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1. A Camping Spree with Mr Magee by Chris Van Dusen




A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
by Chris Van Dusen
Ages: 4-8
Topics: Camping, wildlife, adventure



Cheerful Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, pack up the camper and "hit the road" for a camping trip in the mountains. "There's nothing like camping," a jubilant Magee tells Dee:

The views are fantastic! There's hardly a sound.
Aside from the wildlife, there's no one around"

Their campsite certainly offers a spectacularly colorful sunset view, and the companions enjoy a happy evening cooking hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire and enjoying the serene view of the surrounding mountains, brook, and waterfall.

It's soon time for bed and, while the duo snuggle down in carefree repose, they are visited by a large bear with poor eyesight, but a good nose for marshmallows. In his quest for sweets, the bear manages to unhitch the camper and send it rollin' down the mountain and straight into the brook,

Dee and Magee both started to quiver,
As faster and faster they headed downriver.
But just when they thought they'd fall over the edge...
Their camper got stuck on a rock at the ledge.
So there they were, stranded, Magee and his pup,
On the top of the waterfall, fifty feet up!


Luckily for the camping pals, the nearsighted bear comes to the rescue, mistaking the hitch for ...no, no...I'm not going to give away the creative resolution of this entertaining story!

This is one of those rare children's books that is as appealing to the adults reading aloud as it is for the excited children listening to the story. As you can tell from the quote above, this book has a wonderful read aloud pace, magically reminiscent of Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas, yet decidedly modern and tongue-in-cheek, with a dash of superhero hyperbole. These elements also translate to Van Dusen's vivid gouache illustrations.

Magee's world, rendered in 50s retro style, has an ordered and idyllic brightness to it, from Magee's perfectly trimmed and mowed backyard and spotless camper to the symmetrically consistent fir trees of the wilderness. All the illustrations convey a buoyant optimism and symmetry, even in the most dire circumstances (as the duo float down the river and end up looking over the waterfall, their hair stands on end reflecting the shape of the fir trees around them). Magee's thick glasses, plaid shirt, and sneakers suggest a nerdy character, but when the situation knocks a golden hair or two out of place, the glasses seem Clark Kentish, a superficial geeky detail covering a noble interior. Dee is the perfect wordless companion. His long ears speak for him: they fly behind him with carefree aplomb as the couple drive out in the convertible, stand up on end in the more nail-biting moments, and gently hang by his side when all is serene.

The illustrations include wonderful details - a very-surprised raccoon watching the camper hit the water, the spilled salt and pepper and cheesy placemats in the rescued camper - and grandiose, brilliant landscapes that really draw the reader in with amazement.

This lively and funny story conveys a rare enthusiasm and will bring wide-eyed excitement and twinkling eyes to both girls and boys, before returning them to a perfectly ordered world. So if you're looking for that perfect gift, I suggest A Camping Spree with Mr Magee and Van Dusen's other wonderful books.

Chris Van Dusen also wrote and illustrated two other wonderful books, Down to the Sea with Mr Magee and If I Built A Car, which I also highly recommend. Chris is also the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo's popular Mercy Watson books. You can find out more about Chris and his books at his website.


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2. Kidogo by Anik McGrory

kidogo
Kidogo
by Anik McGrory
Ages: 3-6
Topics: being small, elephants, independence

"Kidogo lived in a world that was vast", a beautiful land of huge moutains, endless savannah, tall trees, and flooding rivers. Kidogo, a tiny elephant, needs help from his larger family members to reach the leaves on the acacia trees and get across the river. But Kidogo doesn't want help, not does he want to be "the smallest". So he sets off alone to find "someone in the world who was just as small as he."

Kidogo keeps thinking he's found a fellow-sized friend, seeing the giraffe's head behind a bush, a hippo's eyes and ears on the river, a lion's tail peaking out from grass, but eventually gives up. But then, while determindly giving himself a dust bath all by himself, he notices he's surrounded by tiny animals that he can help.

A very sweet story, children will love Kidogo's pluckiness and the warm humor that washes through the brilliant watercolor and pencil illustrations. The story is told in gentle poetry and the African land is beautiful and mesmorizing.

Kidogo means "something small" is Swahili.

Anik McGrory spent time living in East Africa while working with environmental groups and drew on that experience for this story. She is also the author of Mouton's Impossible Dream and has illustrated several other children's books.

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3. Farfallina & Marcel by Holly Keller

Farfallina & Marcel
by Holly Keller
Ages 4-8
Topics: friendship, growing up, change


Farfallina, a charming caterpillar, meets the equally delightful Marcel, a gosling, in a rain storm. The two creatures become instant friends, playing hide and seek and going for rides out on the pond. "But one day, Farfallina was not herself." She climbs up a tree to rest. "I'll wait for you," Marcel called. Poor lonely Marcel waits as the bottom of the tree for weeks, but Farfallina doesn't appear. Finally, he gives up. When Farfallina wakes up with her "beautiful new wings", she has no idea how long she's been asleep and waits for Marcel by the tree. When he doesn't turn up, she flies off to the pond to look for him, but is disappointed to find only a "large, handsome goose". Both creatures hang out by the pond and eventually start a conversation. The goose gives Farfallina a ride around the pond on his back and when she tells him her name, the two realize they are old friends, just a little more grown up.

