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Early readers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the children's book world. They get no respect. Or not much. The intent of this blog is to redress the balance and to showcase the many delights inherent in early readers and beginning chapter books.
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In this charmer of an early chapter book, Lagercrantz brilliantly captures the essence of first grade with all its ups and down. Dani, the book's resilient heroine, is concerned that she won't make friends. She does, of course, and she and Ella experience all the joys of getting to know each other. They share swing rides, a friendship necklace, and sleepovers. There is also the pain of the first fight, when Ella refuses to swap her angel bookmark.
But all good things must come to an end, and Dani's world crumbles after Ella moves away. Until her friend's departure, Dani used to go to sleep counting all her happy times. Now she no longer can. Dani is deeply sad and one of this book's strengths is that it doesn't shy away from childhood grief. Dani misses her friend and although her teacher and father try their best to make her feel better, things go from bad to worse. In the days that follow Dani skins her knee, is tackled playing soccer, and feels terribly guilty after injuring a boy during a class free-for-all. Slowly, though, Dani regains her old cheerful self. She makes new friends (although none can take Ella's place). She gets two hamsters. Finally, she receives a letter from Ella and an invitation to see her new home. Joy.
Translated from Swedish by Julia Marshall, the book's twenty easy-to-read short chapters explore the day to day life of a young child, respecting each experience, from the small joys of jumping rope 500 times to the larger issues of death and loss.
"Dani used to have a mother who lived there too, but she passed away. That's what people said when someone died. They said she had passed away, but how could a dead person pass anything? And away to where?"
The pen-and-ink illustrations are full of life and vitality, just like Dani. Eriksson manages with just a few strokes of her pen to capture a multitude of expressions on the children's faces. The world she creates rings true and subtly adds to the story. Just by looking at the illustrations of Dani's teacher we know she's great at her job.
A treasure of a book!
My Happy Life
by Rose Lagercrantz
illustrations by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press, 134 pages
Published: 2013 (U.S. edition)
I wouldn't have thought Albert Einstein, poster boy for the word genius
, a good candidate for a picture book biography. How could the life of the creator of E = mc2
be crammed into a few pages of text? Well, happily, Jennifer Berne has proven me wrong. Her biography, aimed at young readers between ages 6 to 9, is a masterful condensation of big ideas into clear and accessible prose.
The book begins, appropriately, with the universe: "Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by the river, a baby boy was born. His parents named him Albert."
The text then follows him through his childhood (puzzling the secrets of the universe) to adulthood (still puzzling the secrets of the universe). We see young Albert mystified and enchanted by the workings of a compass and later wondering what it would be like to ride his bike on a beam of sunlight. As an adult, he watches sugar dissolve in his tea and pipe smoke vanish into the air and questions how one thing could disappear into another. By focusing on such concrete everyday examples, Berne grounds Einstein's remarkable abstract discoveries into things a child can comprehend.
Radunsky's innovated illustrations cast Einstein as a wide-eyed free spirit and allow you to see the child in the old man and vice versa. Through Radunsky's free-flowing hand, Einstein springs to life, striding through these pages as a wild-haired prophet in an endless search for the truth.
For readers eager to learn more, Berne provides an author's note covering other aspects of Einstein's life, such as his playful nature and his lifelong pacifism. A short bibliography is also included.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky
Chronicle, 56 pages
It's a sunny summer afternoon and what am I doing? Sitting in my office writing this post. Why? Because that's my version of a fun day. What's Squirrel's? To play with his friends: Mouse, Turtle, and Rabbit. Trouble is Mouse is busy cleaning. So Squirrel helps, but he makes more of a mess than before. Next he urges a sleepy Turtle off his log and ends up slathering his friend in mud. Finally he convinces Rabbit to alter his routine and poor Rabbit ends up lost. In the final chapter of this easy reader, Squirrel realizes that while he had fun, his friends didn't. Or did they? Sometimes going outside your comfort zone and trying new things can lead to, yes, fun.
