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As a lover of children's literature, mother and bookseller of 13 years, I want to put good books into kid's hands. I share my philosophy on what makes a book good as well as book reviews and lists of great books for every reading taste and ability with a focus on new readers. I also highlight some wonderful books that are not always on the shelf at bookstores, but might be at your library and can definitely be ordered. All books mentioned are available in paperback unless noted.
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More-igami is the debut picture book from Dori Kleber, illustrated by longtime favorite G. Brian Karas. More-igami is a fantastic picture book for so many reasons. The main character shows perseverance or, grit, to use the hot new word in the world of education, as he struggles to master a skill. More-igami is a marvel of diversity in a picture book, featuring African American, Asian and Hispanic characters. But, best of all, More-igami is just a really great story with marvelous illustrations that is a joy to read our loud.
Joey loves all things folded, from maps to accordions to tacos to, of course, foldaway beds. When Joey's classmate, Sarah, brings her mother to school to teach the class how to make origami cranes, Joey's mind is blown. Mrs. Takimoto tells Joey that she can teach him the folds, but if he wants to be an origami master, he'll "need patience and practice." No problem! Joey practices everywhere with everything, including folding the $38.00 he found in his mother's purse. Frustrated and out things to fold, Joey heads to the restaurant next door because "fajitas always made him feel better." There, he finds a place to practice folding and help out Mr. Lopez. Even better, he finds a new friend to share his talent with - as long as she has patience and is willing to practice!
Karas's illustrations are perfectly matched to Kleber's text, which wonderfully, simply shows the frustration and determination that Joey possesses. The hand drawn texture of Karas's illustrations add to the creative feel of More-igami, which will undoubtedly inspire readers to do some folding of their own, especially since there is a two page spread at the end of the book that shows you how to fold an origami ladybug!
Source: Review Copy
I absolutely adore BLOCKS by Irene Dickson! I often consult Kirkus Reviews to see what they think of a book and occasionally their reviewer will sum up a book so perfectly I have to quote, and that is the case with BLOCKS. Of Dickson's book, Kirkus succinctly writes, "A cleverly simple book builds skills as well as towers." Ruby builds with red blocks on the verso, Benji builds with blue blocks on the recto. They parallel play until Benji borrows a red block and a tussle follows. And the structures they have built come crashing down. Ruby even loses a shoe. Both children look stricken and the tension is palpable. Dickson does so much with few words and bold illustrations in BLOCKS. Even if you can see it coming, it is exciting to see the conflict and the resolution in this wonderful picture book. And, while Dickson could have ended BLOCKS with Ruby and Benji happily building together, a final page turn reveals Guy with his green blocks.
As a parent, I find so many teachable moments in BLOCKS. As a librarian who just won a grant that has brought three different sets of blocks (Kapla, Magnatiles and TEDCO Blocks & Marbles) into the library, I especially am grateful to have this book to pull off the shelf when the battles begin...
Source: Review Copy
Molly Idle is the brilliant creator (and choreographer) of the first two books about Flora, an expressive, if not always graceful, little girl who seems to find herself frolicking with birds of all shapes and sizes. Flora, in a swimsuit, swim cap and flippers, has danced with a flamingo. Flora has skated with a penguin. Now, in Flora and the Peacocks, Flora faces her greatest challenge - dancing with not one, but two peacocks. For this dance, Flora has a fan and two elegant partners. As with the first two books, clever flaps change the plot of these wordless picture books with just a flip. Flora's fan and the tails of the peacocks flip and flap to change the tone as the three try to orchestrate a dance that leaves no one out. As you might expect, there are jealous moments, frustrating turns and even some stomping off stage. But, Flora and the peacocks find a way to dance together by the end of the book, which culminates in a magnificent gatefold that opens to a huge 18 by 33 inches. Besides being gorgeously illustrated, all three of Idle's Flora books are examples of masterful design and paper engineering that make these stories so readable and memorable. It's hard to capture all of the magic of the Flora books in words. Happily, Chronicle Books, the publisher of these excellent books, has made a book trailer!
Source: Review Copy
A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman with illustrations by Corey R. Tabor has the feel of an instant classic. Hoffman's rhyming journey of imagination is paired perfectly with Tabor's layered, playful watercolor illustrations and pencil drawings that have a hint of magic to them. Best of all, A Dark, Dark Cave has one of my favorite things to do with kids at the center of the story!
As the "pale moon glows," a sister and brother go spelunking. Hoffman repeats the refrain, "a dark, dark cave," throughout the text, creating a gentle suspense that builds with each page turn while Tabor's illustrations blend the real with the imaginary in a satisfying way that keeps readers guessing - are these two REALLY in a dark, dark cave all by themselves?
A light appears in the darkness, revealing that, in fact, the sister and brother are in a blanket cave! As a kid and a parent, building blanket forts is definitely one of my all-time favorite things to do. We even build blanket forts on rainy days in my library. But, sadly, for this sister and brother, the bright light means Dad coming in and asking them to find a more quiet game because the baby is sleeping. This could easily have been the end to A Dark, Dark Cave. Happily, it is not. There is one more imaginary adventure in store for these siblings, and more marvelous illustrations (and a change in palette) from Tabor!
I hope you will seek out A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, who worked with preschoolers for over 35 years before writing this book, and Corey R. Tabor, making his picture book debut. I read hundreds of new picture books a year (and almost as many old ones) and it is truly rare to find a book of this kind!