Everything about this book is delightful - the characters, the watery illustrations, the beautiful wording. Farfallina and Marcel have the cheeriest faces and their friendship is a beautiful example of consideration. When they play hide and seek, Farfallina hides on the ground because she knows Marcel can't climb and Marcel hides nearby because he knows Farfallina moves slowly. The telling of the story is full of freshness:

The rain fell all morning.
It splattered on the pond
and splashed on Farfallina's leaf.
She found a dry spot and ate it.
"Hey" said a little voice.
"You're eating my umbrella."


The illustrations also convey an outdoor freshness in gentle washy greens and blues, with bright spots of orange, red and purple.

This engaging, quiet book about friendship and transformation will charm both children and adults and you won't find a more endearing lesson on metamorphosis.

Holly Keller has written and illustrated over 30 of her own books including Horace and many written by other authors. The word "farfallina" meaning little butterfly was the starting point for this story.


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4. What A Pair! by Megan McDonald

What A Pair!
by Megan McDonald
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Ages: 4-8
Topics: pairs, friendship, dress-up

In this charming book, best friends Ant and Honey Bee are invited to Cricket's costume party. Having been Pilgrims the last two years in a row, Ant is determined to come up with exciting costumes this year. Honey Bee is less enthusiastic and suggests he'll go as a bee or an anteater. Ant is not amused, but then has a great idea:

"I know. Let's be a pair."
"I'll be the pear and you be the stem," said Honey Bee.
"Not that kind of pear!" said Ant. "A two-things-that-go-together kind of pair."

Ant starts looking round the house, noticing things in different rooms that go together: peanut butter and jelly, toilet paper and toilet, washer and dryer. They decide to go as a washer and dryer, cut and decorate two very large boxes, and put on their costumes:
"BLUB! BLUB!" said Ant, just like a washer when it washes clothes.
"BUZZZZZZ!" said Honey Bee, just like a dryer when it's done drying.
"We make the best washer and dryer!" said Ant.
"We make the best pair!" said Honey Bee

As they make their way to the party, the friends bump into other partygoers:
"Look! Two dice!" said Beetle.
"No, it's a couple of ice cubes!" said Fly

Despite their clever sound effects, no one can tell what they are. Dismayed, bad turns to worse when it starts to rain and soaks the friends' costumes. But Ant and Bee use their creativity and end up having very cool costumes by the time Cricket opens the party door.

Children will enjoy following the "coming up with ideas" elements of this story and the puns and humor that appear throughout this jolly tale. Ant and Honey Bee are very affable characters and their bantering manner is very amusing. Karas's scratchy illustrations are childish and entertaining - two favorites include Honey Bee's imitation of an anteater and Ant running away scared and the two friends in their costumes side-by-side happily making their washer and dryer sound effects. A real charmer!

Megan McDonald is the author of many children's books including the popular Judy Moody series. She has also written many popular picture books including Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!.

G. Brian Karas is a very gifted children's book illustrator. He also illustrated Muncha! Muncha!Muncha!

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5. Hit The Ball Duck by Jez Alborough

Hit The Ball Duck
by Jez Alborough
Ages 3-6
Topics: baseball, problem-solving, teamwork

Here's a great picture book that will appeal to the tiniest baseball fans! In Hit the Ball Duck, Duck, Goat, Sheep, and Frog go to the park to play baseball. On the first pitch, Duck

"swings the bat - they hear a SWOOSH!
Then with a C-R-A-C-K the ball goes WHOOSH!
Up and up and up it flies.
"Catch it Sheep!" the pitcher cries.

But the ball gets stuck in a tree. The friends suggest various ways to get it down, but Duck decides to use the bat to knock it down:
SWISH goes the bat. But where does it fall?
On a branch in the tree. Now its stuck like the ball.


When Duck spies the glove, his friends try to stop him, but up it goes too. So Frog, who was "much too small" to catch, comes up with a team-building solution to retrieve their equipment and even catches an out!

This picture book does a great job of telling a story that's non-stop action! It's rhyming couplets and lively style will keep the attention of very young children and its use of onomatopoeic words (words that sound like the thing they describe) in large bold fonts makes this a great read aloud story. Duck is a very recognizable child - full of enthusiasm, all action, anxious to be the leader- and Frog, the brains of the group, is an amusing little hero (he carries the huge cooler out of the car while his friends say he's too small to catch).

The illustrations are brightly colored and the pages include a wide variety of rectangular vingettes, both horizontal and vertical, that keep the action flowing and keep the single park scene visually interesting. The friends are often oversized and step outside the illustration's lines. (Alborough uses this oversizing very cleverly in the last two panels so that Frog and Duck seem to be the same size.) The animal friends are goofy and rambunctious and will make children laugh.

A great little book for your favorite little slugger!

Jez Alborough has written and illustrated many wonderful children's books including Hugand My Friend Bear. There are many other Duck books including Duck's Day Out and Fix It Duck.

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6. Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust
by April Pulley Sayre
Illustrated by Ann Jonas
Ages: 4-8
Topics: dust, earth science, history

Stars Beneath Your Bed takes the potentially mundane subject of dust and cleverly connects it to the color of sunrise and sunsets, King Tut, the dinosaurs, the solar system, butterfly wings, and rolling zebras, to name just a few. The narrative is written in simple free verse:

Old dust stays around.
Dust that made King Tut sneeze is still on Earth.
It might be on your floor.
That dusty film on your computer screen
might have muddied a dinosaur.