Squirrel, a rambunctious fellow with a tendency to repeat himself, makes an engaging character that young readers will identify with and root for. Although he's often clueless, his heart is in the right place and, like many children I've known, he can't contain his exuberance for life. The quartet of friends, each charmingly portrayed, cavort through Gorbachev's idyllic landscape, a forest rendered in soft mossy hues. Reading this pitch-perfect book, the second in a series, beginning readers are sure to have their own fun day.
Squirrel's Fun Day
by Lisa Moser
illustrations by Valeri Gorbachev
Candlewick Press, 46 pages
Stories that feature animals in a school setting are always lots of fun, and Joe and Sparky Go to School
, I'm happy to report, is no exception. Joe, an inquisitive giraffe, teams up with Sparky, a turtle more interested in sleeping than adventure, to investigate a school bus parked in Safari Land's lot. The bus, filled with "noisy short people" is heading back to school, and when Sparky mistakenly gets whisked away, Joe takes off after him. When the pair arrived at the school, Joe decides a field trip is in order. (Poor Sparky just wants to go home.) Luckily for Joe--and for young readers--Miss Hootie, the teacher, breaks her glasses and never discovers that two zoo animals are among her students. This, of course, provides for more belly laughs as Joe gets into trouble because he's, well, a giraffe. Sparky does much better and by day's end his shell is plastered with gold stars. Don't worry, though. Joe manages to get a star too, in a heartwarming way.
The third in a series, Joe and Sparky Go to School
is sure to win over beginning readers. The action moves along at a brisk pace and something to chuckle over happens on nearly every spread. The section in which Joe and Sparky visit the boys' restroom is sure to have kids rolling on the floor! Remkiewicz's cheerful illustrations help reinforce the story line and add to the humor. All in all, this is one easy reader that will have kids eager to go back to school. Who knows? Just maybe a giraffe and his sidekick turtle will visit their class.
Joe and Sparky Go to School
by Jamie Michalak
illustrations by Frank Remkiewicz
Candlewick Press 48 pages
Published: June 2013
This the second in a series about Annie, a preschooler, and Simon, her big, big brother. Catharine O'Neill based the stories on her own daughter and stepsons. Refreshingly, the sibling relationship is free of angst. Simon is a protective, sympathetic older brother, and Annie is an admiring younger sister. ("Simon," she said, "do you know everything?")
The four stories involve casual moments as the two hang out together. Is Simon minding Annie? Perhaps, but if so the author never lets on. In the first story, which takes place on a dock, Annie sketches animals while Simon incorrectly identifies them. (He thinks a clam is a rock.) In "The Sneeze" Annie nurses Simon through his allergies, although in actuality it's Simon who ends up doing the bulk of the work. Chapter Three has Annie learning to appreciate her dog Hazel's dogginess, and in the final story Annie learns (with some gentle prodding from Simon) to share the horse chestnuts she's collected with a deserving squirrel.
While the pace of these stories might be a bit slow for some tastes, the underlying humor and the real sense of affection between brother and sister more than makes up for it. The typical reader for this book most likely falls somewhere between the two protagonists ages: older and more savvy than Annie, yet younger and less accomplished than Simon. Again, this might be a problem for certain readers. Most, however, should be able to feel comfortably superior to Annie (who's just learning to read), while aspiring to Simon's sophistication. All in all, this is a worthy series for beginning chapter book readers.
When two of my nephews were around six and seven nothing delighted them more than tuning in to Thursday night's wrestling shows. Naturally, they refused any adult's attempt to inform them that the performances were fake. When I read this page-turning picture book, I thought of them (now young adults) and how much they would have enjoyed it.