Look for Fox and the Jumping Contest
illustrated AND written by Corey R. Tabor
Coming October 2016!
Source: Review Copy
Having been a bookseller for so many years, I am very familiar with Lauren Myracle and her two very popular series, the Winnie Years and the Internet Girls, which, told entirely in texts, emails and IMs, was especially innovative and popular (and prescient) when first published in 2004. But, having a proclivity for fantasy, it took me until now to finally read one of Myracle's books. The blurb for Wishing Day grabbed my attention immediately. On the third night of the third month after her thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes: the first is an impossible wish, the second is a wish she can make come true herself and the third is a wish made from her deepest, secret heart.
Natasha Blok is the oldest of three sisters born in under three years. In fact, her sister Darya is in seventh grade with her. Ava, their youngest sister is in sixth grade. As Wishing Day opens, Natasha is at the ancient willow tree, planted by her grandmother many times removed, the woman who started the wish tradition. Her aunts, Vera and Elena, are steps behind her, waiting anxiously for Natasha to make her wishes. Natasha's mother Klara disappeared eight years earlier, leaving her father sinking into sadness and silence and her aunts moving in to raise their nieces. Of course Natasha wants her mother back, but she also wants to be kissed and she secretly wants to be somebody's favorite.
Myracle weaves a story rich with characters. Natasha is a typical big sister, stepping in and caring for her siblings after her mother vanishes. Yet, she also let a distance grow between herself and Darya, who, with a head of red, shiny curly hair, a flair for fashion and a firm disbelief in magic of any kind, especially when it comes to the Wishing Tree. And, an even deeper secret than her three wishes is hidden under her mattress. Natasha is a writer, albeit a writer who has yet to finish a story. As Wishing Day unfolds, Natasha learns more about her mother's life before she disappeared, finishes writing her first story and kisses a boy. She also has her deepest secret self revealed when her sisters discover her writing and enter it in a local contest, is not kissed by the boy she thinks she wants to kiss her and might not even want to be kissed at all and, most surprising, discovers that she IS someone's favorite.
Myracle weaves in a thread of magic - beyond the Wishing Tree itself - in the character of the Bird Lady, an eccentric, ancient legend in Willow Hill who has a sparrow nesting in her fluff of grey hair. The Bird Lady appears every so often to utter cryptic words to Natasha, who begins finding meaningful notes around town. The ending of Wishing Day will leave you wondering and wanting more (especially more answers) and, quite happily, there is more to come because this is an intended trilogy! I suspect that the next two books will focus on serious, gorgeous, skeptic Darya and the ethereal, playful, free spirit Ava as Natasha's sisters turn thirteen and make their own wishes.
Source: Review Copy
Before I Wake Up . . . is the fifth book I have reviewed by Britta Teckentrup and her illustrations are as magically wonderful as ever. A simple rhyming text follows a girl through her nighttime, dreamworld adventures, a protective, comforting lion at her side.
Teckentrup begins, "Before I wake up, I float through my dreams . . . imagining worlds. Never ending it seems." The rhymes sometimes feel forced, but the illustrations are so unique and marvelous that it is easy to overlook. The girl and her lion travel by sky and by boat, over and under water, in and out of woods and jungles. Teckentrup establishes a dream landscape in a variety of ways. Sometimes the narrator is seen multiple times on a page, sometimes she seems to float across the page. As morning approaches, the palette lightens with it. Dark blues and blacks shift to oranges, reds and eventually yellows. The final page shows the narrator, tucked beneath a sunny yellow quilt with a toy lion snuggled at her side, ready for the new day.
While I am a big fan of Teckentrup's style, I think that my favorite thing about Before I Wake Up . . . is the book itself. Published by Prestel, an internationally renowned publisher of art, architecture, photography and design books, appealing to "all those with a passion for visual culture." Holding Before I Wake Up . . . in my hands, this is evident. This gorgeously designed book (it's trim size is square!) is printed on thick matte paper with a sturdy paper-over-board cover and stitched binding that makes reading it a multi-sense experience. Before I Wake Up . . . is a memorable book that children will cherish, but also one that makes a beautiful gift.
Source: Review Copy
I opened the cheerfully colored, creatively illustrated Where's the Elephant? by French children's book illustrator Barroux expecting a fun look-and-find book and got so much more. Where's the Elephant? is indeed a look-and-find book, and it is not always easy to find the elephant and his companions, a parrot and a snake, but it is also a subtle lesson on deforestation and loss of habitat that affects so many of the world's animals.
Where's the Elephant? is a journey through time and space. The book begins with an expanse of blue ocean with the tip of a lush island seen at the edge of the opposite page. A two page spread that shows a lollipop colored forest (can you find the elephant? Snake? Parrot?) But a page turn shows a clearcut starting. A few page turns later, and it's very easy to spot the elephant and his friends because their habitat has been taken over by houses and roads. Huddled in the few trees left, the wild animals eventually find themselves caged in a zoo.
But, bars can't hold them for long. Soon they are making their way to a new island, a new habitat. Hopefully one that will stay wild.
Barroux ends Where's the Elephant? with the story behind the book. During a visit to Brazil five years ago, he saw parts of the Amazon rain forest set on fire to clear the way for the production of soybeans. This inspired him to look for a way to talk about deforestation in a picture book. Inspiration came to him at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2014 and this amazing book is the brilliant end result. Little listeners will enjoy looking and finding while older readers will be inspired to ask questions and learn more about this serious subject.
