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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: picture book reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Picture Book Monday with a review of Mister Bud wears a cone

Not long ago one of my dogs had surgery and he had to wear a "cone of shame" for a while to make sure that he did not try to pull out his stitches. Poor Pippin hated the cone, and I had to work very hard not to laugh as he went around the house bumping into walls and furniture. It was funny, and it also was pitiful.

In today's picture book you will meet Mister Bud, who has to wear a cone and whose doggy housemate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of his friend's situation.

Mister Bud Wears the ConeMister Bud wears the cone
Carter Goodrich
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8088-9
One night Mr. Bud’s itchy hotspot starts itching like crazy. Poor Mister Bud chews and licks it, and in the morning his person sees that the hotspot is much worse. She puts some medicine on it which she hopes will make the hotspot go away. She is comforting and tells Mister Bud that she knows that “It’s no fun,” having such a nasty hotspot. Zorro resents the fact that Mister Bud is getting all the attention. Even worse the dogs’ schedule is “all messed up” because of Mister Bud’s hotspot.
   Before she leaves the house for the day Mister Bud’s person puts a cone on his head so that he won’t lick or itch his hotspot. Not surprisingly, Mister Bud hates the cone. He cannot see properly when he wears it, he walks into furniture, he cannot eat or drink properly, and he cannot stop Zorro from stealing his favorite toy. Wearing the cone is the worst thing ever and when Mister Bud accidentally breaks a lamp, he is convinced that he is going to be in big trouble. Zorro is thrilled and he is eager to see what their person says when she sees what Mister Bud has done.
   In this deliciously funny and sweet book we meet a dog who has to wear a cone and whose life is severely disrupted by the horrible thing. It does not help that his house mate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of the situation. Readers of all ages are going to laugh out loud when they see what happens in this memorable picture book story.


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2. Picture Book Monday with a review of Chickadees at Night

When I moved into my first apartment in Washington D.C. there was a tiny garden in the back. The patch of glass was minuscule, but my roommate and I enjoyed spending time out there, and soon after I moved in I got my first bird feeder. I was soon able to recognize several bird species, birds that I had only seen in books heretofore. My favorite was the little chickadee, a very small bird with a distinct song and a huge personality.

Today's picture book will delight readers who like birds, and they will enjoy finding out what chickadees do at night when we are all asleep in out beds.

Chickadees at Night
Chickadees At NightBill O. Smith
Charles E. Murphy
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleepytime Press, 2013, 978-0-615-56972-7
We all know what chickadees do during the day. They sing their chick-a-dee-dee-dee song, “dip and dart through the tangle of trees,” and visit our birdfeeders. What do they do at night? They disappear and we have no idea what they are up to. Do they perhaps bathe in the rain and rest “on hidden perches?”
   Actually the answer is a simple one. Those cunning little birds spend their nights playing and having fun. They bounce on spider web trampolines, play hide and seek, and take rides on the backs of flying squirrels. They enjoy the simple pleasures that can be found as the moon rises and the stars twinkle overhead.
   In this delightful, lyrical, magical picture book the author answers some delightful questions about the doings of a cunning little bird. Chickadees may be small, but that have oodles of charm, and thanks to Bill O. Smith we now know just a few of their secrets.
   Throughout the book the uplifting and sometimes funny rhyming text is paired with stunning illustrations that capture the beauty and sweetness of one of North America’s most beloved wild birds.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with some “Chickadee Nuggets.”

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3. Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell

MermaidShoe1 254x300 Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. CampbellThe Mermaid and the Shoe
By K.G. Campbell
Kids Can Press
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1554537716
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

Why are magical creatures so hard to write? I’m a children’s librarian. That means that a goodly portion of my day can consist of small starry-eyed children asking for an array of otherworldly cuties. “Do you have any unicorn books?” “Any fairies?” “Any mermaids?” Actually, more often than not it’s their parents asking and you can read between the lines when they request such books. What they’re really saying is, “Do you have any books about a fairy that isn’t going to make me want to tear out my eyebrows when I end up reading it for the 4,000th time?” Over the years I’ve collected the names of picture books that fulfill those needs. Like fairies? The Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray is for you. Unicorns? You can’t go wrong with Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. But mermaids . . . mermaids posed a problem. It isn’t that they don’t have books. They simply don’t have that many. For whatever reason, writers don’t like doing mermaid books. Easy to understand why. What is a mermaid known for aside from brushing their hair or luring young sailors to a watery grave? Add in the fact that most kids associate mermaids with a certain red-haired Disney vixen and you’ve got yourself a topic that’s avoided like the plague. It takes a bit of originality, spark, and verve to overcome these obstacles. Having read his picture book Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters I knew that K.G. Campbell was a bit of a witty wordsmith. What I didn’t know was that he was capable of creating wholly new storylines that are as satisfying to adult readers as they will be to children. You want a mermaid book? The Mermaid and the Shoe is officially my latest recommendation.

Mermaids are talented creatures. Just ask King Neptune. The merman has fifty (count ‘em) fifty daughters and every single one of them has a talent. Every single one . . . except perhaps Minnow. The youngest daughter, Minnow can’t garden or train fish or sing particularly well. Instead, she asks questions. Questions that nobody seems to know the answers to. One day, a strange red object falls from above. No one, not even Minnow’s stuck up sister Calypso, can say what it is or what it does. Inspired, Minnow goes up to the surface to discover its use. What she finds shocks her, but also gives her a true purpose. She’s not just the youngest daughter in her family any more. No, Minnow is an explorer through and through.

MermaidShoe2 245x300 Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. CampbellMy three-year-old daughter has a laser-like ability to hone in on any new picture book that appears in my bag when I come home from work. I hadn’t necessarily meant to try out The Mermaid and the Shoe on her, but once she zeroed in on it there was no stopping her. At this point in time she doesn’t have much of a magical creature frame of reference so it was interesting trying to explain the rudimentary basics of your everyday merman or mermaid in the context of Campbell’s book. She had a bit of a hard time understanding why Minnow didn’t know what a shoe was. I explained that mermaids don’t have feet. “Why don’t they have feet?” Not much of an answer to be given to that one. Happily she enjoyed the book thoroughly, but with its emphasis on cruel older siblings and the importance of making your own path, this is going to be best enjoyed by a slightly older readership.

As I may have mentioned before, Disney ruined us for mermaids. There will therefore be kids who read this book and then complain that it’s not a cookie cutter Ariel mass media affair. Still, I like to think those kids will be few and far between. First off, the book does have some similarities to the Ariel storyline. King Neptune/Triton is still the buff and shirtless father of a bunch of mermaid sisters and he still has his customary crown, flowy white beard (beards just look so keen underwater, don’t you think?), and triton. The story focuses yet again on his youngest daughter who longs to know more about the world up above. She’s accompanied by an adorable underwater sea creature. But once you get past the peripheral similarities, Campbell strikes out into uncharted territory, so to speak.