The nino of this title sports a pair of tighty whities and not much else. Using his way too active imagination, he casts himself as a luchadore
, a professional wrestler popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Nino's opponents are nothing to sneeze at. What I liked best about this book was Morales' depiction of these truly scary characters. There's La Momia de Guanajuato, a zombie-like creature; Cabeza Olmeca, an ancient stone-head sculpture; La Llorona, a ghost, El Extraterrestre, a space alien; and El Chamuco, the devil himself. Nino creatively dispatches his opponents with ease--until, that is, he faces his most fearsome match. Las Hermanitas, his twin sisters, wake from their nap and gleefully attack their big brother.
The bold art offers surprises on every page and the graphic text adds to the excitement. An informative end note explains lucha libre
, Mexican professional wrestling, in greater detail. Great fun!
Ungerer declares his latest picture book a homage to Ireland. Set in a coastal town "in the back of beyond," The Fog
tells an atmospheric tale of two children, a brother and sister, who become lost in a soupy fog at sea and must find their way back home.
Finn and Cara live with their parents in a cozy cottage. Their father is a fisherman; their mother manages the family farm. The children help out, tending sheep and cutting peat for the hearth.
As a surprise, one day their father presents them with a small rowboat--a curragh
. He also warns them never to go near Fog Island, "a jagged black tooth" miles offshore.
But while out in their boat, a thick fog surrounds Finn and Cara, and strong currents pull them to the island. While exploring the eerie place, the children encounter Fog Man, "a wizened old man" covered from head to toe in strands of long, seaweed-green hair.
A genial host, Fog Man shows the children how he makes fog and promises to provide them a fog-free journey home the following morning. The trio spend the night singing songs and slurping shellfish stew. Although Fog Man is not around when Finn and Cara wake up, true to his word, the fog is gone.
After a eventful trip home--in which they lose the boat in a fierce storm and are rescued by fishermen--the children are reunited with their parents, none the worse for wear. They find, however, that no one believes their story about the Fog Man. But the brother and sister know the truth, and when Cara finds an extremely long strand of hair, they giggle in mutual appreciation.
The mist-colored illustrations are studded with intriguing details for young readers to wonder at. As they climb a steep mountain stairway, claw-like branches seem to reach out for them, adding to the scene's tension, and the jagged slabs of stones appear eerily human. Yet throughout their adventure, the children show no fear and prove themselves resilient. Ungerer's message of curiosity and imagination trumping fear is one that will resonate with many readers. It certainly did with this one.
If you'd like to hear Ungerer talk in length about Fog Island, I urge you to watch this YouTube video
by Tomi Ungerer
Phaidon, 48 pages
Published: April, 2013
Theodora swims balancing a teacup on her head, enjoys mango salsa with her duck pellets, and exercises her wings every morning (yet never flies). Claude dyes his feathers strange colors, constructs crazy art projects in his yard, and spends his nights gazing at the stars. So which duck is the odd one?
Cecil Castellucci has written a touching and sophisticated graphic story about two friends who learn to appreciate the other's nonconformity. Readers see the story through Theodora's POV, from the day that Claude moves into the empty house next door--disrupting her routine--to their gradual realization that "even though they were very different, they felt the same way about most things."
Then one day as the pair waddle past a group of snickering ducks, they overhear one remark, "Look at that odd duck." Theodora and Claude each assume the comment was meant for the other. Their fallout drives them back to their respective houses and appears to end the friendship. But Theodora finds life isn't the same without her odd friend and ultimately comes to a realization about herself.
Books about friendship are big with six to ten year olds, the group this book is clearly aimed at. Young readers will find much to enjoy in the six short chapters. And the illustrations are a joy, with hundreds of details for readers to ponder in the duck universe that Varon creates. In fact, pairing Castellucci, best known for her YA graphic novels, with Varon (Robot Dreams
) was an inspired choice. Both are rather odd ducks themselves (in the best possible way) and their collaboration is proof that birds of a feather flock together!
by Cecil Castellucci
illustrations by Sara Varon
First Second, 96 pages
Published: May 2013
The clever projects in this crafts book take art to the next level. What you make is important, of course, but what you do with your creation counts too. Aimed at elementary-age kids, Sneaky Art
tempts budding artists to call forth their inner sneak, which for most will not be a problem. Each of the 24 projects uses everyday materials that are easily found around the house. Simple-to-follow directions allow kids to customize the project. Jocelyn then offers suggestions about where to place the projects for maximum effect.