Source: Review Copy
A Brave Bear pairs prolific author Sean Taylor with Emily Hughes, a new illustrator I've been wanting to review for a while now. Hughes's illustrations are a story in their own, but Taylor's narrative makes A Brave Bear a memorable story about a falling down and getting up again that parents will find sweet and young listeners/readers will relate to instantly. And, A Brave Bear also makes a fantastic Father's Day gift!
A Brave Bear begins before the title page with the words, "Everything was hot" and an illustrations of two bears in their den. The language of A Brave Bear continues on in this simple way, with the little bear narrating. Papa Bear says, "I think that a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world." Little Bear suggests they cool off in the river and the pair begin the long trek downhill. There are grassy parts, bushy parts and jumping parts. Jumping over the rocks, Little Bear says, "I think a jumping bear is probably the jumpiest thing in the world." But Papa Bear cautions him to take small jumps. Of course Little Bear takes a tumble and gets hurt, but Papa Bear knows just what to say and do and the two make it to the river where Little Bear declares that a "pair of wet bears is probably the wettest thing in the world." As they walk home, the sun is glowing, the air is glowing and, "even tomorrow is glowing."
With A Brave Bear, Taylor has written a story that perfectly captures one of the many moments of childhood that are major to the little person experiencing it, but easily surmountable to the adult standing by. The subtle empathy, compassion and calm that Papa Bear shows is especially meaningful and is sure to resonate with readers. And rare in a picture book. Thank you, Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes for this gem!
Source: Review Copy
More books by the spectacular Emily Hughes!
Benji Davies new picture book, Grandad's Island, is a wonderful story of friendship, adventure, imagination and saying goodbye. I especially love that Grandad's Island is a book that can be read and understood on more than one level. Davies's illustrations have a cinematic feels and are packed with colors and details that will bring you back again and again, as will the charming characters of Syd and Grandad.
A gate at the bottom of Syd's backyard leads right into Grandad's and the two are clearly as close as two peas in a pod. When Syd drops by for a visit and can't find Gradad anywhere, he finds him in the attic where, surprisingly, there is a big metal door that opens onto the deck of a huge ship!
The pair head out to sea and, after a pleasantly long journey, they reach an island. After disembarking, the two head into the jungle where they turn an old shack on stilts into the perfect vacation house.
Syd and Grandad explore the island, paint and swim and clearly have a wonderful time. Then Grandad tells Syd that he is thinking of staying on the island. "But won't you be lonely?" Syd asks.Grandad assures him that he doesn't think he will. Syd sails the ship home, and the trip seems much longer without Grandad. Back at home, Syd visits Grandad's house and hears a tapping at the attic window, where an envelope is sitting on the ledge. A toucan can be seen flying away. The final illustration shows the contents of the envelope - a painting of Grandad and a new friend, an orangutan.
This might seem like a simple story, but it is the details of Davies's illustrations that add depth to it. Grandad is an explorer, a traveller, and his house shows that. Books, plants, keepsakes and paintings (of and island that looks quite a bit like the one they travel to), done by Grandad show that he has had a rich life. It's also clear how much Grandad loves Syd, even if he is saying goodbye to him. Syd heads home with Grandad's hat on his head. Older readers might see Grandad's Island as a story of saying goodbye to a loved one and the special memories that are left behind. But, whatever story readers takeaway from Grandad's Island, it will be one that is full of joy, love and an appreciation for life.
Source: Review Copy
I first learned of artist Louise Bourgeois as a freshman at art school, although I did not learn about the role of fabric in her life. However, even if you know nothing about the art and life of Louise Bourgeois, Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois is a must-have picture book biography that is a stunning work that illustrates the links between childhood, creativity and artistic inspiration. Author Amy Novesky has written several picture book biographies of artists, from Billie Holiday to Geogria O'Keefe to Me, Frida, a book about Kahlo's time in America with Diego Rivera. Novesky's biography is brought to life beautifully by a favorite of mine, Isabelle Arsenault.
Born outside of Paris in 1911, Louise and her siblings were raised by a river. As a child, she spent much of her time in nature, sometimes spending the night in a tent, lulled to sleep by the "rhythmic rock and murmur of river water." Arsenault's illustrations immediately bring to life this idyllic world, layering in a woven feel to her artwork that echoes both Bourgeois's heritage and future work. Novesky's well crafted, poetic text makes Bourgeois's experience and artistic influences immediately understandable.
Louise's family restored tapestries and her mother would often work outside in the sun, "her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her." When Louise is twelve, she learns the family trade as well and decides that drawing is "like a thread in a spider's web." Novesky incorporates passages from Bourgeois's diary into Cloth Lullaby, which are printed in red.
Louise comes to think of her mother, who is her best friend, as a spider, "Deliberate . . . Patient, soothing . . . Subtle, indispensible . . . And as useful as an araignée (spider.)" Louise's father would bring home cloth scraps from his travels and her mother would take the two halves of cloth, reweaving them to make a whole. Louise heads to the Sorbonne to study mathematics, but the death of her mother leaves her feeling, "abandoned and all alone. A thread, broken."
Louise turns to art. First painting, then sculpture. As a tribute, she creates giant spiders made of bronze, steel and marble that she names, Maman (mother). Eventually, Louise begins to sculpt in cloth, using fabrics from her life - childhood clothing, her new husband's handkerchiefs, napkins from her wedding trousseau - to make books. Novesky writes, "Weaving was her way to make things whole." Bourgeouis spends the last years of her life weaving her childhood memories into works of art.