Sayre has done an excellent job of choosing informative dust examples that will strongly appeal to children and combine the familiar with the dramatic, "the smoke of burning toast,/ ash from an erupting volcano", a dog shaking off dirt and meerkats digging in the savanna. The brief text is boldly illustrated with double-spread watercolors that are full of (dusty) action. The vibrant colors will draw children in and the familiar and exotic elements provide plenty for children to comment on. Of course, the title dust example, of stars or bits of Mars or comets making up the dust under the bed, is perhaps the most appealing and visually dazzling! The book follows the timeline of a day, starting with sunrise and ending with sunset, the sun is present in each double-spread and moves across the sky, providing a nice visual unity to the geographically varied landscapes.

The concept of dust scattering light is gently touched on in the free verse narrative and there's a two page detailed explanation of Dust and Sunsets for older children (and adults) at the end of the book. An inspired introduction to earth sciences for the very young, this wonderful book will trigger a whole new series of connections between a child's daily life and the world and universe around us.

April Pulley Sayre has written over 50 children's books about science and nature including Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad's Tale, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children and Our Amazing Continent books.

Ann Jonas has written and illustrated children's books including Color Dance and Round Trip, an ALA Notable Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

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7. Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories

Jack and the Night Visitors
by Pat Schories
Ages: 2-5
Topics: dogs, aliens, robots

In this wordless picture book, Jack, a little white dog with orange spots and an attentive manner, and his purple p.j. -clad companion, the boy, are visited one night by a spacebus of tiny aliens. The aliens, who look like tiny robots with antenna, are friendly and scamper into the bedroom and immediately set to playing with all the little toy cars, trucks, and superheroes. But the visitors have arrived hungry, and Jack and the boy get them a large bowl of dry cereal, which really delights the aliens and builds trust between them and the boy. Alas, the boy wants to keep one of the visitors and captures him in a large glass jar, which causes a horrible commotion. Happily, Jack is there to rescue the little guy and send the travelers off on their way.

The illustrations clearly tell this simple story, making it a great "independent" book for young children, while having plenty of details for older children to point out. Below is the illustration where the alien communicates hunger.
As you can see, Jack and the boy are visually connected: they are together in every scene, the boy's orange hair is the same color as Jack's orange spots, and the two often share the same expression. The illustrations are mostly double page spreads, but there are also some vingettes (for example, getting the cereal). Children will delight in the bright illustrations, strong sense of pace and action, the familiar and appealing characters.

While I think this is an excellent picture book, I do have a peeve about the front cover. As you can see, the illustrations and characters are darling, but the cover completely fails to communicate this. Also, unless you're familiar with the previous Jack books or carefully read the front jacket, you might easily think that the boy is Jack, rather than the dog. There are two previous Jack books, Breakfast for Jack and Jack and the Missing Piece. Pat Schories is also the illustrator of the Biscuit books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.

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8. Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature at Semicolon

It's the Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature, hosted by Semicolon. As April is National Poetry month, this carnival has poetry as its theme.
BookCarousel submitted The Snail and the Whale.
Many thanks to Sherry for putting this carnival together. Enjoy!

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9. My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck

My Monster Mama Loves Me So
by Laura Leuck
Illustrations by Mark Buehner
Ages 2-6
Topics: mothers, love, monsters

In this brief, bright tale a little monster tells readers how he knows his monster mama loves him:

When I wake up, she tweaks my nose,
tickles all my pointy toes,
combs the cobwebs from my bangs,
and makes sure that I brush my fangs.

Preschoolers will shriek with delight at the bug-filled cookies, the beastball games, and little monster's bedroom pets (spiders, bats, mice, snakes) that are all part of this loving monster-and-child relationship. There's plenty of mother-child activities they'll relate to including reading by the fire on a rainy day, going for a stroll in the park, and listening to Mama sing a lullaby to help them sleep. The three-eyed, three-legged, four-armed monsters (handy on the jungle gym) are really quite sweet-looking, so there's no need to worry about a younger child being scared. In fact, in this story, the regular kids are the "scary things" that "wave their arms and scream and shout"!

This rhyming story makes a perfect read-aloud choice for preschoolers — there's plenty of great moments for anticipatory pauses. The story is short, the language, simple, and the activities, familiar, making this a good choice for very young children. The story ends with the monster being lulled to sleep, so choose this one as a goodnight story.

The painted illustrations are bright and witty and make the most of the monsters differences, while providing familiar details. For example, the illustration of the mama monster combing her son's hair really emphasizes the monster's extra limbs (he's sitting on a 4 legged stool), but also has a familiar spray bottle, comb, and brush. Older children will enjoy pointing out the details: lots of spiders hanging here and there, the spider fabric on the rocking chair, the one-eyed dog, the skulls on the headboard.

And, of course, monster mamas everywhere will enjoy the appreciative nature of this tale.

Laura Leuck has written many children's picture books with similar themes including My Beastly Brother, Jeepers Creepers: A Monstrous ABC, and My Creature Teacher.