MermaidShoe4 245x300 Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. CampbellWith this book Campbell strikes a storytelling tone. It’s a bit more classic than that found in some other contemporary picture books, but it fits the subject and the art. When you read that Calypso called her little sister “useless” the text says, “for sisters can be mean that way.” There’s an art to the storytelling. I loved that Minnow considers the shoe important because “This thing . . . was made with care. It has a purpose, and I will discover it!” As for the plot itself, I’ve never seen a book do this particular storyline before. Maybe it’s because authors are afraid of incurring the litigious wrath of Disney, but shouldn’t more mermaids be curious about our world? The fact that they’d be horrified by our feet just makes complete and utter sense. If you didn’t know they weren’t hands then of course you’d consider them knobby, gnarled and smelly (though how they know about that last bit is up for contention). Campbell knows how to follow a plotline to its logical conclusion.

I also love the core message of the book. Minnow’s talent lies in not just her brain (which I would have settled for) but also in how she sets about getting answers to her questions. At the end of the tale her father proclaims that her talent is being an explorer but I’m not so sure. I think Minnow’s a reporter. She not only asks the right questions but she sets out to find answers, no matter where they lead her. Then she comes back and shares information with her fellow mermaids, reporting her findings and sticking to the facts. You could also call her a storyteller, but to my mind Minnow is out there chasing down leads, satisfying her own curiosity over and over again. You might even say she comes close to the scientific method (though she never sets up a hypothesis so that would be a bit of a stretch).

MermaidShoe3 300x185 Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. CampbellThere’s been a lot of talk over the years as to whether or not the greatest picture books out there are always written and illustrated by the same person (just look at the most recent Caldecott winners if you doubt me). You could argue both ways, but there is little doubt in my mind that Campbell just happened to be the best possible artist for this book . . . which he also just happened to write. I hate the term “dreamlike” but doggone it, it’s sort of the best possible term for this title. Notice how beautifully Campbell frames his images. In some pages he will surround a round image like a window with aspects of the scene (seaweed, fronds, or in the case of the world above, wildflowers). Consider too his use of color. The single red shoe is the only object of that particular bright hue in the otherwise grey and gloomy underwater lands. The mermaids themselves are all white-haired, a fact that makes a lot of sense when you consider that sunlight never touches them. They’re like lovely little half-human cavefish. And then there’s the man’s scope. I was reminded of a similarly aquatic picture book, David Soman’s Three Bears in a Boat in terms of the use of impressive two-page spreads. There’s an image of Minnow confronting a whale that could well take your breath away if you let it. The man knows how to pull back sometimes and then go in for the close-up. I have heard some objections to the mermaids’ teeny tiny seashells that seemingly float over their nonexistent breasts. And true, you notice it for about half a second. Then you get into the book itself and all is well.

With its can do mermaid who seeks answers in spite of her age and size, its beautiful watercolor and pencil crayon imagery, and writing that makes the reader feel like they’re indulging in a contemporary classic, there is no question in my mind that The Mermaid and the Shoe is the best little mermaid related picture book of all time. Utterly charming and unique, I can only hope it inspires other artists and authors to attempt to write more quality works of picture book fiction about magical creatures for the kiddos. It’s not an easy task, but when it works boy HOWDY does it work! Beguiling and bewitching, there’s only one true word to describe this book. Beautiful.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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4. Picture Book Monday with a review of Brimsby’s Hats

When I was young I was shy and had a hard time making friends. Maybe this is why I loved today's picture book so much, because it is about a fellow who wants to make some new friends, and who has to overcome some rather large obstacles to do so.

Brimsby's HatsBrimsby’s Hats
Andrew Prahin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8147-3
Brimsby is a hat maker and he lives in a cottage in the country. Every day Brimsby’s friend visits, and while Brimsby works on his splendid hats, his friend makes some delicious tea and they talk about all kinds of fascinating subjects. This special friendship lasts for years and then one morning Brimsby’s friend announces that he is going to leave soon. He wants to become a sea captain.
   Brimsby makes his friend a wonderful hat and then he sees him off, wishing him “the best of luck.” Now Brimsby works on his own and his days a quiet. He finally gets to the point when he realizes that his days are too quiet and that he is “awfully lonely.” So, on a cold snowy day Brimsby sets off to make some new friends. He soon comes to a tree that is filled with little birds. The poor little creatures are have a terrible time “shoveling the snow out of their nests and keeping the cold wind from blowing out their fires.” The birds are far too busy to take the time to make friends with Brimsby. Still friendless, Brimsby walks home.
   Making new friends is not easy at the best of times and poor Brimsby finds that his quest to find some new friends is going to be rather challenging. Readers will be charmed when they see how Brimsby uses his gift for making hats in a very creative way. Brimsby’s delightful story is accompanied by wonderfully expressive artwork. The illustrations take us into Brimsby’s world to such great effect that we rather wish we could jump into the page and visit.    

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5. Three new non-fiction books for kids for Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!

By Happy Chance I got three new picture book non-fiction books for little kids last week, all of which are great picks for Earth Day (or any day) reading.


Ocean Counting, by Janet Lawler (National Geographic Little Kids, May 2013), with photographs by Brian Skerry, starts thus:

"Explore our beautiful blue ocean while learning how to count.  Visit colorful coral reefs, warm and sunny seas, sparkling ice packs, and other special spots where marine animals live and play.  And on your way, discover new ocean friends on a worldwide counting adventure."  For the numbers one through ten, there are double spread pictures, and short blurbs and supplemental "did you know" insets that offer interesting information.  A very nice book!

The cute baby seal and its mama (for Two) are particularly kid-friendly, although I myself was especially taken by the four reef squid--a stunning picture in which the squids obligingly arranged themselves in a line by size (sweet squids!).

Flowers by Number, by David Shapiro, illustrated by Hayley Vair (Craigmore Creations, April 2013).

This is one for the child who appreciates beautiful illustrations--the flower paintings are lovely, in a calm, painterly way.  They aren't your common or garden flowers either--instead, they are wildflowers from across the country, including new ones for East Coast me, like the six Pacific Starflowers.   The text is minimal, but interest is added by occasional metaphorical language.  For the nine lupines, for instance, the text says "Named after the wolf, they howl in purple when many flower at once."

The Latin names of the flowers are included, though a little note explaining what these foreign words are might have been useful. 

This one is strong on aesthetics and floral interest, could for peaceful appreciation of the beauties of nature.  I particularly liked that it started with Zero, which so often gets overlooked--it's a snowy landscape with no flowers at all.

The World is Waiting for You, by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic Children's Books, March 2013), is a photographic invitation (and a very compelling one) to get outside!!! From woods to water to fossil hunting in the desert, the imperative commands, like "Dig deeper" or "Take a peek.  Go on--get a little nosy" reinforces the beautifully clear message of the pictures that there are wonderful things to do out there in the great big world of nature.  And if that cave full of huge crystals really is real (I assume it is, but it boggles the mind!) I want to go there myself!  It is a joyful celebration of the outdoors that manages to enthuse without any sense of didactic preaching.