Novesky's authors note is wonderful, putting Bourgeois's career into context, including the prestigious retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern art when she was seventy-one. More quotes, photographs of the artist and her work as well as sources make learning more about the artist a must. Arsenault's illustrations bring to life a world that I'm sure readers will want to know more about. Cloth Lullaby is a book that I know I will be reading over and over, taking in the beauty and the sadness of the childhood that inspired a creative life, and inspired this superb book.
Source: Review Copy
You may know Peter Brown as the illustrator, and often author, of many wonderful picture books, including the brilliant, Children Make Terrible Pets. Brown has written his first novel, The Wild Robot, and it is phenomenal. As I read the first page to myself, I thought, "I HAVE to read this out loud to my students." I knew they would love it as much, and as immediately, as I did, but I also knew that this book would make us all think and talk and ask questions, and it has. I stopped reading, took the book to school, and read it out loud to first and second graders the next day. But I could not wait to finish it. At home, reading before bed, I pored over the pages, stopping often to think to myself, "Man, I love this book," and, "This book is amazing." When I finished reading The Wild Robot I paused, took a breath, thought about it and then wrote a letter to the author, which is something that I do once or twice a year when I really am floored by a book. The Wild Robot called to mind almost instantly a book that I have long considered a top five favorite and one of the first books I reviewed here, Abel's Island, by William Steig. Both books feature non-human characters in alien environments, learning to survive and also learning what it means to be alive and what it means to be connected to others.The Wild Robot begins with a storm at sea and a cargo ship losing its load. Some of this cargo, crates containing the Rozzum Unit 7134, reach and island where all but one are smashed against the rocky shore. Activated by a raft of playful otters, the robot becomes operational, springing to life, so to speak. The first several chapters of The Wild Robot follow Roz as her programming (Survival Instincts) kicks in and she navigates the island she has come to live on. The only environment she has ever known, she learns what she can about the island and its inhabitants, initially through observation. It is a wonder to read on as Roz experiences, observes, grapples and evolves.
Soon, the animals of the island take notice, and react, to Roz's presence, as benign as she is, and yet another fascinating layer to this story unfolds. Roz is alien and the animals shun her, but she still manages to continue to observe and learn from them. She tries to connect with them, but most attempts fail. Until she unwittingly orphans a goose egg. Roz takes it upon herself to see that this life, too, does not end. For this, she needs the help of her island animal community. And for this, they, sometimes grudgingly and often with a barter in mind, come to her - and the goslings's - aid. Roz evolves, from alien to parent to protector and unifier. Her presence on the island disrupts the natural world and possibly changes it forever, and that is something else to think about.
Brown does not shy away from the brutality of nature (although he is gentle with his presentation) or the brutality of humans (here, not so gentle - parents of sensitive children be forewarned) and for this I love The Wild Robot even more. The Wild Robot is a book you and your children will ever forget.
Books by Peter Brown!
Otters Love to Play is the fantastic new non-fiction picture book from Johnathan London, author of the Froggy series of picture books, and Meilo So. It's hard not to love otters, in part because they are so playful, and London and So perfectly capture this - and many other fascinating facts about otters - in this highly readable book.
Otters Love to Play employs a format that I love in a non-fiction picture book because it allows me to read it to all audiences. A larger font at the top of the page delivers broad information about the subject while a smaller font at the bottom of the page provides detailed facts. Backmatter includes an index and further information about otters. Otters Love to Play begins with a lakeside scene, So's illustrations are the perfect mix of bleeding watercolors and tight pen and ink sketches that bring both the otters and the forest to life over the course of four seasons. On the very first page, I learned that otters often use the abandoned dens of beavers, muskrats and woodchucks!
Of course, Otters Love to Play focuses on the playful way that learn to survive in the wild, from developing agility and speed to strengthening family bonds. London engages reader with facts like the size of an otter at birth (about as big as a candy bar) and with onomatopoeic words that capture the energy of these creatures. Otters Love to Play is the perfect first non-fiction book to introduce little listeners to, as well as a book that emerging readers and solid readers will love to tackle on their own!
Source: Review Copy
I have been fascinated by the platypus since I was a kid. I tried to get my kids interested in them but, despite the fact that we are frequent visitors to one of the best zoos in the world and they were able to buy a small plastic replica of one, it was always really hard to find books on the platypus - and see it in person - making it hard to feed that interest. Now, with Platypus, Sue Whiting has written a picture book that follows this secretive animal throughout its day while also adding fascinating facts along the way. Mark Jackson's illustrations perfectly suit this mysterious and rarely seen creature with his broad strokes and muted pallet. Written in the two-level text style that I really like, Whiting sets the scene with this fantastic first sentence, "Beyond the snaking bend in the creek where the water lazes in a still green pool, a scraggly gum tree perches on the edge of the bank." Platypus already feels mysterious, and we haven't even seen this monotreme (an egg-laying mammal, a word I learned in the backmatter of Platypus) yet! The secondary text on the first page of Platypus tells readers that this creature is one of the most puzzling animals, so much so that when British scientists first studied it in 1799 they thought it was a fake.
