Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book 186: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, by Barbara O'Connor, Square Fish 2010.  Upper Elementary.

The first thing you notice about The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester is the artwork on the front cover:  It is beautiful, stunning, intriguing and a bit funny, and you have to wonder just what kind of a book would be between those covers.  Then you notice that it is a Barbara O'Connor book, and, if you're me or anyone who has ever read a Barbara O'Connor book, you know that it is a book that you will want to read.

Barbara O'Connor can tell epic (using that word properly) tales in less than 200 double-spaced pages.  She can create four distinct personalities in the four distinct children in single sentences or even single phrases, and she can work that same magic for the four main adult characters.  Not only that, the setting of her books is more than just a location; it, too, becomes a character, and the where becomes as important as the who, the what, the why and the how.  Even the frog in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester has a voice, one that grows stronger as the frog croaks less.

As a struggling writer, I would read anything that Barbara O'Connor writes -- and I probably do.  If broken down by their elements, her books would make an excellent study on how to write a children's book.  And if broken down, they would still be fun to read.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book 185: Underwater Counting

Underwater Counting, written by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge 2001.

Underwater Counting is a number book and a concept book.  I waited a bit to give this book to my four-year-old son because I thought he might find it confusing: With exception of 0 and 1, this book counts to 50 by twos.  When I did give him this book, however, he recognized the numbers up to 30.  I know he doesn't understand the counting-by-twos concept right now, that will come in time, but he does recognize the numbers.  The facts in this book are interesting enough to engage the adult readers, and the text is well-written.

Underwater Counting is also a visually stunning book.  The vibrant illustrations seem to swim off of the pages, and are so accurate, this book could be used for reference.

My son loves the aquarium and loves numbers -- this book is perfect.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book 184: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty, retold by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by K. Y. Craft, Chronicle Books 2011.

Sometimes I buy "children's books" for myself.  This is one of those times.

The retelling of the classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, by Mahlon Craft is well done and faultless, but the real star of this book is the sumptuous artwork by K. Y. Craft.

K. Y. Craft creates the most amazingly beautiful artwork for the books that she illustrates.  Every book is like visiting a gallery or an art museum.  The artwork in Sleeping Beauty, as evidenced by the cover, is no exception.

So while I will read this story to my young son, and will show him the pictures, this gorgeous book is going in MY bookcase.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book 183: Little Critter, Just a Storybook Collection

Little Critter, Just a Storybook Collection, by Mercer Mayer, Harper Collins 2012.

I think that Little Critter must be somewhere between four and six years old, because my four-and-a-half year old "little critter" acts an awful lot like this one.

The genius of Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books is that he takes ordinary, everyday situations and he shows them from the point of view of a young child.  That sounds easy to do, but it's not.  That's why kids like the books.  That, for and the peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.

As a mom and a dubious adult, I laugh out loud at these stories, not necessarily because of what Little Critter does, but because of the expressions on the grown-up faces.  More than once they have mirrored my own.  Although, I don't have a problem with peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, as long as the pickles are sweet and not dill.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book 182: Pete the Cat, Rocking in My School Shoes

Pete the Cat, Rocking in My School Shoes, written by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean, HarperCollins, 2011.

I'm not sure what makes Pete the Cat cooler:  His fearlessness (Goodness, no!), his singing, or his red hightop Chucks, or maybe a combination of all three.  My little boy first heard a Pete the Cat story at a library story time.  He loved it then, so I ordered him copies of a couple of the books, and he loves them now.

Eric Litwin is a singer/performer of children's music.  That very specialized skill leads to books that are fun to read AND sing, for me and for my four-year-old son.  In Pete the Cat, Rocking My School Shoes, Pete attends his first day of school, something that is entirely new to him and potentially scary.  But does Pete worry?  Goodness, no!  And yes, Pete ROCKS his school shoes.

James Dean's illustrations could not be cooler -- red hightop Chucks on a black cat!  James Dean has a witty sense of fun which pervades every page of this delightful book.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book 181: Otis and the Puppy

Otis and the Puppy, by Loren Long, Philomel, 2013.

Otis and the Puppy might have been written (and illustrated) for my four-year-old son.  He loves tractors and classic vehicles.  He loves animals.  He tells stories about being lost and sad.  And stories about being found.  He is fascinated by the dark.  He loves playing hide-and-seek with the cats and our overgrown puppy.  He loves kisses and being kissed, even by the dog.  He loves beautiful illustrations and sweet, well-told stories.  Even if Otis and the Puppy wasn't written for my son (and it wasn't), I still would have bought this book.

Loren Long has a gift for telling sweet, timeless stories.  His books feel like tales that I grew up with, and my parents grew up with, and probably my grandparents grew up with.  My son enjoys them now, and I'm sure he will enjoy reading them to his children.  Writing stories like that takes skill, talent and a particular gift.

Before writing this review, I went back to read what I wrote for my review of the first Otis book.  This was my first sentence:  This is one of the books that I bought solely because I love, love, LOVE the artwork.  That is mostly true of Otis and the Puppy, except now I knew that I would be getting a lovely story to go with the sumptuous and absolutely perfect illustrations.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book 180: Say What?

Say What?, written by Angela Diterlizzi, illustrated by Joey Chou, Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2011.  Baby to Toddler to Preschooler.

A few months ago, a miniature copy of this book could be found in large boxes of Cheerios.  Unfortunately, not by me.  I checked out all the large boxes of Cheerios in Publix, Bi-Lo, Piggly Wiggly, Target and Walmart, and this book was not there.  So I bought the book.  I'm very glad that I did.

I loved all the writing in this book, from the author's dedication to Jane Yolen's blurb on the back cover, but my favorite was the last line of the text.  This book would appeal to so many ages:  the very youngest listeners would love the repetition and the animal sounds; toddlers would enjoy making animal sounds; preschoolers would love either reading or "reading" this book themselves.  My little boy, at four-and-a-half (as of yesterday), is a beginning reader.  He doesn't yet read new words, but when words are repeated, he recognizes them.  This book is perfect for him. 

The illustrations are wonderful.  Again, I loved every illustration in this book, but my favorite was the little boy and his mother, closely followed by the snakes.  And the birds.  And the horses.  And the sheep.  Well, all of it. 

There is nothing not to love about this book.  Even the title is clever.