This is a truly inspiring one that I wholeheartedly recommend.

So, have a happy Earth Day!  And just to close, here is my own go-to saving the earth tip--keep a bucket in your shower, to catch the water while its warming up, and use that water to flush the toilet.   If you have four shower-ers in your family, like me, and an old plumbing system that takes ages to warm the water, you'll save hundreds of gallons a year.

For more great non-fiction for kids, visit this Monday's Non-Fiction Roundup at A Mom's Spare Time

disclaimer:  review copies received from publicist


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6. Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

GiantDanceParty 246x300 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy BirdGiant Dance Party
By Betsy Bird
Illustrated By Brandon Dorman
Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0061960833
Ages 3-7
On shelves now.

Gotcha!

I’m just messing with you.  No, I’m not going to actually review my book here.  I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover.  I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record).  I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.

No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all.  And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman.  I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.

1.  It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.

This is true.  The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side.  And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman.  More than that, they love it.

2.  It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.

I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored.  As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored.  This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book.  If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic.  Be warned, easily bored children.  I’m gunning for you.

3.  Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.

I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks.  To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog).  So what do you do when you get such an urge?  You go to Etsy and search for such a thing.  In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots.  So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get?  Something even better.  Blue furry rave legwarmers.  Oh, they’re the pip.  Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.

Giant Dance Party Reading 1 500x375 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

Dance for me, little children.  Dance, I say!

Giant Dance Party Reading 2 500x375 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.

Giant Dance Party Reading 3 440x500 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

Special thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pics.

4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number.  Beforehand.

Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse?  As of Saturday, I did not.  And thus begins my tale of woe.

I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell.  But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE.  Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse.  So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there.  The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about.  Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it.  Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there.  I mean nobody.  Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.

After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home.  Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning.  Not ideal.

And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse.  That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name.  Two.  Not one.  Two.  And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center.  An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.

So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event.  Folks I like.  Folks I would want to see.  Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.

What have we learned here today, children?  Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone.  All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring.  There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now.  Yup yup yup.

Onward and upward my patient fellows.

On shelves April 23rd (happy birthday to me!)

Source: Wrote the darn book.

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  • For the Harper Collins site I came up with a little explanation of How to Throw a Giant Dance Party.  Electric blue Kool-Aid may or may not play a hand in it all.

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7. Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold, for Timeslip Tuesday

April is such a hard month--all I want to do is to be outside, getting everything weeded and planted and spruced up, but it's the busiest month at work, busy with the kids' homework, busy busy busy...and so no time to read the big long book that was supposed to be this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering.

So I turned to a quick picture book read -- Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold (Hyperion Books for Children, 1996), and, um, it's kind of strange.

Bonjour, Lonnie, is a picture book that uses rather vague magical bird-assisted time travel in order to show an orphaned boy, Lonnie, his family, and to give him loving guardians in his own time.   The magical bird in question is a singing French one, known as Love Bird, and when it visits Lonnie, it takes him back to early 20th-century Paris...and then vanishes, leaving him to wander past famous monuments to look for it (basically three pages of Paris is great, that don't advance the plot, but are not uninteresting....).

Then Love Bird shows up again, and leads the little boy to a small house wherein are his grandparents--a black man and a white woman, which surprises Lonnie.  His grandfather explains he came to France to fight in WW I.  He was a great singer  (and we have a rather nice introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, and black culture flourishing), but  when he went back home, he was oppressed by the prejudice that he found there, and went back to Paris, married a beautiful French girl, and became a famous opera singer.

The scene then changes; Lonnie sees his parents and himself as a baby...he finds out his father was killed as young soldier in WW II, and his Jewish mother sent him to the US to safety with a young friend.  She in turn fell ill, no-one could find the kin she had hoped to leave Lonnie with, and so he was there in the orphanage, waiting, all unknowing, for Love Bird to find him.

And because of the love bird, the missing kin are found (and Lonnie's mother reassures him that his new Aunt Connie "has dyed her own graying locks red like yours," which I find very odd) and all is well.

So it's rather strange (the love bird device in particular).  The reader knows it's timeslipish, because of being told so, but basically it reads like a dream of shifting scenes and flashbacks.  It's not a story, so much as an explanation of the family history with underlinings of African American and WW I and WW II history.  It's not un-compelling, and it is rather interesting (especially in it's multicultural emphasis) but I find it hard to imagine curling up and reading it with a child...especially since it might provoke a child to ask questions that they might not be ready to fully grasp--like why Lonnie's Jewish mother felt she had to send him to safety.   It's definitely one to read yourself before you read it to a child, so that you can expect what's going to happen next.

Ah gee.  I know Faith  Ringgold is a famous artist, but her people didn't appeal to me personally (speaking frankly, they looked like zombies, with stiff arms and staring eyes--vibrant, colorful zombies, but still).  This, I'm quite prepared to admit, is just my own reaction.

(if you look it up on Amazon, be warned that the blurb given is for another book, so it won't be useful)

3 Comments on Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold, for Timeslip Tuesday, last added: 5/9/2013
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8. The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, by Gregory Rogers, for Timeslip Tuesday

I am very sad about the recent, and horribly untimely, death of Australian writer and illustrator Gregory Rogers.  I've already featured one of his wordless time-travel picture books (The Hero of Little Street), a book I liked well enough, but today I'm posting about the book I think is his masterpiece, one that is truly a classic, and the one that makes me wish something fierce that Gregory Rogers was still here to give us more --The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (Roaring Brook Press, 2004).



In this wordless picture book, a boy kicks his soccer ball into an empty theater, and goes in after it.  It is strange, and dark, and abandoned...and utterly fascinating.  The boy finds himself in the costume room, and dressed as an Elizabethan actor, he pulls the curtains aside to go out on the stage....and WHOM!  He's back in time, Shakespeare himself is tripping over the soccer ball, and the play is ruined.

Now the boy must run through the streets of London, pursued by the furious playwright.  He hides behind the cage of a dancing bear...who asks (wordlessly) to be set free...so boy and bear together set off to experience what the city has to offer them. But Shakespeare is nothing if not persistent.  Fortunately the cell block off the Tower of London offers a refuge, and there they find another prisoner (the baron of the title) to be released!

Now Baron, Bear, and Boy are on the run together.  But all is not lost!  Their path takes them right to Queen Elizabeth, and she is charmed...

Shakespeare, however, still wants revenge.  And he chases the boy back to where it all began--the empty stage, and so back home again.

It is sweet and lovely and funny and fascinating, and utterly wonderful.  The story flows just beautifully, despite being wordless.  The artwork is full of detail, full of enthusiasm, and captivating as all get out.  It is a book that is a delight to share with children of just about any age.   Critical and cynical though I am, I cannot think of anything negative at all to say about it.

Thank you, Gregory Rogers, for making me and my children laugh and learn.