Platypus continues on as the platypus, who is always moving, forages for food about twelve hours a day, storing fat in its tail - a thick, firm tail is a sign of a healthy platypus. Their sensitive bills act like radar and they store it in pouches in their cheeks. Mainly nocturnal, the platypus returns to his burrow and sleeps most of the day. Whiting cover nesting and egg-laying on a single two page spread, but goes into more detail (with illustrations) about the life of the platypus once it hatches from the egg, which is a big part of what makes this mammal so interesting. The backmatter also includes an index and more puzzling facts about the platypus.
Platypus is a great read out loud, but I think it is best discovered independently and read in the spirit of wonder that this monotreme inspires!
Source: Review Copy
Follow the Moon Home is a unique picture book written by environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, acclaimed children's non-fiction (and fiction) author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Meilo So. A curious book, I sat with Follow the Moon Home and thought about it for quite a while before writing this review. Because I was just wrapping up a week of reviews of non-fiction picture books about animals, I thought maybe Follow the Moon Home was a book about a real group of children who organized the community in an effort to protect hatchling turtles, but reading the backmatter and searching the internet proved this wasn't the case. While fifth graders from ninety-six schools in South Carolina successfully organized to make the loggerhead turtle the state reptile, the specific "Lights Out for Loggerheads" effort in Follow the Moon Home is fictional. Although fictional, Follow the Moon Home is packed with fantastic non-fiction information in the backmatter. Truly, Follow the Moon is a book about community and community action as well as a message to all of us to value the insights and inspirations of our children. As Cousteau writes in a note to parents and teachers, "Too often, adults see kids only as volunteers for environmental projects, as participants rather than seeing them as critical thinkers capable of solving any number of problems." Follow the Moon is a blueprint in story form for kids and adults, gently showing us all how to listen and how to take action and the perfect book for any teacher or school using a project based learning curriculum and seeking to incorporate character education and community participation into everyday learning.
Viv's family moves to town just in time for get to join a summer school class. The second page of Follow the Moon Home is not to be missed by adult readers - teachers or parents - as it shows Viv's teacher with a lesson plan for a class project centering on community action. The story moves at a fast pace and the authors are focused. Running into a classmate on the beach (the pudgy Clementine - thank you Meilo So, for illustrating a girl with a body shape like mine when I was a kid!) Viv learns about loggerhead turtles and the struggles that the hatchlings face in their journey back to the ocean. Soon, the two are sharing their thoughts and ideas with the class and a community project is coming to life!
The authors detail the steps the class takes to educate and bring together the community and gain their support as the story unfolds. Their classroom becomes the Loggerhead Lab and readers see clearly how the kids develop a plan to fix a problem and gather together to make it happen. The school where I am a librarian is a project based learning school where character education and community connections are the foundations of our curriculum. As the librarian, I am constantly asked for books - at all levels - to support this and they are very rare. I am so thrilled to be able to add Follow the Moon, with its great story and invaluable, inspiring back matter to the shelves. Thank you to Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So for creating this invaluable book!
Source: Review Copy
Kevin McCloskey was inspired to create the fantastic We Dig Worms! when his wife, a librarian, asked him for a "fun worm book." The result is truly a very fun, informative book that is both a graphic novel and beginning reader. Now, McCloskey takes on another sort of under appreciated creature, the pigeon, with The Real Poop on Pigeons!
McCloskey begins The Real Poop on Pigeons! with a conversation between two people in the park. As the title suggests, this book begins with the universally held idea that pigeons are rats with wings that make a huge mess with their poop. But, a parade of kids dressed as pigeons - weird, but also really cute - set these two adults straight.
Carrier pigeons, who race without stopping and can go faster than a car, are the first in the species to start this look at the maligned bird. A few pages about the anatomy and history of pigeons also reveals that they mate for life! Breeding and the many amazing pigeons that result from it are examined next.
McCloskey, who is also teaches illustration at Kutztown University, takes a few pages to talk about Pablo Picasso, who, as a child, cleaned out his father's pigeon coop and loved the birds so much that he named his daughter Paloma, which is pigeon in Spanish. I also learned that pigeons are in the same family as my favorite extinct bird, the dodo!
I really should wrap up my review of The Real Poop on Pigeons! but there are so many fascinating facts that McCloskey cleverly includes in his book, it's hard to stop. I'll end where he does, with that perennial question, "How come we never see baby pigeons?" You'll have to read The Real Poop on Pigeons! to get the answer, and when you do you just might find clues to the next subject of McCloskey's book...
Source: Review Copy
If you have read any of Philipe Coudray's Benjamin Bear books, then you know that his is as master of absurdist humor and visual gags. And his newest book, A Goofy Guide to Penguins, created with his twin brother, Jean Luc, a cryptid enthusiast who enjoys visiting the forests of North America in his search for Big Foot, is equally silly, but with back matter that contains, "100% GENUINE, REAL FACTS ABOUT PENGUINS!" A Goofy Guide to Penguins is also yet another fantastic TOON BOOK, which means that that this is both a graphic novel and a leveled reader! For my reviews of all the amazing TOON BOOKS that have been published since they started in 2008 HERE. Each page of A Goofy Guide to Penguins has a two panel spread. The first panel posits a question (asked by penguin a penguin chick perched outside of the panel) - or an assumption - about penguins and the second panel answers it. One of my favorite pages shows penguin parents with their eggs - one has two eggs and the other has one. The first penguin chick tells readers that some parents "brag when they have twins." The second panel tells us that others "just wait until the eggs hatch," and shows the two parents with new chick. The penguin who waited to brag now has two chicks emerging from one egg. Knowing that the author and illustrator are twin brothers, this really tickles me. And, while the back matter did not tell me if two chicks can actually hatch from one egg, I did learn that the temperature inside a 10 penguin huddle can reach 74 degrees and that a male Emperor penguin loses up to 40% of his body weight during the incubation period for an egg.