Mark Buehner has illustrated many wonderful picture books including Snowmen at Night, It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel, and Superdog: The Heart of the Hero, all written by his wife, Caralyn Buehner.

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10. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson


The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Ages: 4-8
Topics: snails, whales, adventure, big/small



A sea snail who lives on a small rock near a harbor has an "itchy foot". She slithers a message "Ride wanted around the world" on the black rock and her message is answered by:
A humpback whale, immensely long,
Who sang to the snail a wonderful song
Of shimmering ice and coral caves
And shooting stars and enormous waves.

So the snail climbs onto the whale's tail and off they journey . They see penguins and icebergs, volcanoes, underwater caves, and experience sunny climes and huge thunder storms. The snail "gazed and gazed, amazed by it all,/And she said to the whale, "I feel so small .

Then one day, the whale loses his way and is "beached in a bay". The tiny snail must get help for her mighty friend. She slithers a note on a school blackboard to raise the alarm and saves her friend.

This charming and poetic tale of the value of even the smallest creatures will delight children, as will the beautiful and amusing illustrations. There's lots of humor to keep adults entertained (the strict teacher turns "pale" when she finds a snail on her blackboard, the irritation of the other snails on the rock with itchy foot's constant movement) and also an effective environmental message (the whale loses his way because he is overwhelmed by the noise of a speedboat race.) The poetry is lilting and varied and never awkward.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant. All but four pages are ocean scenes and Scheffler does a terrific job creating very varied ocean scenes in pencil, crayon, and ink with beautiful watercolor skies. The facial expressions on the snails and other animals will make you laugh and there's lots of tiny details to make this a book you'll come back to again and again.

Julia Donaldson is the author of several excellent children's picture books including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo.

Axel Scheffler has illustrated many children's books and also illustrated Donaldson's Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo

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11. Fly, Little Bird by Tina Burke



Fly, Little Bird
by Tina Burke
Ages: 2-5
Topics: birds, nature, friends

In this almost wordless book, a little girl and her dog are out picking flowers when they find a brightly colored little bird hiding in a flower bush. "Fly, little bird" the girl says, but the little bird doesn't know how to fly. So she puts the bird into her flower basket and takes him home. She makes the bird a little bed of leaves in her room, gives him food and a bedtime story. The three friends engage in all sorts of fun activities - painting, camping, and pretending to be rockstars. And the bird grows and learns to fly.

One morning the little girl wakes up to find the bird gone. She charges outside with a butterfly net, dog bounding behind her. She looks all over for the bird until she hears his song: he's found birds like himself to fly and play with in the trees. The girl sees how happy he is. "Fly, little bird." she says.

This sweet story about friendship is told (almost) exclusively by the cheerful, bright, pencil and watercolor illustrations. The characters are round and bounding, and strongly communicate a sense of childhood excitement and wonder. Their expressions are exquisite and easy to read (the dog is especially wonderful). Burke uses the bird's color to firmly place him in nature with the green leaves and red flowers, foreshadowing the story's end. There's lots of white space in the book giving it a clean crisp feel. The illustrations' format is pleasantly varied to include full page scenes and close-ups, vingettes (which are mostly used to show the indoor scenes), and double-page spreads that show bounding movement.

A wonderful story to teach younger children about loving and letting go, and the difference between domestic and wild animals.

Tina Burke worked for Walt Disney Animation for six years. This is her first picture book.

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12. Food for Thought by Saxton Freymann


Food For Thought
by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
Ages 2+
Topics: basic concepts, fruit, vegetables

Food for Thought is a uniquely illustrated preschool concept book. It covers shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and opposites in a highly entertaining way. Freymann illustrates his books with glossy color photographs of highly imaginative sculptured animals and people made entirely from vegetables and fruits. His great talent is creating recognizably human expressions on oranges, peppers, radishes, bok choy, strawberries, and mushrooms and creating understandable interactions between the characters.

All of Freymann's creations are magical and young children will have tons of fun learning their colors, letters, numbers and counting with this book. Here are some of my favorites illustrations to whet your appetite: Number 2 is illustrated with two chicks (a yellow squash and a red pear) hatching out of their shells (white onions); Seven fish are bok choy and other vegetable fish floating in the ocean;"O" is for Owl (made from two artichokes);"Q" is for Queen whose body and gown is made from bok choy, her head and headress is a leek.

The most entertaining part of the book is the opposites section, particularly the mushroom people who gleefully illustrate up-and-down on a seesaw, and the mushroom snowman roasting a marshmallow over a fire of mango to illustrate hot and cold.

This book is really amazing and would make the perfect gift for any young child.

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers have collaborated on several children's books with their signature food sculptures including How Are You Peeling?, Dr Pompo's Nose, and The Lonely Seahorse.

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13. Secret Seahorse by Stella Blackstone


Secret Seahorse
by Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by Clare Beaton
Ages: 3-6
Topics: seahorses, ocean creatures

In this simple tale, an unseen narrator sees a "secret seahorse deep down in the sea." She tries to swim along with the seahorse as he swims past coral reefs and "flickering fishes", but he is too fast and disappears from sight. The narrator asks the octopuses "where he might have gone", passes by a mermaid and an ancient shipwreck. Finally, she finds herself outside the seahorse's secret cave and is welcomed in.