3 Comments on The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, by Gregory Rogers, for Timeslip Tuesday, last added: 5/9/2013
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9. Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christy

HappyPunks1 Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana ChristyHappy Punks 123: A Counting Story
By John Seven and Jana Christy
Manic D Press
$15.95
ISBN: 978-1-933149-67-7
Ages 3-6
On shelves now

Here is how, as of the date of this review, Wikipedia defines the term “punk culture”. Ahem. “. . . largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom.” Now look at your toddler. Go on. Give that kiddo a long, lingering look. Consider, for a moment, what makes a small child a small child. Do they believe in individual freedoms? Anyone who has ever attempted to herd a group of them will immediately answer yes. Are they anti-establishment? Well, what would YOU call the kid who draws on the hallways walls in permanent marker? Ladies and gentlemen the only logical explanation to draw from any of this is that toddlers are, and have always been, punk rockers. They have crazy hair, they create one-of-a-kind outfits of their own making, and they certainly have no problem with loud volumes. The evidence is extraordinary. It seems only fitting to hand them a counting book that displays as many different kinds of punks as possible. Looking for the mildest of subversions with a consistently sweet undercurrent, kickin’ art, and fun text? This punk’s for you.

A single, solitary, mohawked punk of the wide cuffed, purple coated, army boot variety goes walking down the street. He runs into his blue haired pal Noriko, she of the bunny-eared car, and then there are two. They, in turn, meet up with green dredded Kevin and the start jamming. It isn’t long before they’re getting ready for a big show, putting up posters, and getting everyone in town involved. More and more punks join the fun until by the slam-bang finish you’ve a party of twelve plus all their madcap friends. At long last it’s time to go home (even Noriko’s car seems to have conked out) and twelve happy punks sleep the night away.

HappyPunks2 300x191 Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana ChristyIf you have a toddler you read a lot of counting books. It’s part of the deal you sign when the hospital hands over your kid for the first time. “I solemnly swear to read my child an ungodly amount of counting books until the seas turn a boiling roiling red.” Or words along those lines. And when you read a lot of counting books certain patterns start to emerge. You get the distinct feeling that all counting books rhyme in some manner. I don’t know why this should be. It’s not like every children’s book author is actually GOOD at rhyming. They just usually feel obligated to give it a go. So many of them do this, in fact, that when one encounters a picture counting book that does NOT rhyme in any way, shape, or form, the adult reader is thrown. You want to make the cadences even, but the book fights you every step of the way. Such was my experience with “Happy Punks 123”. The first lines are “One happy punk looks around for his friends.” Even before you turn the page you’re attempting to predict the next line. Will it be “Two happy punks now peer through a lens” or “Two happy punks will soon make amends”? Nope. It’s “Are they at Slobotnik Square? Or Calvin Corner?” Turn the page. “Two happy punks sit on a stoop. They like to watch cars and talk to dogs. Hey, is that Kevin?” You see? Other books have set up these weird expectations and you expect John and Jana’s latest to fit the mold. It’s sort of perfect that Happy Punks 123 bucks that expectation by doing its own thing. That’s real punk rock, man. Awesome.

The art in this book is certainly shouldering a great big bulk of the fun. Nothing against the text. Even without its rhymes it’s a nice story of how one gathers friends throughout the day (without cell phones, which makes this downright utopian to some extent). But if the wrong illustrator had jumped on board this ship it would have meant the end of things. As it stands, the art has this laid back, friendly, colorful vibe. There are a lot of speech balloons and signs that mix script and print words. The very font of the book is of the typewriter variety and is snuggled seamlessly into the images. Design wise, the whole enterprise is a pleasure to the eye. It gets a little madcap near the end but with a premise of ever increasing punks you’d feel a bit cheated if it didn’t.

HappyPunks3 240x300 Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana ChristyI also loved the subtle little jokes hidden along the way. On the cover, for example, you can see Noriko sporting a shirt that reads “ABCD & EFGH: Home of the Alphabet”. I’m no music guru. I won’t embarrass myself here by confessing how long it took me before I truly knew who Joey Ramone was. However, even I can recognize when a book might be making a reference to CBGB, the original punk rock music club of NYC. I also loved that it was a zombie running the music store (that could be a joke right there) and that they get their treats from “Ornery Penguin’s Gelato”. That’s not a reference to anything. It’s just the illustrator’s excuse to draw a testy penguin character. Who could blame them?

Since we’re dealing with the folks who created A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy which earned its 15 minutes of fame when the Tea Party decided to make an example out of it, the inclination is to see whether or not John and Jana worked into a little subversion into the story. Did they? Well, I think it’s all in what you want to see. Yes, the sole antagonist in this book is an elephant. But go a little farther into the book and you’ll see he’s not the only elephant on the scene (a nice pink one works as a coat check girl at the club) and even if he were he joins the party at the end and has a wonderful time with the punks. So basically, Happy Punks 1 2 3 is a Rorschach test. You see in it what you want to see.

Basically this is a John Waters film made kid-friendly and picture book accessible. I don’t know that you’d necessarily call Waters “punk”, but then I don’t necessarily think you can slot Waters into any category all that easily. What this book really does is show a vast variety of different types of people, from hard-core rockers to straight edge hipsters. The punk aesthetic ideally celebrates all types of people, all the different ways they want to be (as long as they’re inclusive, obviously). And what John and Jana have done here is show that array, from robots to ultilikilted men to even elephants, if that’s what you’re into. The counting aspect works, and as per all potential bedtime books it ends with everybody asleep. From Portland to Williamsburg you’re bound to find folks loving the Happy Punks 1 2 3 vibe. It’s relentlessly cheery and the kind of book that makes you feel good after you finish it. World of counting books? Prepare to meet the latest, greatest addition to your fold.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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Misc: For the ebook version of this title complete with audio (no word on if there’s music), go no further than here.

Videos: Proof positive that counting and punk rock go hand in hand together.

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10. Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tweedles Go Electric

It must have been exciting to live in Europe and North America in the early 1900's. So many things were happening and so much was changing. Electric lights, automobiles, and other inventions were changing the lives of millions of people. In today's picture book you will meet a family whose memebers decide to get their first car, and who end up having an unexpected adventure because of that car.

The Tweedles Go ElectricThe Tweedles Go Electric
Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-167-0
It is 1903 and cars, which are powered by steam or gas, are all the rage. The Tweedles don’t care that cars are the in thing. They are content to get around on their cycles or by using their horse and cart.
   Then one day Papa announces that they are going to get a car. Mama is thrilled, as is car-crazy Frankie. Bookish Franny is not particularly excited about having a car. After all, cars at this time are noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Then Papa tells his wife and children that they are not going to have a car powered by steam or gas. They are going to have an electric car.
   Mama is rather concerned that the car might not be safe. After all, electricity is such a new thing and people don’t really understand how it works. In fact, they find it “more frightening than a basket of boas.”
   In spite of this fear, the Tweedles go to the car dealership and they buy a bright green electric car. Papa drives their new purchase home, which is when he discovers that driving requires that one has a fair bit of nerve. There are so many things that one has to watch out for, and when one is zooming along at ten miles an hour, one has to have lightning fast reflexes. He and his family members never imagine that their new purchase is going to lead to an adventure, new friends, and new prospects.
   These days cars are considered a necessity by most people and it is hard to imagine what life would be like if we did not have our cars. It is therefore very interesting to see what it was like to live in America when cars were still a relatively new innovation. It is also amusing to see how the Tweedles cope with their new acquisition.