The mix of humor and facts in A Goofy Guide to Penguins is definitely a new kind of non-fiction book for me. But, especially considering the intended audience of this book, I think it works magnificently! I hope that the Coudray brothers team up for another non-fiction book in the future, especially one that highlights Jean Luc's love of cryptozoology!
Read reviews of all three Benjamin Bear book HERE
Source: Review Copy
A Nest Is Noisy is the fifth nature book from author Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrator Sylvia Long. I have long been a fan of this award winning series of books, both for the creative way that Aston presents the information and the gorgeous, richly detailed illustrations from Long that bring it to life and am happy to finally be able to share it here.
Aston draws readers in with her poetic text, starting with the title. But a nest isn't just noisy, a nest is also a "nursery of chirp-chirping . . . buzzing, squeaking, peep-peeping, bubbling babies." Each page begins with, "A nest is . . ." followed by fantastic adjectives. In fact, these books can also be used for language arts lessons, Aston's tet is so rich with descriptive words.
Two paragraphs of information about the egg laying animals and insects who have built the nests follow. Everything from the foamy nest of the African gray tree frog to the papery nests of hornets and wasps to the adobe nests of the American ovenbirds is included here. And every bit of it is fascinating! Aston ends A Nest Is Noisy with these words, "A nest is noisy . . . buzzing, swishing, rustling, flapping and humming with babies . . .but only until they are ready to fly, swim, or crawl away. Then a nest is . . . quiet." A final two page spread shows and names the nest building creatures, a perfect way to end the book.
More books in the Nature series!
Source: Review Copy
A conservation biologist by day, Martin Jenkins is also the author of several children's books about animals. With Fabulous Frogs, Jenkins and illustrator Tim Hopgood bring us a look at frogs from all over the world that can read like a playful picture book and a fun, fact filled book at the same time.
Jenkins's perspective with Fabulous Frogs is fantastic. Even before the title page, he gets some frog facts out of the way, covering that most fascinating aspect of a frog's life, the metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to frog. I applaud this. These are facts that most kid's know before even opening a book about frogs and it leaves Jenkins and Hopgood 32 pages to explore some of the more than 5,000 different kinds of frogs in the world.
Besides variety, Jenkins also highlights curious qualities, like the African grey tree frogs that build their nests, which are made of foam, in branches hanging over ponds and streams. Then there is the male Darwin frog who, "snaps up the eggs just before they hatch and keeps the tadpoles in a special pouch in his throat." Frog hibernation, something that fascinates me, is also covered, as are the jewel-like South American poison arrow frogs.
I especially like how Jenkins ends his book, telling readers that his favorite frog is the, "medium size, greeny-brown one that sits o the lily pad in my backyard pond!" Fabulous Frogs also includes an index and a few more illustrations of frogs that didn't make into the book!
Source: Review Copy
Brianne Farley's debut picture book, Ike's Incredible Ink, is an incredible story about creativity. And, while Farley's fantastic second book, The Secret Tree Fort, is also about creativity and imagination, it has such a different feel and style that it almost made me do a double take. As someone who reads hundreds of picture books every year and follows the careers of new author/illustrators, it is surprising and exciting to see a new book that doesn't look remarkably similar to the previous one. Farley's illustration style still has a collage-y, textured feel, but the presence of humans in this book and a richer color palette, especially the vibrant imagined creatures, feels new and intriguing. Based on the title alone, I knew that The Secret Tree Fort was a book I wanted to read. A story about a secret tree fort can go in a hundred different directions, but the story Farley chooses to tell is one that will resonate with readers and linger in memories long after the covers are closed. Two sisters are sent outside to play. Big sister parks herself under a tree to read a book. She also ignores her little sister's pleas to play. Completely frustrated, the little sister blurts out, "FINE! I HAVE A SECRET TREE FORT AND YOU'RE NOT INVITED!"
And then she begins to build this secret tree fort - in her imagination - telling her sister about all the amazing details as she builds. The fort is well stocked - there is a marshmallow and chocolate compartment, maps and walkie talkies. And it is also protected against attacks. There are different signal flags to call for backup. There's a crow's nest that affords an ocean view and a secret tunnel with an underwater viewing area where you can hang out with whales and play board games together. Best of all, the whole secret fort is made of candy. . .
Does this secret fort woo big sister away from her book or start an epic "Yes, it is," "No, it isn't" fight between the siblings? Or maybe both? You'll just have to read The Secret Tree Fort yourself to find out. Even better, buy it for a child you know and love!
Source: Review Copy
With A Fire Truck Named Red, Randall de Sève and Bob Staake are perfectly paired for a superb picture book that easily could have been overly sentimental in less talented hands. A birthday present gone (almost) wrong becomes a journey and an adventure that connects a boy and his grandfather and opens up a whole new world of play.
