What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'picture book reviews')

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Tag

In the past 7 days

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: picture book reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 121
1. Review of the Day: Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari

CoyoteMoon1Coyote Moon
By Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-041-1
Ages 4-7
On shelves July 19th

I feel as if there was less nature out there when I was a kid. Crazy, right? But seriously, as I grew to be an adult I was appalled at the discovery that other people in the United States had to deal with stuff like ticks and chiggers and painful jellyfish and worse. Me? The worst encounter I ever had with something stinging or biting were a couple of sweat bees on my knuckles. But the critter that seemed the most impossible in terms of everyday encounters has been, and continues to be to this day (until the moment we come face-to-face) the coyote. Coyotes were always the heroes of Wild West tales of Native American folklore. They didn’t just wander into your Michigan backyard or anything . . . did they? Now, thanks to books like the beautiful Coyote Moon I learn that coyotes live in every American state except Hawaii. Best that I get as much information as possible about them then. Thankfully, I’ve lots of help. Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline ratchet up the realism to eleven, making it hard to walk away from this book without considering the modern coyote’s plight.

The sun has set and the moon is on the rise. What better time for a coyote momma to leave her den and search for tasty morsels for her kin? Slipping in and out of the shadows of a suburban neighborhood, the coyote attempts to secure a mouse, a rabbit, and even the eggs of Canadian geese, all to no avail. As the sun begins to rise in the east, however, the coyote smells, seas, and hears a flock of turkeys. There is no hemming or hawing now. Without another thought she secures a big one for her family. Of course, before she returns home, she howls. A potentially dangerous act to perform so close to humans, but fortunately the one person who hears her is the one person who understands why she would howl in the first place. Backmatter consists of Coyote Facts, Further Reading, and Websites.

CoyoteMoon2 copyThe book is not written in verse or rhyme, but there’s something inherently rhythmic to Ms. Gianferrari’s text. Listen to how she begins the book: “Moon rises, as Coyote wakes in her den, a hollow-out pine in a cemetery. Coyote crawls between roots. She sniffs the air, arches her back, shakes her fur.” That’s beautiful, that is. Gianferrari’s text is like that from start to finish and it all gets particularly interesting near the end. What an interesting choice it was to switch into the second person near the story’s end. “You open your window… You watch as Coyote slips under the fence painted pink by the sun.” Interesting too that the coyote gets her name capitalized throughout the story. She’s the heroine, no bones about it, and refusing to give her a name keeps her appropriately wild. Capitalizing the word “coyote”, however, gives just the slightest personal bent to an otherwise impersonal descriptive name.

Which brings us to the art. I’ve been a big time fan of artist Bagram Ibatoulline for years. He’s one of those artists that are so good he’ll never ever win any American illustration awards. Such people exist all the time and this is particularly true of artists who truck with realism. Ibatoulline’s challenge here is twofold. On the one hand, he has to render the coyote and her environment in a nighttime setting without sacrificing detail. On the other hand, without giving his character any anthropomorphized tendencies, he also needs to make her sympathetic in her quest to provide food for her babies. The end result is fascinating to watch. With the aid of a full moon, Ibatoulline believably provides just enough light to justify seeing every single solitary hair on the coyote mama’s pelt. Often her eyes are the most colorful things on the page, aided in part by the streetlights as well. He even manages to give the sky that odd pink/grey color it sometimes takes on thanks to light pollution. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it so perfectly rendered in a picture book before. Then there’s his ability to accurately render the light of an early dawn. We see the light striking the trees, the day beginning on the houses, and silhouetted against the lake the mama coyote. And even then, every single hair on her head is present and accounted for. How does he do that?

CoyoteMoon3 copyI read almost every picture book I review to my kids at some point or another, and I’m glad that I do. Even after all these years, they have the ability to surprise me. For example, if you’d asked me if this were a tense or scary book in any way I’d have initially said no. Yet clearly the book is capable of touching a nerve. My staid stoic five-year-old daughter, who recently informed me that The Walking Dead couldn’t possibly be all that scary a show, was positively petrified by the image of the coyote making her first pounce. No wolf attacking Little Red Riding Hood has ever made such an impression on her as that shot. Fortunately, it’s almost as if Mr. Ibatoulline and Ms. Gianferrari anticipated this. As a parent I was able to smoothly flip back three pages and show the baby coyote cubs near the den and explain that this was their mama. The explanation went a far ways towards alleviating her anxiety. Later, when the coyote gets a big mouth of turkey, Ibatoulline frames the shot in such a way as to display minimal carnage. All you get is, on one page coyote’s face ending just under her nose and on the other the tail, drifting feathers indicating the turkey’s dire fate.