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11. Picture Book Monday with a review of If I were a book

I love books (obviously), so I was thrilled when today's picture book arrived in the mail. It is a book everyone should read. It will confirm what book lovers already know, and it might encourage people who don't care for books to reconsider their opinion.

If I Were a BookIf I were a book
Jose Jorge Letria
Illustrated by Andre Letria
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-2144-4
A lot of people like to imagine what it would be like to be someone or something else. What would it be like to be a much loved pet cat who gets to sleep all day long? What would it be like to be a celebrity who has thousands of fans? Imagine now what it might be like to a book, a book that has been left on a park bench all alone. Perhaps you would “ask someone in the street to take me home,” and then you would be that person’s best friend.
   What would you were like if were a book? You could be “full of useful knowledge,” or capture your reader’s attention with your “captivating tales.” You would not want to know how your story ends and not be in a hurry to get to those very final of words: “The End.” You could “help someone soar” or “sweep away ignorance.” There would be so much you could do if you were a book, and so many wonderful things you could share with your readers.
   This powerfully simple picture book will help readers to see that books are so much more than paper pages and a cover. They are tools for learning, they make our world bigger, and they offer us hours of entertainment with grand adventures, poetry, and more.

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12. Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes the Easter Cat

I love picture books that feature strong, sassy, and determined characters. Cat, who appears in today's picture book, is just such a character. He knows what he wants, and he sets out to get it, in his own funny and distinctive way.

Here Comes the Easter CatHere comes the Easter Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-3939-0
Cat is in a bad mood. When he has asked why, he holds up a sign and on it there is a picture of the Easter Bunny. Cat is not pleased at all that everyone loves the Easter Bunny and does not understand why a rabbit is so beloved. Cat is told that the Easter Bunny is “nice” and he “delivers chocolate eggs to millions of kids.”
   Unfortunately, Cat starts to feel jealous. It is suggested that he should set aside his negative feelings. Instead, he should become the Easter Cat. Why not? A cat can be nice to children too, surely.
   Cat suggests bringing children hairballs, but that idea is shot down pretty swiftly. Cat then has to consider how he is going to get around. He cannot hop like the Easter Bunny. Being a hip feline, Cat decides that he will ride a motorcycle. He also chooses a rather snazzy outfit to wear. Then Cat learns something that horrifies him. The Easter Bunny doesn’t get to have naps! How can anyone survive if they don’t have several naps every day? Perhaps Cat isn’t cut out to be the Easter Cat after all.
   With wonderfully expressive artwork and amusing interactions between Cat and an unseen person who is talking to Cat, this picture book gives readers a book experience that will make them laugh and that will also charm them with its understated sweetness.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes the Easter Cat as of 4/14/2014 10:13:00 AM
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13. Oh No, Little Dragon! by Jim Averbeck

Last week my blog was a stop on the Dragon and Dangerous Princess blog tour, in which Jim Averbeck, writer and illustrator of Oh No, Little Dragon! (Atheneum Books, 2012) and Dangerously Ever After, by Dashka Slater (my review).  At that time I hadn't actually had the pleasure of reading Jim's new book, but that has now been remedied!

Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) is a picture book for the 2 to 4 year old set, a perfect offering for the small child who loves his little fire-breathing colleagues in childhood!  Little Dragon loves ot huff and puff and PHOOSH out fire, but there's a side-effect--sootiness.  Which means bathtime, complete with a toy Viking ship to incinerate.  But when Little Dragon decides to play the part of the Fire Department, the spark inside him goes out!  How will he find his flame again?  And without his flame, will his mama dragon still love him?  Of course she will, and the warmth of her love is just what he's been looking for.


Totally charming.   The pictures are simple, and so is the story, but in a most excellent way.

Along with Oh No,  Little Dragon!  I also received one of Jim Averbeck's earlier books, Except If (Atheneum, 2011).  This one's more sophisticated--in a series of possibilities, the reader/viewer is taken from an egg to a snake to a lizard to a fossilized dinosaur (!), and back again to an egg.   Mind expanding for the young, and one a grown-up can enjoy reading too.


If you didn't get a chance to read Jim Averbeck and Dashka Slater's chat about fantasy books here at my blog tour stop, here's the link again.

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14. Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood

4 Stars Drummer Boy of John John Mark Greenwood Frané Lessac Lee and Low Books Pages: 32         Ages: 4+ Jacket:  Carnival is coming and the villagers of John John, Trinidad, are getting ready to jump up and celebrate with music dancing, and a     parade. Best of all, the Roti King has promised free rotis—tasty friend [...]

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15. When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore

5 Stars When a Dragon Moves In Jodi Moore Howard McWilliam 23 Pages     Ages: 4 to 8 ........ .......... Inside Jacket:  If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in—and that’s exactly what happens to one very lucky boy on the beach. The boy and his dragon brave the waves, roast marshmallows, roam [...]

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16. Victricia Malicia, Book-Loving Buccaneer by Carrie Clickard

…………………… Victricia Malicia: Book-Loving Buccaneer Carrie Clickard, author Mark Meyers, illustrator 4 Stars ………….. Inside Front Jacket:  Victricia Malicia Barrett may have been born on a pirate ship and raised in all the best pirate ways, but she sure is a wreck on deck. Her knots slip, she falls from the rigging, and rats abandon [...]

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17. Review of the Day: It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle

ItsATiger1 300x285 Review of the Day: Its a Tiger! by David LaRochelleIt’s a Tiger!
By David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
Chronicle Books
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6925-6
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

There is an art to reading a picture book but I’ve not encountered many schools that actually teach that skill. Librarians will learn it in their graduate courses, of course, but what about parents and booksellers? Are they doomed to stumble through their readings without getting some of the insider tips and tricks? Yup, pretty much. The only thing you can really do is just recommend to them picture books that make reading aloud one-on-one or to large groups a painless experience. Books that have an inherent interior rhythm and logic that kids will naturally adhere to. So each and every year I sit and wait for those great picture book readalouds of the year. For 2012 I’ve seen a couple that lend themselves to groups. Up, Tall and High by Ethan Long is ideal for preschoolers. Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds is perfect for the 1st and 2nd graders. But the all-around best readaloud of the year, bar none as far as I can tell, has got to be It’s a Tiger! A boon to librarians and booksellers looking for new storytime fare as well as parents and grandparents, David LaRochelle’s latest is a hoot, a holler, and could even be called a hootenanny if you’re so inclined to call it that.