With his birthday approaching, Rowan has his eyes on a shiny new ladder truck with all sorts of nifty features. This is not the fire truck he gets. Instead, he gets Red, his grandfather's well-loved toy truck. Papa tells Rowan all about Red, but Rowan is "busy trying not to cry." As Rowan and his Papa spend time in his garage fixing up Red, Papa tells him about all the adventures he and Red used to have. As Papa's stories get more and more spectacular, Rowan is more and more engrossed - and maybe even just a bit excited and happy.
Staake illustrates Papa's stories in sepia tones, and the glasses and round nose make Papa and his younger self immediately recognizable. As Papa's stories get bigger and bigger, the sepia toned illustrations of his memories take up more and more page space until finally, magically, wonderfully, Rowan is pulled into the memories. Where Papa and Red were a team, now Papa, Red and Rowan are a trio. A Fire Truck Named Red ends with Papa handing over a shiny, spiffed up Red to a smiling Rowan who thinks to himself, "We could be a great team." The final illustration shows that indeed, they are.
Source: Review Copy
I am so absolutely in love with An After Bedtime Story, written by Shoham Smith and illustrated by Einat Tsarfatit, translated by Annette Appel. With illustrations that feel like an update on Hilary Knight's classic style (in fact, I think that Nina could very well be what Kay Thompson's Eloise was like as a toddler) and a story that I am sure was written just for me, although about 10 years too late, An After Bedtime Story is sure to become a classic among a certain set of (lovingly permissive) parents. I never did get the bedtime routine down, even with my third and lots of sleep-training books, and can totally relate to Nina's very tired parents. . .
Written in rhyming couplets, An After Bedtime Story opens with an adorable little girl, tucked into bed and sleeping, her parents on either side of her doorway, ready to sneak off. Nina calls them back for one more kiss, and they oblige, of course. But, instead of falling back to sleep, Nina is off and running down the hall, her parents sitting on her bed, bewildered, frustrated and clearly approaching exhausted. But how can Nina sleep? There are guest over and a party happening in the living room. And boy, does Nina know how to party. After hugs from all the aunties and uncles, she hits the dessert cart hard. From there, it's the drinks - fizzy pink lemonade, perfect for the pink and yellow palette that makes the black ink lines of the illustrations pop. Mom and dad try to reign her in. They count down, but before they can give Nina an ultimatum, her baby brother is standing in the hallway, blankie (and toy sword - after all, little brother is wearing a Viking helmet) in hand.
Einat Tsarfati's illustrations are brilliant! They are modern and humorous, but also feel like a timeless representation of life with toddlers. Every page is rich with details, and you will pore over An After Bedtime Story again and again taking them in, from the pet pug who is in a cone-collar for unknown reasons to Nina's bedroom, strewn with toys, including a cradle with a robot tucked in for the night and toy T-rex charging a Barbie-type doll. An After Bedtime Story is one that parents and kids will laugh at together every time they read it, and maybe it might even lead to some peaceful nighttime resolutions?
Source: Review Copy
While This is not a picture book! is only the fourth book I have reviewed by Sergio Ruzzier, I have read many more, including his work with the wonderful Eve Bunting and Emily Jenkins, and I have to say, his newest is my favorite and closest to my heart. This is not a picture book! reads like a love letter to everyone who believes in the transformative power of reading, and it is one that I will read often, to myself and out loud to my students. This is not a picture book! begins with Duck happily discovering a book, well before the title page. Elation turns to frustration when Duck realizes that there are ONLY WORDS in this book! Bug arrives and asks if Duck can read this offensive book with no pictures, to which Duck replies, "I'm not sure." Up until this page, Duck, the book and Bug are shown on a white background. When Duck answers, the two page illustration shows the white background on the left hand side, with a crevasse and colorful terrain on the verso. A log bridge connects the two, and as Duck walks across it, muttering, "Words are so difficult," and the journey of decoding and learning to read begins!
And what a journey it is! The landscape changes as Duck reads words that are funny, sad, wild and peaceful. While This is not a picture book! is about reading books without pictures, Ruzzier's illustrations are perfectly paired with the spare but powerful text and, as always, his world is one that I love to visit. Colorful curiosities abound as Duck and Bug walk and read, and visual clues that help emerging readers decode. In the final pages of This is not a picture book!, Ruzzier captures perfectly how I feel when I read a good book, "All these words carry you away and then they bring you home where they stay with you forever." And, in a brilliant design touch, the front endpapers of This is not a picture book! are a spread of text, mostly garbled, and, if you have pre, emerging or struggling readers at home, I strongly encourage you to skim it closely. Reading is like breathing for me - I rarely think about it. Skimming the front endpapers with decodable sight words sprinkled here and there helped me understand what so many of my students experience when they open a book. It is good to be reminded of the challenge. The endpapers of This is not a picture book! is worth reading as well! It is the story of Duck and Bug and the book that they find. It is yet another testament to Ruzzier's gift as a writer. He can craft a powerful picture book with less than 100 words and he can write a picture-less story that is equally engaging, using the words to paint the pictures in the head of the reader.
Source: Review Copy
I have read more books by the very talented Kenneth Oppel than I have reviewed here and I really need to do something about that. Oppel's superb Silverwing Saga was one of the first books I reviewed when I started in 2008. Oppel's intriguing Airborn Trilogy got my non-fiction loving son through some challenging middle school book reports and The Boundless is definitely one of the best stories on a train that I have ever read, especially because it begins with a sasquatch sighting as the construction of a railroad that stretches from one end of Canada to the other nears completion.