This sweet poem's regular rhythm and meter make this book a great choice read-aloud choice for preschoolers. The narrative lulls along like lapping waves, even the text is presented in gently waved format. Each line of this undersea journey has its own delightful and unique double-page illustration. The artwork here is truly impressive as the illustrations are "prepared in antique fabrics and felt with sequins, buttons, beads and assorted bric-a-brac." The illustrations are layered felt with neat blanket stitch edges, buttons and sequins become fish eyes and scales, and there are wonderful jelly fish made from lace and brocade. Beaton uses flower fabric and basic stitchery to great effect. The clever, old-fashioned artwork will delight both adults and children.

There's also a hide-and-seek game in this book - can you find the hidden secret seahorse in each spread?

The book ends with educational information on coral reefs and "seahorse secrets", and names and provides a brief description of each illustrated creature. A beautiful book.

Stella Blackstone has written many wonderful books for young children including the Bear series, the Cleo the Cat series, Island in the Sun and Zoe and her Zebra. Read my review of Blackstone's Bear in Sunshine.

Clare Beaton illustrated children's programs for the BBC for eight years and now has illustrated over 50 children's books.

Blackstone and Beaton have collaborated on several other books including I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur, Who Are you, Baby Kangaroo? and There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch.

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14. Carnival of Children's Literature, No. 2: A Coney Island Adventure!

Not to be missed: The Carnival of Children't Literature, No 2: A Coney Island Adventure! hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

Come one, come all and read all about it!

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15. Nacho and Lolita by Pam Munoz Ryan


Nacho and Lolita
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Ages: 5-10
Topics: birds, migration, love, transformation

A mysterious pitacoche bird named Nacho lands in a mesquite tree in the arid San Juan Valley.

" Rare and majestic, he heralded the sunset with whistling songs and carried the colors of the world in his feathers."

Nacho surveys the land around the Mission San Juan Capistrano, where all seems drab and colorless "except for Nacho". Nacho draws crowds of people as he sings and spreads his beautiful colored wings, which pleases him , "But what good was it when he had no other bird with whom to share his joy?"

As Nacho watches the busy people prepare for the March feast of St. Joseph, he hears about the swallows who migrate to the Mission, arriving on the day of the feast. Nacho is intrigued and spends the morning watching the swallows arrive. He particularly notices a little bird name Lolita, who makes her nest in the chapel belfry. Nacho sings to the swallows, helps them build their nests, and feed and protect their young, "especially Lolita's". He even gives Lolita one of his feathers, which magically changes into a blue hibiscus. The two are always together until "a September gust brought a message with the wind", it's time for the swallows to migrate to South America for the winter. Lolita wants Nacho to go with them but he is too big to fly that far. Lolita must leave or die ,
"Go," he told Lolita. "We will meet in our dreams."

Nacho's heart aches. He must find a way to attract the swallows back to the Mission next summer. So he plucks his feathers and plants them all around the mission which swells with beautiful flowers, creeks, and orange trees. His plan succeeds and Lolita returns to him.
"I no longer have my beautiful colors," he said,
"To me, you will always be splendid," she said.


This magical book overflows with beautiful poetry and tender moments. Nacho is a wonderful protagonist; vain, but steely honest in his self-appraisal, his loneliness, his longing for family. Rueda's highly-textured pencil illustrations capture Nacho's "regal" stature, while his face shows his underlying loneliness, vulnerability, and desire to help others. The transformation of the Mission from barren to heavenly is beautifully done.

This folktale provides a unique and very memorable way to introduce the concept of bird migration! So much more than that, the story, characters, and art will make this heartfelt book a treasure you will want to return to again and again. Don't miss the author's note at the back that talks about the folktale and myths that formed the book and much more.

Pam Munoz Ryan lives forty minutes from Mission San Juan Capistrano and is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five children's books including Mice and Beans, When Marian Sang and Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride.

Claudia Rueda grew up in Columbia and now migrates between California and Columbia with her family. She has illustrated several children's books including I Know an Old Woman and The Eency Weency Spider

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16. The Yellow Balloon by Charlotte Dematons


The Yellow Balloon
by Charlotte Dematons
Ages: 5+
Topics: Geography, history, geology

This wordless picture book follows a yellow balloon as it drifts through dramatic and diverse landscapes including cities, jungles, mountain ranges, agricultural lands, deserts, seascapes, airspace and the icy poles. In the tradition of the I Spy books, the game is to search for the yellow balloon in each double-paged landscape, while noticing the myriad of clever and imaginative details. The landscapes include both realistic and imaginative elements (witches on brooms, Santa and his reindeer, Mary Poppins, flying carpets) and combine scenes from different time periods and different continents together. In the agricultural scene, there's modern farming with motorized equipment and an English riding school next to a medieval castle with men in armour fighting with swords and a scene of American Indians on horseback with teepee villages.

This book is completely absorbing and will be enjoyed by adults as well as children. The ariel-view painted landscapes are rich and full of action, and searching through the details is irresistible. While no set story is offered, the book does track from day to night. There's a nice balance of the cheeky, day-to-day, and less happy details of human life (the storybook characters, the painter in his studio, the logging scene at the edge of the jungle). This wonderful book provides an ideal stepping off point to talking with children about art, history, geography, and different cultures, while spotting and sharing more familiar details.