Ideas for what to make and where to display the finished projects abound. Make a fractured face out of sticky notes and facial features snipped from old magazines and arrange them on a parking meter. Float a cheerful styrofoam boat in a public fountain. Click a flock of bright red bird silhouettes on a tree branch or a grocery store cart.
Many of these good-natured projects are designed to bring a smile to a viewer's face, like "Lucky Penny," in which kids glue a penny to a cardboard shape and then compose a cheerful message. The penny can be slipped into a friend's backpack or left on the sidewalk for a stranger to find.
Throughout the book, Jocelyn stresses the playful, surprising nature of sneaky art and cautions against creating anything that will damage property or cause hurt feelings. Sneaky art isn't permanent, something kids may have trouble wrapping their heads around. But as Jocelyn points out, "although it's hard to leave behind a treasure that you're proud of, you can always make another work of art."
If you'd like to check out some sample crafts from the book, including "Lucky Penny," click here
Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight
by Marthe Jocelyn
Candlewick Press, 64 pages
Published: March 2013
Taking his inspiration from the silent film era, Mo Willems has crafted another winner. His latest picture book is set up to resemble a silent movie with the wolf cast in the role of villain. Playing the leading lady--make that leading bird--is a seemingly sweet, trusting goose. Spread by spread, the wolf tempts her nearer and nearer to his home in the woods. The journey is interrupted at regular intervals by a chorus of goslings who warn at increasingly higher and higher decibels that their hookup is not a good idea. But whom exactly are they warning?
As always, Willems knows how to pace a suspenseful tale, and his bold illustrations, especially those which highlight his character's expressive faces, add to the unfolding drama. Young readers might be savvy enough to see the twist that lies ahead--but this mature reader certainty didn't!
That Is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems
Balzer + Bray 48 pages
Published: May 2013
National Bike Month is upon us! So if you haven't already, hop on a pair of wheels and go for a spin--and don't forget to bring the kids. When you're finished, rest your saddle-sore rear in a comfy chair and share some of the following books with the training-wheels set.
Chris Raschke's latest picture book breaks down the steps involved in mastering how to ride a bike. The young girl starts with training wheels, then raises them a "smidge" and finally they're off completely. A few spills and a lot of tries later and she's a bona fide rider. Yay!Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bikeby Chris RaschkeSchwartz & Wade, 32 pagesPublished: 2013
A boy takes his new bike to his friend's house, where it disappears. The mystery is soon solved with no hard feelings. Although skimpy on story, the appealing illustrations make this picture book.New Red Bike!by James E. RansomeHoliday House, 32 pagesPublished: 2011
When Sally Jean outgrows Flash, her bicycle, her family can't afford to buy her another right away. Ever resourceful, Sally Jean repairs the bike and eventually builds herself a new one from spare parts. And her beloved Flash is gifted to another rider who's outgrown his bike. A happy ending for all!Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queenby Cari Bestillustrations by Christine DavenierFarrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pagesPublished: 2010
Visually stunning, this deceptively simple picture book features a cyclist as he pedals through town and country along a long road. Viva uses simple text and just five colors to create this contemporary masterpiece. Along a Long Roadby Frank VivaLittle, Brown, 40 pagesPublished: 2011
And if you would like more choices, check out my previous post, Animals Riding Bikes
. Happy pedaling and happy reading!
In their third outing, Bink and Gollie are again true to form. Gollie is superior as ever and Bink as stubborn. Luckily these character traits make for some great stories. In the first of the three tales that make up this beginning reader, Gollie sees a photo of her great aunt wearing a crown. Always suspecting she came from royal blood, Gollie now has all the proof she needs. (I confess I have a slight preference for Gollie. Perhaps it has something to do with the nickname my family bestowed on me as a child: Her Majesty.) Gollie's haughty manner does not hold water with Bink, and how Gollie is brought back to her senses is subtly and touchingly portrayed.