Some folks might make the argument that this book is clearly nonfiction, and you could see their point. If we take the heroine of this story to be an average coyote and not a single one, thereby making this an average situation and not a specific one, then combined with the backmatter (the copious “Coyote Facts” as well as the bibliography for both further reading and websites) you almost find yourself in nonfiction territory. So out of curiosity I decided to see how my library’s distributor, Baker & Taylor, characterized the book. Lo and behold, they call it straight up nonfiction, no bones about it. Personally, I don’t agree. For whatever reason, for all that the book is informative and interesting, I still found the storyline just a tad too fictionalized to count as a purely informational text. Why is this? Compare the book to Hungry Coyote by Cheryl Blackford. In both cases you have average coyote storylines, and both very realistic indeed. Gianferrari has the leg up in this case since her book has nonfiction backmatter, but in both cases I felt like I was hearing a story more than I was learning factual information. Certainly authors can do both, but at the end of the day it’s the librarians who’ll decide where to shelve the puppy. And for me, any picture book collection should be honored to receive this book.

After finishing Coyote Moon I truly believe I have a better sense of coyotes now, and not a moment too soon. Just the other day I was told that the house I’m currently renting is on a little street, dubbed by the neighbors “Coyote Way”. I was told not to be surprised if I see those cheerful souls walking down the road to their destination. And while I have no desire to get up close and personal with the clan, it would be cool to watch from my windows. So thank you, Ms. Gianferrari and Mr. Ibatoulline for giving me the confidence, courage, and curiosity to see this through. I have little doubt that those qualities, to a certain extent the very benchmarks of childhood itself, will resonate with curious young readers everywhere. Lots of younger kids love wolves. These coyotes are about to give those wolves a real run for their money. Beautiful work. Beautiful stuff.

On shelves July 19th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Share

1 Comments on Review of the Day: Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, last added: 6/17/2016
Display Comments Add a Comment
2. Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

AirportBook1The Airport Book
By Lisa Brown
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook, an imprint of Macmillan
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6
Ages 4-7
On shelves May 10th.

Look, I don’t wanna brag but I’m what you might call a going-to-the-airport picture book connoisseur. I’ve seen them all. From out-of-date fare like Byron Barton’s Airport to the uniquely clever Flight 1-2-3 by Maria Van Lieshout to the odd but helpful Everything Goes: In the Air by Brian Biggs. Heck, I’ve even examined at length books about the vehicles that drive on the airport tarmac (see: Brian Floca’s Five Trucks). If it helps to give kids a better sense of what flying is like, I’ve seen it, baby. And I will tell you right here and now that not a single one of these books is quite as good at explaining every step of the journey as well as Lisa Brown’s brand new The Airport Book. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s more than just an instructional how-to. Packed with tiny details that make each rereading worthwhile, a plot that sweeps you along, and downright great information, this one here’s a keeper to its core.

“When you go to the airport, you can take a car, a van, a bus, or even a train. Sometimes we take a taxicab.” A family of four prepares for a big trip. Bags are packed with the haste that anyone with small children will recognize. Speed is of the essence. As they arrive at the airport we meet other people and families taking the same flight. There’s airport security to get through (the book mentions the many lines you sometimes have to stand in to get where you’re going), the awesome size of the airport itself, the gate, and then the plane. As we watch the younger sister in the family is having various mild freakouts over her missing (or is it?) stuffed monkey. The monkey in question is always in our view, packed in a suitcase, discovered by a dog during the flight, and finally reuniting with its owner on the luggage carousel. The family meets up with the grandparents and at last the vacation can begin. That is, until they all have to go home again.

AirportBook2The problem with most airport-related picture books is something I like to call the Fly Away Home conundrum. Originally penned by Eve Bunting, Fly Away Home is one of those rare picture books out there that deal with homelessness in a realistic way. The story features a father and son living out of an airport. Since it touches on such an important, and too little covered, topic, the book continues to appear on required reading lists, in spite of the fact that the very premise is now woefully out-of-date. There are few areas of everyday American life that have changed quite so dramatically over such a short amount of time as the average airport experience. That’s why so many things about The Airport Book rang true for me. When Brown covers the facts surrounding departures and goodbyes to family and friends, she doesn’t set the scene inside the building but rather on the sidewalk outside of ticketing, as people are dropped off. Later you see people at their gate plugging in their cell phones willy-nilly (something I’ve never seen in a picture book before). It lends the book a kind of air of authenticity.