Charlotte Dematons is Dutch and is the author of Let's Go! (which takes a similar approach following a young boy on an errand), Worry Bear and Looking for Cinderella.

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17. Mrs Biddlebox by Linda Smith


Mrs. Biddlebox
by Linda Smith
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Ages: 4-8
Topics: determination, overcoming difficulties



One dreary morning Mrs Biddlebox wakes up on the wrong side of her bunk:


The birds gave her a headache,
There were creakies in her chair.
A breeze blew dank and dreary
And mussed up her hair.

She slams the door on the morning and has a breakfast of bitter tea and hard crumpets, while she tries to figure out what to do. Then, with great determination and spunk:
I will cook this rotten morning!
I will turn it into cake!
I will fire up my oven!
I will set the day to bake!

Mrs Biddlebox (and her goose sidekick) get busy gathering "up the gloom". She grabs dirt and shadows, fog, and rays of sun, and even "rolled the sky like carpeting" and puts it all in a big pot. She makes a dough, bakes it for the rest of the day, then eats "a merry slice of cake" and then ends up eating the whole cake! Well-fed and cozy, she watches the stars and then falls asleep.

This imaginative and magical story of the witchy Mrs. Biddlebox making something good out of gloom is both dark and funny. There's no denying the reality that we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed and feel crummie. The dramatic swirling pencil illustrations support the rhyming text by starting out very dark --with the fog swirling in the window and the background almost completely dark. The scenes lighten as Mrs Biddlebox grabs at the gloom and there's a great scene of Mrs B. twirling fog onto her broomstick "like spaghetti". The drawings featuring Mrs B. making the dough with extreme gusto and dancing around the oven are hilarious, set against a white background, the gloom is gone and everything seems merry and light. Children and adults will be entranced by the intense and clever illustrations, the punchy narrative, and the determination of the very memorable Mrs. Biddlebox to get rid of the gloom.

Mrs Biddlebox came from author Linda Smith's battle with cancer. She died in 2000, but left behind this wonderful and uplifting story. She also wrote When Moon Fell Down.

Marla Frazee is the illustrator of many children's picture books including Harriet!You'll Drive Me Crazy! by Mem Fox. Her new board book Walk On: A Guide for Babies of All Ages is due out this spring.

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18. While Mama had a Quick Little Chat by Amy Reichert

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat
by Amy Reichert
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Ages 4-8
Topics: parties, phone calls, attention

The phone rings and it's Uncle Fred. But it's also time for Rose to get ready for bed - so Mama asks Rose to brush her teeth and wash her face while she's on the phone.

"But, Mama...," Rose sighed, "how long will you be?"
"Not long," Mama promised. "Hurry, let's see
if you are able to do all that,
before I finish my quick little chat."


No problem thinks Rose, but then the doorbell rings, and the trouble begins. "Four muscley men" are at the door with party supplies. Rose politely tries to interrupt her Mama to ask what to do, but Mama is still on the phone "In a minute, " said Mama. "I'm just about through". So in come the muscley guys with tables and chairs and giant balloons and set up a party room. As soon as they're gone, the door bell goes again and a crowd of guests arrive:

"Wait there!" begged Rose. "My mom's on the phone!"
"Don't worry, "they said. "We'll be fine on our own."
"MAAAAAAAAMA!!!" Rose roared. "I need you right now!"
"I'm busy, " said Mama. "You'll manage somehow."
So Rose greets the guests, helps the waiters serve "tiny hot dogs/and cream-cheese swirls and big pretzel logs", becomes the magician's assistant, fills in for a missing drummer in the band and, with plenty of help from her new friends, gets the guests out, the place cleaned, and gets into bed:

It's hard to believe, but Rose did ALL that,
before Mama had finished her quick little chat.
Mama is pleasantly surprised to find little Rose asleep in her bed. "Good girl, Rose" she whispers.

This far-fetched, whacky story is extremely entertaining. The narrative rhyme and rhythm is top-notch, the story and language build together to a crescendo, and the little redheaded Rose rises courageously to every challenge. Children will laugh all the way through this one and will relate to little Rose's increasingly agitated attempts to get her mother's attention.

The watercolor illustrations are dramatic and unique. There's a strong Retro flavor to them, particularly to Mama who wears a high-necked, prim shirt, has pin like legs and feet, and talks on an old-fashioned black dial telephone. Some of the guests look like twenties flappers and the waiters are reminiscent of Edwardian footmen. The old-fashionedness makes the chaotic scene all the funnier. The party dancing scene with the jazz band is a spectacular double-paged illustration. Here's one detail from it, Rose drumming her heart out:


The party scenes are mostly double-paged spreads. In contrast, in the scenes where Rose is trying to get Mama's attention, the characters are illustrated separately in vignettes, Rose in the top half of the page and her Mama on the phone below. The vingettes are in pale blues and yellows, with the two characters flaming red hair and red slippers providing a visual spark, and emphasizing both the contrast and likeness between them. This repeating visual format also supports Rose's increasing frustration as she goes from politely trying to get her mothers' attention to screaming furiously.

A great read-aloud choice, this irreverent and witty tale will provide enjoyment for the whole family. And parents will have a chuckle (and think twice!) next time they say "just a minute".

Amy Reichert is a mom and a phone person who can do many things - "all while having a quick little chat!"