So you’re walking through the forest, minding your own business, checking out monkeys when you realize that the orange and black tail over there isn’t a vine at all. It’s a TIGER!! Like a shot you (which is to say, the boy in the book) take off lickety split. Still, it doesn’t matter where you go. Whatever you do, that darned tiger seems to follow. Dark caves, ships at sea, desert islands, the tiger is everywhere! At the end you realize that the tiger doesn’t really want to eat you. So to put it to sleep you decide to tell it a story. A story about a boy walking through the forest until he sees a green scaly vine. Wait a minute . . . that’s not a vine . . . .

ItsATiger2 300x144 Review of the Day: Its a Tiger! by David LaRochelleIt took a couple readings before I realized something essential about this particular book. Turns out, this is one of the rare picture books written in the second person. You do this. You do that. The reader actually is the little boy who finds himself inexplicably running into the same orange and black foe over and over again. It’s a narrative technique that I just know that I’ve seen in picture books before, but when I try to think of them I find myself stumped. They’re not as common as you might think and I certainly can’t come up with any that are also great read alouds for large groups. By making the audience the narrator they get all the requisite chills and thrills without actually feeling like they’re in direct danger. It would be a good companion to Michael Rosen’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt honestly. Same threat level. Same you-are-there aspects.

I think what I like best about the book is the fact that it goes from surprising to funny in fairly short order. The first three or four times you turn the page and encounter a tiger the kids are still uncertain about the order of occurrences. Once the pattern is firmly established, that’s when they can kind of let go and enjoy. Then LaRochelle ratchets up the silly factor and the kids really begin to have fun. We don’t always remember that children have a relatively refined sense of the absurd. They’re literalists, every last one, and though they might point out the flaws in your logic as you read the book (how can you swing and land on the tiger when you just escaped the tiger?) there’s a different kind of fun to be had in telling grown-ups they can’t possibly be right about something. It’s a Tiger! combines several different kinds of reading pleasures then. Interactive (kids can yell “It’s a tiger!” along with the reader). Power plays (telling adults they must be mistaken). The element of surprise. The controlled fear factor. It’s all there. And it’s awesome.

ItsATiger3 344x500 Review of the Day: Its a Tiger! by David LaRochelleIt is difficult for me to be impartial about a book that features the art of Jeremy Tankard. A couple years ago he burst onto the picture book scene with three books that changed the way I do preschool storytimes (Grumpy Bird, Me Hungry!, and Boo Hoo Bird). Even when he’s working on other people’s books, as in the case here, he has a distinctive style that can’t be beat. In this book he utilizes his usual ink and digital media style, but the colors are extraordinary. They just pop off the page with these magnificent blues, greens, oranges, yellows, and reds. It was interesting to note that the pages themselves have a sheen and gleam I’ve not noticed in a picture book before. Hold them up to the light and watch as the thick black lines and colors seem as though they should be transparent, if that makes any sense. That visual pop means that when you reach the every-other-page “surprise” of the tiger, Tankard can really make the animal’s appearance seem surprising. He uses some anime-type lines around the tiger from time to time to direct the eye to the center of the page, which as of this review still has a new and contemporary feel to it. We’ve seen it in books by folks like Dan Santat for years, of course. My suspicion is that though it will certainly make the book feel like an early-21st creation, that doesn’t mean it’ll age poorly. It’s simply a work of its time now.

Long story short, we haven’t seen a boy/tiger relationship this complex since the days of Calvin and Hobbes. Tigers are such cute and cuddly carnivores, and honestly it’s very difficult to be perfectly afraid of something as soft and fluffy as a tiger. That sort of makes them ideal picture book threats. LaRochelle has written innovative picture books for years now (The End, etc.). Pairing him with Tankard just guarantees a hit. Put this one on your Must Have list and stat.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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  • A behind the scenes glimpse at the making of the book.

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A handy dandy book trailer, here for the viewing.

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18. review – Manner Man by Sherrill S. Cannon

. Manner-Man by Sherrill S. Cannon Illustrated by Kalpart Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co. 4 Stars From Website:  This dynamic superhero helps children learn to cope with bullies and teaches them ways to be considerate of others. Manner-Man incorporates messages and characters found within some of Cannon’s earlier books – and shows children how …

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19. review – Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band abd Blues Ensemble by Jan Huling

Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble by Jan Huling Henri Sorensen, illustrator Peachtree Publishers 5 Stars . Inside Jacket: Ol’ Bloo Donkey has always dreamed of retiring from the cotton field to become a honky-tonk singer.  But when he overhears the type of retirement plan Farmer Brown has in mind for him—of the permanent …

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20. Finders Keepers by Robert Arnett and Smita Turakhia

Finders Keepers? by Robert Arnett illustrated by Smita Turakhia Atman Press 6 Stars Press Release:  A true story, Finder’s Keepers?  was inspired by the honesty of one young boy in India who found the author’s lost wallet and could not understand why he should be rewarded for returning to Arnett what was his.  The concept …

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21. reviews – Poopendous! and The Butt Book by Artie Bennett

Poopendous! by Artie Bennett illustrations by Mike Moran Blue Apple Books 4 Stars . Inside Jacket:  .      .   .      .    .        .    . .       .    Ever wanted to ask about it,           but felt a little shy?           Inside these pages …

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22. The Hero of Little Street, by Gregory Rogers, for Timeslip Tuesday


Did you ever read The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, The Bard, by Gregory Rogers?  It's a  wonderful wordless picture book, involving time travel back to the age of Shakespeare, that I really must review as a Timeslip Tuesday book someday, because it is truly excellent.   In any event, the titular Boy returns in The Hero of Little Street (Roaring Brook Press, March, 2012).  This time around, the boy inadvertently provokes a gang of boys, and must flee.   A handy art museum offers a refugee,  and there magic again enters his life when the little dog from this famous painting --

 -- comes out to play with him.

The little dog jumps into another picture, the boy follows... and finds himself, via Vermeer--

 --back in 17th century Holland.   More than a little mayhem ensues, as boy and dog hurtle through Delft, until at last the boy saves a pack of caged dogs from become sausage meat.  He then heads home to the present, with the grateful dogs close at hand to save him from the bullies.

Told with no words whatsoever, it's a story to savour with a child at hand, enjoying the details, and laughing at the humor of the various situations in which the boy finds himself.   And as well as being utterly engaging as a graphic story, it's a nice introduction to the world of 17th-century Holland!

I myself can't help but prefer The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, because I do like the bear awfully much, but dog lovers and Vermeer lovers might like this one more!


