I know people who need that license.

The artwork is wonderful.  The bugs look like bugs.  In clothes.  And having facial expression.  In film noir.  And yet the species is still recognizable.  Perfect!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book 155: The Cow Who Clucked

The Cow Who Clucked, by Denise Fleming, Henry Holt, 2006.  Toddler to Preschool to Early Elementary. 

The Cow Who Clucked starts off with a quote by Vincent Van Gogh in the preface and an homage to Van Gogh in the endpapers.  It’s a great start – a brilliant start -- to a wonderful book.

The Cow Who Clucked is about animals.  Farmyard animals.  Talking farmyard animals.  Silly talking farmyard animals.  It is repetitive enough that young children can catch on right away, but no so much that their parents will be driven crazy.  The story is funny.  And silly.  And full of animal noises.

The star of this book, however, is the artwork.  Denise Fleming is wonderfully imaginative, not only in what she creates, but how she creates it.  As a result, the illustrations are lush in color and rich in texture. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book 154: My Little ABC Book

My Little ABC Book, by Bob Staake, Little Simon, 1998.  Baby to Toddler to Preschool.

The other day, my four-year-old son told me this story:  Once upon a time, there was a Thomas named Thomas.  He was reading a train book.  To a dinosaur.  And the dinosaur turned into a robot.   And rode the train.  With a bee.  The End.

He was holding Donald Crews’ Freight Train, and Bob Staake’s My Little ABC Book was open next to him on the sofa.  Not surprisingly, a train, a dinosaur, a robot and a bee can all be found in the ABC book.

I have read that this ABC book was one of Mr. Staake’s first forays into digital art.  It shows, but not in a bad way.  The shapes elemental; the colors are saturated; the lines are sharp; and the shading is blocky, yet these qualities all work really well for a book that is as basic as the alphabet.  This book reminds me of alphabet blocks in book form and since I often find this book in with my son’s alphabet blocks, I must not be the only one.

While the illustrations clearly consist of basic shapes, they are still instantly recognizable.  My son can “read” this book because he can recognize the pictures.  As an added bonus, he also recognizes the shapes used to form the illustrations, so they reinforce his knowledge of them and HE is learning to draw by using shapes.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book 153: Freight Train

Freight Train, written and illustrated by Donald Crews, Greenwillow Books, 2003 (1978).  Baby to Toddler to Preschool.

Yesterday, my son told me a story about a train book that he was reading to a dinosaur that turned into a robot.  Freight Train was the train book.  Our copy is an English/Spanish edition.  I bought this edition because the text is so simple it seemed a great way to introduce my son to a language besides English.  I've done this with a couple of other books (e.g., Goodnight Moon), and it's been pretty successful.

Freight Train does have very simple text.  The text is also large and easy-to-read.  My son can't yet read, but he can recognize some words, so when he was reading this story to the dinosaur (from another book), he was doing a pretty good job.  Gateway books -- books that transform children from active listeners to readers -- are vital in developing young readers.  I'm pleased that Freight Train is a gateway book for my little boy because, although the text is simple, it is not dull.

The illustrations in Freight Train are beautiful, bold, colorful and perfect.  The train is clearly a train.  Each car can easily be distinguished from the next, but without being overly detailed.  The two-page spread where the train crosses a trestle is a gorgeous study in geometry.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book 152: Skippyjon Jones in the Dog House

Skippyjon Jones in the Dog House, by Judy Schachner, Dutton Children's Books 2005.  Early Elementary.

A few months ago, Skippyjon Jones books were Kohl's Cares books, so, of course I bought some.  If you are not familiar with Skippyjon Jones, he is a Siamese cat that thinks he is a Chihuahua dog.  And the books just tend to get crazy after that.  In this book, Skippyjon Jones colors on the walls and then has a highly imaginative adventure.  My son is four, and he colors on the walls and tells highly imaginative stories, so he can relate pretty well to this books.

The artwork is also over-the-top insane -- fun -- but insane.  Skippyjon Jones is adorable with his big brown ears and round blue eyes and teeny-tiny body.  He tends to be the most normal thing on any page of illustration.

I could not read this book every day; it would drive me loco.  But an occasional foray in joyful madness is a treat.