Story two showcases Bink's pressing desire to be tall. She falls prey to an advertisement for a Stretch-o-Matic device, something akin to a medieval torture rack, only this one suspends you from the ceiling with weights. Needless to say, results don't turn out as planned, but Bink finds a way to be satisfied with her purchase. The last story has Bink and Gollie on the search for something to collect. Inspired by Flicker's Arcana of the Extraordinary
, the girls attempt to get their names and photos in the hefty tome. In the end they succeed, but not in a way most readers would have predicted.
As always, Tony Fucile's illustrations are a delight and in this book they are especially strong. The image of Gollie standing all alone in the rain adds to the story's pathos and the depiction of what happens to the Stetch-o-Matic is dramatic indeed. I especially like the fun details Fucile includes, such as the portrait hanging on Bink's wall of Marcellus Gilmore Edson, inventor of peanut butter. According to Google, Edson did, in fact, hold a patent for peanut butter, issued in 1884. Who knew?
Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
illustrations by Tony Fucile
Candlewich Press 96 pages
Published: April 2013
I love children's literature, poetry, and pugs (not necessarily in that order, mind). So when the three came together in one tidy package, I knew I had to read it. A companion book to Animal Poems (
Worth and Jenkins' first collaboration), Pug and Co. more than holds its own. Worth has constructed a number of exquisitely simple poems about everyday animals, the kind a child is likely to see while out and about, such as rabbits, geese, toads, and even the humble fly. The only featured animal a child would be unlikely to meet in town or countryside is the Bengal tiger, and even that creature is seen at a zoo, so there you go.
Jenkins, with his bold collages, does a marvelous job of showing each animal off to its advantage. The bull, "hacked-out, rough-hewn, from the planet's hard side," has its massive bulk placed against an intensely red background. Sparrows and pigeons cavort above silhouetted city buildings, while a cat winds its mysterious way through shadowy bushes, "like an old familiar spirit."
As for my favorite canine, Worth describes pugs as having "goggling eyes and stumpy noses, wrinkled brows and hairy moles." And if some people consider them "plug-ugly," perhaps that's because "for dogs, they look a lot like people." How true!
Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
illustrations by Steve Jenkins
Farrar Straus Giroux, 40 pages
Published: March 2013
In this latest installment, Dodsworth and the duck continue their adventures in Tokyo, where Dodsworth cautions the impetuous duck to be on his best behavior since "Japan is a land of customs and manners and order." The very qualities duck most certainly isn't. But for the most part duck does manage to contain himself, to the surprise of his friend. Together they take in the sights of Yoyogi Park, eat sushi, visit the Imperial Palace, stroll through the East Gardens--where duck falls in and must be rescued (even though he's a duck he never learned to swim)--and tour the Museum of Imperial Collections.
It's only when the pair travel to a temple that things start to fall apart. A festival is underway and duck disappears into the crowd. Soon he's flipping and jumping and sliding all over the place, crashing into people and knocking things over. Has duck lost it for good? No, there's a reason for his crazy antics and a very satisfying one.
Tim Egan has written and illustrated another winning easy reader featuring this odd pair of mismatched travelers. And according to a recent interview, which you can read here
, their next stop is Athens. The Parthenon had better watch out!
Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin, 48 pages
Published: April 2013
For a book featuring the high-energy Clementine, number six in the series is rather subdued. Clementine is growing up and instead of bouncing in and out of trouble as she usually does, she struggles with some big issues.
She's looking forward to the school trip to Plimoth Plantation, but her third grade class is going with the big kids, fourth graders who've enacted tough rules about eating: no sounds allowed...or else. Clementine is also having problems speaking Olive, a language invented by the new girl in class, whose name is--you guessed it--Olive. (If you want to give it a try, put "olive" into every syllable you say. "Likoliv tholivis.")