Alexandra Boiger studied graphic design and started her career in animation. This is her first children's book.

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19. Big Week For Little Mouse by Eugenie Fernandes


Big Week For Little Mouse
by Eugenie Fernandes
Illustrated by Kim Fernandes
Ages: 2-5
Topics: birthdays, opposites, days of the week

Little Mouse has a week to get lots of work done. Each day, she helps Mother Mouse with a different chore. On Monday, she helps clean the house:

On Monday Mouse does many chores.
Washing windows. Mopping floors.
Buckets empty. Buckets full.
Shine and polish. Push and pull.
On Wednesday, she picks flowers, on Friday, she decorates hats, and on Sunday she hangs balloons and waits for her friends to arrive. When they finally arrive, all the hard work pays off as everyone has a great time at her party:
Oh, what a week!Oh, what a day!
All her friends have come to say,
"We like parties at your house..."
"Happy Birthday Little Mouse!"

The story is told in rhyming couplets and reinforces the days for the week and opposite concepts. Each day of the week has its own set of to-dos and demonstrates pairs of opposites, the hats being decorated are "plain" and "fancy", the flowers are "short" and "tall", and my favorite:
Jelly's messy. Cheese is neat.
Lemons are sour. Berries are sweet.

The days of the week and opposites are all in bold text and the text is very simple making it a good choice for beginning readers. While the narrative is awkward at times, children will enjoy identifying the opposites, the daily count down to the event, and guessing what the big event is. Parents will appreciate Little Mouse's positive attitude towards doing her part and helping with chores.

What makes this book outstanding is the artwork, which is "rendered in Fimo, a pliable modeling material." The care and detail here is amazing and will fascinate both children and adults. There are numerous textured layers of the clay and the clever indentations and use of buttony shapes creates a 3-D effect that really invites the reader into Little Mouse's world. The fur on all the animals looks almost real and children will want to touch the illustrations. The clay is particularly effective at creating a sense of moving liquid, the sloping pails of water, the jelly dripping off a cracker, the spatula in the bowl of frosting. There's hundreds of little details to spy -- the wizardy curtains, Little Mouse's grey teddy, the patches on her blanket, the spilling glue, the thread spool stool, the shiny peacock feather in her hat-- in this sweet teapot house world. This book will make you want to bring out the playdough and try out a few tricks.

Eugenie and Kim Fernandes are a mother and daughter team and have also collaborated on two other mouse books, Busy Little Mouse and Sleepy Little Mouse, and Little Toby and the Big Hair. Eugenie Fernandes is also an illustrator and has illustrated numerous children's books including Wake Up, Groundhog! by Susan Korman and Everything Grows by Raffi. Kim Fernandes is one of the foremost three-dimensional illustrators. She wrote and illustated Zebo and the Dirty Planet and illustrated A Visit from St. Nicholas (Story by Clement C. Moore "Twas the night before Christmas"). She has also written a book called Gifts to Make with Crayola Model Magic.

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20. 2nd Carnival of Children's Literature Announcement

Chicken Spaghetti is hosting the 2nd Carnival of Children's Literature. Posts on the topics of children's books, poems, and plays can be submitted (one per person) for this editor's choice carnival event. Due date for submission is March 3rd. For more details, go to Chicken Spaghetti.

If you missed the First Carnival, you can read submissions at the host's site, Here in the Bonny Glen.

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21. Storm Is Coming! by Heather Tekavec


Storm Is Coming!
by Heather Tekavec
Illustrated by Margaret Spengler
Ages: 3-6
Topics: animals, farms, weather

The old farmer tells his dog "'Storm is coming! We'd better get the animals safely in the barn!'" Dog springs into action and rounds up the sheep barking that "'Storm is coming!'". The sheep head for the barn and warn Duck who, in turn, tells the herd of cows, who join in the stampede. Cat, who was napping in the barn, wakes up and asks what all the noise is about. "'Storm is coming!'" the animals tell the cat "'And who is Storm?'"the Cat meowed. The animals all look at each other and then decide Storm must be very big, mean, and scary. "'Wake me when he gets here'" says the Cat and goes back to sleep. The frightened animals wait for Storm to arrive but only see the sky turn dark, the wind blow, and the sky flash - all good things to keep Storm from finding them. Then suddenly, they hear a "thump, thump, thump" coming towards the barn ...but it's only the old farmer telling them its safe to come out.

This clever story makes a delightful read-aloud that preschoolers will love. There's lots of repetition, familiar animals, excitement and humor. Younger children will laugh at the sheeps' bleaty dialog "he must be-e-e very sca-a-ry" and older children will be amused by the animals misunderstanding of Storm. The suspense is strong enough to hold the attention without being scary and the Cat's kick-back attitude provides welcome relief after the other animals' panic. In addition to the educative value of describing the characteristics of a storm, there's also Dog's imaginative and optimistic take on how these characteristics are beneficial: the rain will cover their tracks, the lightening will blind Storm, the thunder will scare Storm away. These potentially scary things all become a protective cause for celebration.

Spenglers' pastel illustrations are bright and exciting and really move the story along. Each double-paged ilustration faultlessly supports the narrative, whether it depicts a big outdoor scene of all the animals rushing to the barn or close-ups of the animals nervous faces. Spengler has an uncanny ability to make her simple animal faces and eyes very expressive. Her animals are winsome and whacky -- hiding their eyes, celebrating wildly, scratching their heads -- rounded and soft.