While Oppel is gifted at writing fantasies that are firmly set in reality, fueled by zeppelins bigger than the Titanic and a 987 car train that is almost seven miles long, his newest novel, The Nest, unfolds on a much smaller scale - at home - and is every bit as suspenseful - and thoughtful - as his grand scale fantasies. The first time Steven dreams of creatures with, "pale gossamer wings and music that came off them, and the light that haloed them," it is ten days after his brother is born. These creatures tell him that they have come to help the baby, who has been born with serious congenital health issues which narrator Steven details with the vague grasp of a child who has not been told everything.
Anxious and with OCD tendencies, an imaginary friend and a recurring nightmare in which a dark shape is standing at the foot of his bed, this overwhelming uncertainty in the form of the new baby intensifies for Steven when a strange type of white wasp builds a nest on the eaves near his bedroom window. The angels in the dream turn out to be the same white wasps that are building a nest on the side of Steven's house. And, in his dreams, the Queen speaks to Steven, telling him that her drones are building a nest where a new baby, a perfect baby will grow. When it is ready, if he agrees, Steven will help them replace the damaged baby with the new one and happiness will return to his family. The Nest unfolds at a cautious pace that matches Steven's anxieties. The Queen's assurances of good intentions and even better solutions seem reasonable, equaling Steven's desire for security at home. The Nest takes a dark turn when Steven comes to understand the true nature of the swap the Queen is proposing and the slow-simmering suspense of the story begins to boil. The climactic scene of The Nest is intense and very real, yet another testament to Oppel's ability to blend reality and fantasy in a meaningful way.
Half way through the novel as Steven nears an important turning point, his babysitter Vanessa, a college student, shares an insight into human existence. "Lots of people have broken bits," she says, sharing that she has a genetic kidney disease that will affect her later in life. "Sooner or later, we're all busted-up in some way." Holding his sleeping brother against his chest, Steven thinks, "Sometimes we really aren't supposed to be the way we are. It's not good for us. And people don't like it. You've got to change. You've got to try harder and do deep breathing and maybe one day take pills and learn tricks so you can pretend to be more like other people. Normal people. But maybe Vanessa was right, and all those other people were broken too in their own ways. Maybe we all spent too much time pretending we weren't." Fantasy or not, middle grade novel or not, this has to be one of the most profound thoughts I've read in a long time.
Other excellent books by Kenneth Oppel:
The Best Days are Dog Days is the newest picture book from Aaron Meshon, author and illustrator of the fantastic TOOLS Rule!. Meshon's brightly detailed illustrations (which would be perfect hanging on the walls of any kid's room, or living room for that matter) are worth the price of the book alone, but he is a great writer as well and his stories always bring a new, creative perspective to the subject. With The Best Days Are Dog Days, Meshon parallels the busy day of a toddler and the family's French Bulldog. I think it's fair to call them siblings. . .
One thing that I noticed with my own children and interacting with babies while working as a bookseller is that babies love to see pictures of babies. And toddlers love to see images of their daily lives. While this can be a little dull to the person reading the book, Meshon finds the perfect way to make these mundane (but, fun) tasks humorously engaging for little and big readers alike. Pup and Sis do everything together. Their day begins, Sis on the right side of the page and Pup, the narrator, on the left, with a stretch. Meshon captures the dog stretch perfectly, and Sis's little puppy-themed pjs are very cute. Breakfast is followed by a trip to the parks, both kid and dog. They make friends, play in the water and, together at the same time, chase a squirrel. A potty break is another moment of subtle humor in this already very funny book. A tandem bike, with a toddler seat and a dog basket, make getting around this very cool city (Seattle? Vancouver? St. Paul?) entertaining. Back home again and exhausted, it's bath time then time to brush the teeth for yet another awesomely hilarious two-page spread.
Kids and dogs are a pretty common pairing in picture books, but Meshon brings a very fresh approach to it. Of course this is the perfect book for new parents who have been practicing on their dog for a few years, but really, any little one will love this book with its familiar themes and cheerful colors. Buy this book today! Buy two - one for your own family and one to give as a gift!
Source: Reveiw Copy
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Marion Deuchars is the force behind the Let's Make Some series of books that inspire creativity in kids and adults. Visit the site to give Deuchars's projects a try or read my reviews of her books Let's Make Some Great Fingerprint Art
and http://www.books4yourkids.com/2013/12/lets-make-more-great-placemat-art-by.html"target="_blank">Let's Make More Great Placemat Art
. Now, with Bob the Artist
, Deuchars has written and illustrated her first picture book and of course it's about creativity!
I find Deuchars's illustrations crisply engaging and always charming. Her hand lettering adds to that charm, almost inviting readers to write their own story, which works wonderfully in Bob the Artist. Bob is a red-beaked-blackbird with skinny legs. Legs so skinny that the other birds laugh and laugh when they see Bob.
This brings Bob down so he tries to do something about his legs. Exercise, clothes as camouflage and some serious sausage eating to nothing for Bob's legs. Then, Bob happens to visit a gallery where he is INSPIRED!
Bob takes his inspiration from Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock, decorates his beak and heads back out into the world. This time the other birds greet him with appreciation and awe and Bob feels good about himself again - good enough to even walk the world as himself sometimes!
Bob the Artist can be a book with a message and it can also be a book that is beautiful to look at, fun to read and a creative inspiration, which is how I like to read it, and how I hope you will, too!
Source: Review Copy