When the day of the big trip arrives, Clementine is paired with Olive and instructed with the task of making the new girl feel comfortable. When Olive opens her lunch bag and reveals a meal destined to incur the wrath of the fourth graders (celery, chips, apples, carrots, etc.), Clementine has to decide whether to play by the rules or not. On the trip she also befriends a chicken, which leads her to make a major change in her diet.
And that's not all! Clementine is also waiting for the birth of her new sibling and trying to decide if it would be better if the baby was a boy or a girl, while building a five-side table with her father as a surprise for her mother. Then there's Margaret OCD problems to deal with (really, I think it's time for an intervention here!) and the mystery of the overpowering odors on Bus Seven to solve.
Pennypacker packs a lot of plot into one chapter book, but she weaves each thread so expertly that the overall effect is seamless. Like Beverly Cleary, Pennypacker is doing an excellent job of showing her characters maturing. Frazee's illustrations, as always, are delightful.
Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrations by Marla Frazee
Hyperion Books, 160 pages
Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet joined forces to create one of the best picture book bios I've read in a long, long time. All too often picture book bios leave me underwhelmed. They either are skimpy with the facts or too much information is crammed into 36 or so pages. A Splash of Red
strikes just the right balance.
Bryant does a superb job of getting at the essence of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who, after being wounded during WWI, reinvented himself as a painter. Pippin's early love of art, his thrill of winning an art contest as a boy, and his determination not to give up are dramatically told in clean, vigorous prose. Particularly interesting is that nowhere in this bio does Bryant mention that Pippin is a black man. Although obvious from the art, Pippin's standing as an determined artist is what's stressed, not his color.
Sweet more than holds up her share of the partnership. Her illustrations mimic Pippin's folksy style, yet she brings her own sensibilities to the mix. Sweet includes Pippin's quotes into her artwork and she uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, and collage to obtain her effects.
The book's back matter includes a historical note that gives a straightforward account of Pippin's life. There's also a list of resources (and a website
) for readers who'd like more information. Highly recommended.
A Splash of Color: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant
illustrations by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 40 pages
The March/April special issue of the Horn Book is called "Different Drummers
," and it features books outside the scope of mainstream literature. In the issue the editors asked leading kidlit authorities: "What's the strangest children's book you've ever enjoyed?" The answers were fun to read and got me thinking about my own choices. Here, in no particular order, are seven of the strangest children's books I've ever read. What are yours?1. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
It's easy to forget just how strange this classic is, especially if you rely on the cutesy Disney version.2. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
According to a recent bio, Dare Wright was a bit kinky. Well, it spilled right over into this odd book about a doll and her relationship with two stuffed teddy bears.3. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrice Potter
Rats tie up a kitten and roll him into dough to bake in a pie! Read the reviews on Goodreads to see how many readers were traumatized by this book as children.4. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
Edward Gorey's illustrations add to this story's strange charm about a little boy whose shrinking goes unnoticed by the grown-ups around him.5. Slugs by David Greenberg
This little known gem features poems about people torturing slugs--eating them, dissecting them, even carving them into pumpkins. In the end, slugs get their revenge on all this mistreatment. Victoria Chess's hilariously disturbing illustrations make the book.6. Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
I've written about this exceptional picture book
before. Its one of the more unusual, yet ultimately moving, books about death you'll ever read.7. Oddballs by William Sleator
Really, pretty much all of Sleator's books are strange. If you don't believe me, read Among the Dolls
. Unlike his others, though, this one's a memoir. Sleator's unconventional upbringing definitely shaped his future work. As a bonus, this book is laugh aloud funny.