Storm Is Coming! provides a great marriage of art and narrative that will entertain both children and adults. I also recommend What's That Awful Smell?, another story with the animals from Storm Is Coming! in which the misguided animals try to get rid of an awful smell in the barn.

Storm Is Coming! was Heather Tekavac's first published book. A former preschool teacher, Tekavac lives in British Columbia with her family. She has also written another story about the farm animals from Storm Is Coming! called What's That Awful Smell? .

Margaret Spengler has a B.F.A and has illustrated many children's picture books including Clickety Clack by Rob and Amy Spence (read my review) and the Dawdle Duck books by Toni Buzzeo.

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22. USPS Favorite Children's Book Animals Stamps



The USPS has released some wonderful Favorite Children's Book Animals postage stamps. Characters include The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Wilbur (from Charlotte's Web), Fox in Socks, Maisy, Wild Thing, Curious George , Olivia, and Frederick (Lionni's). Want to buy some? You may want to order them online. I had to go to two post offices -- the first had sold out, and I got the last one from under the glass at the second!

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23. Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen


Guji Guji
by Chih-Yuan Chen
Ages 4-8
Topics: family, identity, adoption, being different

Mother Duck hatches four eggs and each baby has its own distinct personality. Guji Guji is rather odd-looking and much bigger and stronger than his siblings. But Mother Duck loves all her children the same " no matter how quick they were, or what they looked like". One day, three nasty crocodiles show up and make fun of Guji Guji for "walking like a duck". Guji Guji hears them and replies "'I am not walking like a duck, I am a duck.'" The crocodiles laugh and point out that he looks and smells just like them and that their shared qualities are perfect for catching and eating "fat, delicious ducks". The crocodiles then tell Guji Guji he must lead the ducks to the bridge the next day so they can eat them "because we are all crocodiles, and crocodiles help each other." After some soul-searching and careful thinking, Guji Guji comes up with a clever solution that takes care of his family.

This is a great story about family, loyalty, acceptance, and identity. Although the overriding topics are serious, there's plenty of humor and funny moments to keep a balance. Mother Duck doesn't notice the large egg that rolls into nest because "She was reading." The corresponding illustration shows a bespectacled Mother Duck, perched on an enormous egg, reading a book with a baby duck hatching on the cover. The illustrations that show Mother Duck teaching her children new skills are hilarious -- the duck family all have their noses in the air with self-satisfied expressions and the illustration that shows Guji Guji as bigger and stronger than his siblings shows him riding a bicycle and pulling a cart with the rest of the family effortlessly up a hill. The illustrations are ink and watercolored drawings in muted greens, browns, and greys with rich blue, orange, and red details. The backgrounds alternate between white, black, and grey creating a strong day and night background rhythm.

Guji Guji's dark moment is moving "'Is it true? Am I a bad crocodile too?'" but his humor quickly returns when he admits that he is neither a bad crocodile nor a duck. He goes on to save the day and continues to live with his adoptive family. An exceptional book for both children and adults - everyone should read this book. A great choice to read aloud and discuss differences with kindergarteners/1st Graders.

Chih-Yuan Chen is an award-winning author who lives and works in Taiwan. Guji Guji was inspired by the story of an adopted friend who grew up looking "different". Chen hopes his story will help children "learn to accept different people and things, and see the world with broader views and minds". Chen's other books include On My Way to Buy Eggs and The Best Christmas Ever.

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24. Friday's ...Meme Day - A Children's Lit. Meme

There's a children's book meme out there asking your favorite 3 children's series, books, and characters. Go to Big A Little A and have your say!

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25. Maisy Goes to the Library by Lucy Cousins



Maisy Goes to the Library
by Lucy Cousins
Ages 1-5
Topics: libraries, books, reading

Maisy goes to the library because she "loves to read a book in a nice, quiet place." Today, she's looking for a book on fish. While she's looking, she notices that "There are lots of other things to do at the library" like using the computer, listening to music, making "copies of your favorite picture", and looking at fish in the aquarium. Maisy finds a nice sparkly book about fish by the aquarium and sits down to read it when friends Cyril and Tallulah arrive and start goofing around. Then it's storytime -- the Ostrich reads 'There was an old who swallowed a fly' and soon everyone is laughing and making animal sounds. After storytime, the friends check out their books and go out to play. Maisy finds a nice quiet spot to read her book.

This simple book is a great introduction to the library for little ones. The library is a cheerful place for sharing books and participating in cool activities-- there's no dusty shelves or 'Silence' signs here. Cousins' illustrations are simple: thick black-lined drawings with a strong use of primary colors, including the backgrounds. Their brightness and clarity make them perfect for younger children. All the preschool animal friends are good-natured, well-behaved and having a wonderful time.

Lucy Cousins has written many, many Maisy books --all on simple subjects that are part of a young child's day-to-day life. I've never read one I didn't like! Some favorites include Maisy at the Fair, Maisy's Bedtime, Merry Christmas Maisy, Maisy's Easter Egg Hunt, Maisy's Seasons. Cousins is a mother of four and also wrote Hooray For Fish!

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