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23. Review of the Day: The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Dark1 234x300 Review of the Day: The Dark by Lemony SnicketThe Dark
By Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Little Brown & Co.
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-18748-0
Ages 4-8
On shelves April 2nd

You do not know the temptation I am fighting right now to begin this review with some grandiose statement equating a fear of the dark with a fear of death itself. You have my full permission to slap me upside the head if I start off my children’s books reviews with something that bigheaded. The whole reason I was going to do it at all is that after reading a book like Lemony Snicket’s The Dark I find myself wondering about kids and their fears. Most childhood fears tap into the weird id (see, here I go) part of our brains where the unknown takes on greater and grander evils than could possibly occur in the real world. So we get fears of dogs, the color mauve, certain dead-eyed paintings, fruit, and water going down the drain (or so Mr. Rogers claimed, though I’ve never met a kid that went that route), etc. In the light of those others, a healthy fear of the dark makes perfect sense. The dark is where you cannot see and what you cannot see cannot possibly do you any good. That said, there are surprisingly few picture books out there that tackle this very specific fear. Picture books love to tackle a fear of monsters, but the idea of handling something as ephemeral as a fear of the dark is much much harder. It takes a certain kind of writer and a certain kind of illustrator to grasp this fear by the throat and throttle it good and sound. Behold the pairing of Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. You’ll ne’er see the like again (unless they do another picture book together, in which case, scratch that).

“You might be afraid of the dark, but the dark is not afraid of you.” Laszlo is afraid but there’s not much he can do about it. Seems as though the dark is everywhere you look sometimes. Generally speaking it lives in the basement, and every morning Laszlo would open the door and say, “Hi . . . Hi, dark.” He wouldn’t get a reply. Then, one night, the dark does something unprecedented. It comes into Laszlo’s room and though he has a flashlight, it seems to be everywhere. It says it wants to show him something. Something in the basement. Something in the bottom drawer of an old dresser. Something that helps Laszlo just when he needs it. The dark still visits Laszlo now. It just doesn’t bother him.

There is nothing normal about Lemony Snicket. When he writes a picture book he doesn’t go about it the usual route. Past efforts have included The Composer Is Dead which effectively replaced ye olde stand-by Peter and the Wolf in terms of instrument instruction in many a fine school district. Then there was 13 Words which played out like a bit of experimental theater for the picture book set. I say that, but 16 copies of the book are currently checked out of my own library system. Besides, how can you not love a book that contains the following tags on its record: “cake, depression, friendship, haberdashery, happiness”? Take all that under consideration and The Dark is without a doubt the most normal picture book the man has attempted yet. It has, on paper anyway, a purpose: address children’s fear of the dark. In practice, it’s more complicated than that. More complicated and better.

Dark2 300x204 Review of the Day: The Dark by Lemony SnicketSnicket does not address a fear of the absence of light by offering up the usual platitudes. He doesn’t delve into the monsters or other beasties that may lurk in its corners. The dark, in Snicket’s universe, acts almost as an attentive guardian. When we look up at the night sky, it is looking back at us. In Laszlo’s own experience, the dark only seeks to help. We don’t quite understand its motivations. The takeaway, rather, is that it is a benign force. Remove the threat and what you’re left with is something that exists alongside you. Interestingly it almost works on a religious level. I would not be the least bit surprised if Sunday school classes started using it as a religious parable for death. Not its original purpose but on the horizon just the same.

It is also a pleasure to read this book aloud. Mr. Snicket’s words require a bit of rereading to fully appreciate them, but appreciate you will. First off, there’s the fact that our hero’s name is Laszlo. A cursory search of children’s books yields many a Laszlo author or illustrator but nary a Laszloian subject. So that’s nice. Then there’s the repetition you don’t necessarily notice at the time (terms like “creaky roof” “smooth, cold windows”) but that sink in with repeated readings. The voice of the dark is particularly interesting. Snicket writes it in such a way as to allow the reader the choice of purring the words, whispering them, putting a bit of creak into the vocal chords, or hissing them. The parent is granted the choice of making the dark threatening in its initial lures or comforting. Long story short, adults would do well to attempt a couple solo readings on their own before attempting with a kiddo. At least figure out what take you’re going for. It demands no less.

The most Snicketish verbal choice, unfortunately, turns out to be the book’s Achilles heel. You’re reading along, merry as you please, when you come to a page that creates a kind of verbal record scratch to the whole proceeding. Laszlo has approached the dark at last. He is nearing something that may turn out to be very scary. And then, just as he grows near, the next page FILLS . . . . with text. Text that is very nice and very well written and perhaps places childhood fears in context better than anything I’ve seen before. All that. By the same token it stops the reading cold. I imagine there must have been a couple editorial consultations about this page. Someone somewhere along the process of publication would have questioned its necessity. Perhaps there was a sterling defense of it that swayed all parties involved and in it remained. Or maybe everyone at Little, Brown loved it the first time they read it. Not quite sure. What I do know is that if you are reading this book to a large group, you will skip this page. And if you are reading one-on-one to your own sprog? Depends on the sprog, of course. Thoughtful sprogs will be able to take it. They may be few and far between, however. The last thing you want when you are watching a horror film and the hero is reaching for the doorknob of the basement is to have the moment interrupted by a five-minute talk on the roots of fear. It might contain a brilliant thesis. You just don’t want to hear it at this particular moment in time.

Dark3 300x200 Review of the Day: The Dark by Lemony SnicketCanadians have a special relationship to the dark that Americans can’t quite appreciate. I was first alerted to this fact when I read Caroline Woodward’s Singing Away the Dark. That book was about a little girl’s mile long trek through the dark to the stop for her school bus. The book was illustrated by Julie Morstad, whose work reminds me, not a little, of Klassen’s. They share a similar deadpan serenity. If Morstad was an American citizen you can bet she’d get as much attention as Mr. Klassen has acquired in the last few years. In this particular outing, Mr. Klassen works almost in the negative. Much of this book has to be black. Pure black. The kind that has a palpable weight to it. Laszlo and his house fill in the spaces where the dark has yet to penetrate. It was with great pleasure that I watched what the man did with light as well. The colors of a home when lit by a flashlight are different from the colors seen in the slow setting of the evening sun. A toy car that Laszlo abandons in his efforts to escape the dark appears as a dark umber at first, then later pure black in the flashlight’s glow. We only see the early morning light once, and in that case Klassen makes it a lovely cool blue. These are subtle details, but they’re enough to convince the reader that they’re viewing accurate portrayals of each time of day.

The dark is not visually anthropomorphized. It is verbally, of course, with references to it hiding, sitting, or even gazing. One has to sit and shudder for a while when you imagine what this book might have been like with an author that turned the dark into a black blob with facial expressions. It’s not exaggerating to say that such a move would defeat the very purpose of the book itself. The whole reason the book works on a visual level is because Klassen adheres strictly and entirely to the real world. An enterprising soul could take this book, replicate it scene by scene in a live action YouTube video, and not have to dip into the film budget for a single solitary special effect. This is enormously important to children who may actually be afraid of the dark. This book gives a face to a fear that is both nameable and not nameable without giving a literal face to a specific fear. It’s accessible because it is realistic.

When dealing with picture books that seek to exorcise fears, one has to be very careful that you don’t instill a fear where there wasn’t one before. So a child that might never have considered the fact that nighttime can be a scary time might enter into a whole new kind of knowledge with the simple application of this book. That said, those sorts of things are very much on a case-by-case basis. Certainly The Dark will be a boon to some and simply a well-wrought story for others. Pairing Klassen with Snicket feels good when you say it aloud. No surprise then that the result of such a pairing isn’t just good. It’s great. A powerhouse of a comfort book.