Bad Kitty's back and she's badder than ever, if that's possible. This time she's off to school to deal with her behavior problems. Puppy goes along to get his drooling under control. What I like best about these graphic easy-to-read novels are the zany details and the way things never turn out the expected way. For instance, before Kitty heads off for her first day, her family presents her with a complete line of Love Love Angel Kitten school supplies, including backpack, notebook, eraser, calculator, bowling ball, cinder block, and tractor tire--with spot illustrations of each one. Clearly a spoof on the Hello Kitty craze, the items point up how much Bad Kitty is the antithesis of all that saccharine goodness.
When the school bus finally pulls up to the Diabla Von Gloom's School for Wayward Pets, the building is a stereotypical Addams house of horrors. The next spread shows the door creaking open and the shadow of a monstrous crone with sharp fangs and long talons. Turn the page and the shadow is an illusion formed by a young, attractive teacher holding an assortment of books, boxes, and pencils.
The kindly teacher is determined to get Bad Kitty to reveal what she's so angry about, but the cat's a tough cookie and won't crack. Besides she has more pressing problems--like a scary bulldog who hates cats. Luckily Bad Kitty has managed to convince Petunia that she's a cow.
As always, Uncle Murray checks in with his Fun Facts spreads. This time around the topic centers on why dogs and cats don't get along.
Graduation takes place at the end of the first day--it's a very short semester--and each animal student has to demonstrate what he or she has learned. Will Bad Kitty carry away a diploma? Don't bet on it, but an amusing epilogue suggests that school wasn't so awful after all.
Bad Kitty: School Daze
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Book Press, 160 pages
Published: January 2013
This week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish
is authors you'd put on auto-buy. I divided my list into two, one dedicated to children's book authors and the other to writers who pen for adults.
Authors Who Write for Children
1. Jack Gantos
Everything I've read of his I've loved. Gantos has a unique voice that captures children the way they really are, not how adults want them to be.
2. Kevin Henkes
From picture books to easy readers to middle grade fiction, Henkes does it all and does it well.
3. Polly Horvath
Horvath's characters are quirky, but in a believable way. And she's laugh-aloud funny.
4. Sara Pennypacker
Her Clementine books are some of the best early chapter books around.
5. Mo Willems
The mighty Mo. 'Nuff said.
Authors Who Write for Adults
1. Kate Atkinson
She's got a new novel on the horizon and it's already on my pre-order list.
2. Alison Bechdel
Bechdel can't write--and illustrate--them fast enough for me. My all-time favorite graphic novelist.
3. Amy Bloom
A master of the short story, Bloom writes about people you won't soon forget.
4. Ruth Rendell
Even though I've sometimes been disappointed by her work, I still read every Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novel that comes out. When she's at her best, no other suspense writer can touch her.
5. David Sedaris
Who could pass up a David Sedaris collection? Not me.
So that's my list. What authors make your cut?
It's the 109th birthday of Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. Here's a photo of my pug dressed in his party hat ready to celebrate the big day.
Get into the spirit by reading your favorite Seuss book to a child. Mine is The Sneetches
. What's yours?
Making a house from scratch isn't an easy task, as this delightfully detailed picture book shows. A young girl narrates the process, starting on the day she and her parents and baby brother move from their old house in the city to the country. For the next year and a half the family pulls together to build their new home, living in a trailer set under a large oak tree in a big, weedy field.
The text outlines the grueling work involved, while the illustrations highlight the adventures. One of the most charming aspects of this book is the way the family bands together to get the work done. The title page shows the two children hoisting boxes to their father as the family moves from their city row house. Once building starts, the kids continue to lend a hand, carrying tools, collecting rocks from a quarry, and mixing concrete. Of course, kids will be kids, so we also see them sliding down piles of sand, cooling off in a pool, and sledding as their parents toil.