On shelves April 2nd.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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24. Picture Book Monday - A review of Cheer up, Mouse!

Cheering up someone who is down in the dumps can be very difficult sometimes. After all, we don't always know why the person is sad, and we often don't have any idea what will make them feel happy again. Would they like some flowers? Perhaps a dinner out will help. Maybe chocolate is the answer. In today's book you will see how some charming animals who try to cheer up their friend Mouse.


Jed Henry
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Houghton Mifflin, 2012, 978-0-547-68107-8
Mouse and his animal friends are outdoors having a grand time. Frog and Mole are dancing around, Squirrel is playing his nut fiddle, and Badger is juggling some fruit. The only animal who is not enjoying himself is Mouse, who is looking awfully sad and dejected. When they see their little friend’s glum face, the animals try to come up with a plan. Surely there must be something that they can do to make Mouse smile.
   One of the birds tries to cheer up mouse by swinging him through the air, and then Frog tries to cheer up the little fellow by taking him to the pond for a “Splash and paddle, wash and wade.” Perhaps Mouse needs to “Leap and lope, hop and jump,” or “Dig and shovel, root and tunnel.” Maybe Mouse just need a meal!
   The animals try so hard to cheer up their friend, but nothing works. Nothing they do brings forth even a glimmer or a twitch of a smile.
   Most of us have days when we feel glum and when nothing we do seems to cheer us up. On days like these a little support from friends can make all the difference, as it does for the mouse in this story.
   With a minimal story and gorgeous and expressive art, Jed Henry explores a problem that will be familiar to many readers, and he gives us a perfect ending that will make readers feel happy through and through.   

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25. Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora

Nilson1 237x300 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraNo Fits, Nilson!
By Zachariah Ohora
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3852-2
Ages 3-7
On shelves June 13th

The small child is a frightening beast. A truly terrifying creature that can level the most powerful adult with the mere pitch of their fury laden screams. As a children’s librarian I used to tell my husband that mine was one of the few jobs I knew where an average day was punctuated by human sobs and screams of terror, misery, and fury. What then is the reasoning behind the idea that you should read a child a book about a fellow kiddo having a meltdown? Well, kids can get a lot out of that kind of identification. They can put themselves into the role of the parent, to a certain extent. Or maybe it’s just good old schadenfreude. Better her than me, eh? Whatever the reasoning, meltdowns make for good picture book fodder. Add in a giant blue gorilla with a penchant for wristwear and you’ve got yourself a picture book as fine as fish hair. A treat to eye and ear alike, Ohora is truly coming into his own with a book that truly has universal appeal. And a gorilla. But I repeat myself.

Amelia and Nilson are inseparable. They play together, eat together, and with some exceptions (Nilson is afraid of water so no baths) they’re never out of one another’s sight. The fact that Amelia is a little girl and Nilson a gigantic blue gorilla? Not an issue. What is an issue is the fact that Nilson has a terribly short fuse. Good thing Amelia knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Don’t want to go with mom to do chores? Amelia calls them adventures instead. Nilson’s getting testy waiting in line at the post office? Amelia hands him her froggy purse. It’s the moment that Nilson gets the the last banana ice cream that Amelia’s composure finally breaks down. Now she’s the one who’s upset. Fortunately, Nilson knows the perfect way to make everything right again.

Nilson2 300x184 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraWhen we think of the great tantrum picture books out there, the mind immediately leaps to the be all and end all of fits, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. That book sort of set the standards for meltdown lit. It’s simple, it gets to the point, it teaches colors (though that’s more a nice bonus rather than anything else). After Sophie authors tried to come up with different unique takes on a common occurrence. Rosemary Wells came up with Miracle Melts Down, Robie Harris dared to discuss the unmentionable in The Day Leo Said “I Hate You “. And who could forget David Elliott’s truly terrifying Finn Throws a Fit? In the end, this book is almost an older version of Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (it involves preschooler fits rather than toddler fits, which as any parent will tell you are a different beast entirely). But part of what I like most about No Fits, Nilson! is that it sort of harkens back to the early days of Sophie. Ohora makes a metaphor out of the familiar and in doing so makes it even more understandable than it would be if his gorilla was nowhere in sight.

Ohora’s previous picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! was a lovely book to look upon. As an artist, the man has cultivated a kind of acrylic mastery that really does a wonderful job of bringing out the personalities of his characters within a limited color palette. However, while the art in Bernard was at times beyond stunning, his storytelling wasn’t quite there yet. It was all show without the benefit of substance. So it was a great deal of relief that I discovered that No Fits, Nilson! had remedied this little problem. Story wise, Ohora is within his element. He knows that there is no better way of describing a kid’s tantrums than a 400-pound (or so) gorilla. Most important of all, the metaphor works. Nilson is a marvelous stand-in for Amelia, until that moment of spot-on role reversal.

Nilson3 300x184 Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OhoraAs I mentioned before, the acrylics threaten to become the stars of the show more than once in this book. Limiting himself to blue, red, pink, yellow/beige and green, Ohora’s is a very specific color scheme. Neo-21st century hipster. Indeed the book appears to be set in Brooklyn (though a map on one of the subways manages to crop out most of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and half of Brooklyn, so maybe I’m reading too much into the setting). As I also mentioned before, painting beautifully is one thing, but coming up with delightful, memorable characters is what separates the RISD grads from the true picture book masters. Nilson is the one that’s going to get the kids the most excited to read this book so it was important for Ohora to make him a unique blue gorilla. Not the kind of guy you’d run into on the street. To do this, Ohora chooses to accessorize. Note the three watches Nilson wears on his left arm and the three on his right. Note his snappy black beret with the yellow trim, and yellow and black sneakers. Next, the artist has to make Nilson a gorilla prone to the grumps but that is essentially lovable in spite of them. For this, Amelia is a very good counterpoint. Her sweetness counteracts Nilson’s barely contained rage. Finally, Ohora throws in some tiny details to make the reading experience enjoyable for adults as well. The typography at work when the tiny words “banana ice cream” move from Amelia’s mouth and eyes to Nilson’s mouth and eyes is a sight to behold. Ditto the funny in-jokes on the subway (New Yorkers may be the only folks who get Ohora’s “Dr. Fuzzmore” ads, and the one for the zoo is a clear cut reference to Stop Snoring, Bernard!).

Yeah, I’m a fan. Kids may be the intended audience for books like this one, but it’s parents that are shelling out the cash to buy. That means you have to appeal to grown-up sensibilities as well as children’s. What Ohora does so well is that he knows how to tap into an appreciation for his material on both a child and adult level. This is no mean feat. Clearly the man knows where to find the picture book sweet spot. A visual feast as well as a treat to the ear, this is a book that’s going to find an audience no matter where it goes. At least it better. Otherwise I might have to sick my own 400-pound gorilla on someone, and believe me . . . you do NOT want to get him angry.

On shelves June 13th

Source: Review from f&g sent from publisher.

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