When it's time to raise the frame, relatives, friends, and neighbors come to help and stay to celebrate. The work doesn't end there and young readers will see how many details are involved in making a house livable. Through fall and winter the family puts the finishing touches on the house, installing plumbing, insulation, and painting the woodwork. At last spring arrives and it's moving day. Again family and friends gather to help. (Alert readers will notice the addition of a new baby.) The final illustration shows the family in their cozy living room snuggled together on the couch, the father reading aloud from a book. (According to a Horn Book interview
, the book is likely Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House
In an author's note, Bean explains that in the 1970s his parents built their own house in the countryside, although the process took considerably longer--five long years. Photos showing the author and his siblings "helping" make this engaging story all the more convincing.
Building Our House
by Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 48 pages
Published: January 2013
It's World Read Aloud Day
so do what you can to encourage a love of reading in children. Read a book to your kids--or to other people's kids. Some of my best memories are of listening to my mother read to me and my sisters. And she didn't just do picture books. She read The Wind and the Willow
, The Lion and Witch and the Wardrobe
, Winnie the Pooh
, and Charlotte's Web
So go on--create some memories today.
So many spring releases to choose from, so little time. Here are ten children's
books I'm dying to get my hands on. Check out other people's lists on The Broke and the Bookish
by Holly Black
This middle grade novel sounds creepy and fun--right up my alley. Pub date: May 2013Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
BFF Bink and Gollie are always up to something in this amusing beginning reader series. Pub date: April 2013Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Loved Dodsworth and his duck's tours of Rome and London so I'm betting Tokyo will be a blast. Pub date: April 2013Maggot Moon
by Sally Gardner
This dystopic novel from the U.K. has garnered a lot of buzz. I snagged a copy from my library and I'm all set to read. Pub date: February 2013Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
The latest from a great beginning reader series by a master craftsman. Pub date: March 2013Definitely No Ducks
by Meg McKinlay
I was charmed by McKinlay's first chapter book about a girl and her pet duck. I'm glad to see they're back and quacking. Pub date: March 2013Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
by Stephan Pastis
Timmy is an eleven-year-old detective and his partner is a polar bear in this comic middle-grade novel. What more do you need? Pub date: February 2013Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Clementine. I missed you. Pub date: March 2013Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
pugs! Woo-hoo! Pub date: March 2013That is NOT a Good Idea!
by Mo Willems
An interactive picture book by the one and only Mo Willems. Can't wait. Pub date: April 2013
I don't just read children's books, of course. Two adult books for I'm super psyched to read are: Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson and The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout.
Now what's on your Spring TBR list?
Do you ever Google yourself? I'm not too proud to admit that I occasionally type my name into the search engine and see what pops up. Last night I also clicked on the images that went with my name. Wow, what an assortment of Catherine Nichols exist!
The most intriguing to me by far was the portrait on the left. According to the AFA news site where it appears
, the portrait was painted around 1830 by one I. Gillbert, a little known folk artist who worked in New York state. The subject was a thirty-six-year-old woman named Catherine Nichols. She lived in Paris, New York and was married to Roy Nichols.
Now Roy's wife doesn't look much like me, but that doesn't matter. I still feel a connection with her--and wouldn't you know--she's holding a book!
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Ah, the power of guilt. As Edgar Allen Poe fans know, there's no escaping it. Penny, the mouse heroine of Henke's easy-reader series, learns this the hard way when she spots a marble on her neighbor's lawn. The marble, big, shiny and as blue as the sky, proves irresistible. It seemed to say to Penny: "Take me home." And so she does.
Guilt soon plants itself in Penny's heart, and she hides the marble in her dresser drawer. At dinner she loses her appetite when she notices how the oranges look like big orange marbles and the peas like little green ones. In bed that night she tosses and turns, and when she finally falls asleep, she dreams the marble grows so big it demolishes her dresser.
The next morning Penny makes a decision about the marble. Beginning readers, many of whom have probably struggled similarly with their conscience, will be relieved to see Penny do the right thing.
In Penny and Her Marble
, Henkes has delivered yet another winner. In the Horn Book's March/April issue, he confesses the seeds of the story. When he was five, he swiped a plastic medallion from his neighbor and was stricken with guilt. See, crime does pay!
Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow, 48 pages
Published: March 2013