The story’s good and the art’s great but what I liked about the book was the language. Brown never tells you precisely what is going to happen, but she does mention the likelihoods. “Sometimes the plane is bouncy, but most of the time it is smooth.” “Sometimes the sidewalks and staircases move by themselves.” “Sometimes there are small beeping cars driving through . . .” As you read, you realize that in a way the narration of the book is being created for us from the perspective of the big brother. He’ll occasionally insert little notes that are probably of more use to him than us. Example: “You have to hold your little sister’s hands tight, or she could get lost.” Mind you, some of the sections have the ring of poetry to them, while staying squarely within a believable child’s voice. I was particularly fond the of the section that says, “Outside there are clouds and clouds and clouds.”

AirportBook3With all the calls for more diverse picture books to be published, it would be noticeable if Ms. Brown’s book didn’t have a variety of families, races, ages, genders, etc. What’s notable to me is that she isn’t just checking boxes here. Her diversity far surpasses those books where they’ll throw in the occasional non-white character in a group shot. Instead, the main family has a dark-skinned father and light-skinned, blond mother. Travels through the airport show adults in wheelchairs, twins, women in headscarves, Sikhs, pregnant ladies, and more. In other words, what you’d actually see in an airport these days.

And then the little details come up. Brown throws into the book a surprising array of tiny look-and-discover elements, suggesting that perhaps this book would be just as much fun in its way as a Where’s Waldo? game for older siblings as it is their younger brethren. Ask them if they can find The Wright Brothers, Hatchet (don’t think too hard about what happens to the plane in that book), the mom’s copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the person looking for Amelia Earhart (who may not be as difficult to find as you think). There’s also a cast of characters that command your attention like the businesswoman who’s always on her cell phone and the short artist with the mysteriously shaped package.

There’s nothing to say that in five years airports will be just as different to us today as pre-9/11 airports are now. Yet even if our airports start requiring us to hula hoop and dance the Hurly Burly, Brown’s book is still going to end up being the go-to text desperate parents turn to when they need a book that explains to their children what an average airplane flight looks like. It pretty much gets everything right, exceeding expectations. Generally speaking, books that tell kids about what something is like (be it a trip to the dentist or a new babysitter) are pedantic, didactic, dull as dishwater fare. Brown’s book, in contrast, has flare. Has pep. Has a beat and you can dance to it. Like I said, this may be the best dang going-to-the-airport book I can name (though you should certainly check out the others I’m mentioned at the beginning of this review). A treat, it really is. A treat.

On shelves May 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Interviews: Miss Marple’s Musings

Share

4 Comments on Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown, last added: 1/25/2016
Display Comments Add a Comment
3. Review of the Day: The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi

TeaParty1The Tea Party in the Woods
By Akiko Miyakoshi
Kids Can Press
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1771381079
Ages 3-6

There are picture books out there that feel like short films. Some of the time they’re adapted into them (as with The Snowman or The Lost Thing or Lost and Found) and sometimes they’re made in tandem (The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore). And some of the time you know, deep in your heart of hearts, that they will never see the silver screen. That they will remain perfect little evocative pieces that seep deep into the softer linings of a child’s brain, changing them, affecting them, and remaining there for decades in some form. The Tea Party in the Woods is like that. It looks on first glance like what one might characterize to be a “quiet” book. Upon further consideration, however, it is walking the tightrope between fear and comfort. We are in safe hands from the start to the finish but there’s no moment when you relax entirely. In this strangeness we find a magnificent book.

Having snowed all night, Kikko’s father takes off through the woods to shovel out the walk of her grandmother. When he forgets to bring along the pie Kikko’s mother baked for the occasion, Kikko takes off after him. She knows the way but when she spots him in the distance she smashes the pie in her excitement. Catching up, there’s something strange about her father. He enters a house she’s never seen before. Upon closer inspection, the man inside isn’t a man at all but a bear. A sweet lamb soon invites Kikko in, and there she meets a pack of wild animals, all polite as can be and interested in her. When she confesses to having destroyed her grandmother’s cake, they lend her slices of their own, and then march her on her way with full musical accompaniment.

TeaParty2Part of what I like so much about this book is that when a kid reads it they’re probably just taking it at face value. Girl goes into woods, hangs out with clothed furry denizens, and so on, and such. Adults, by contrast, are bringing to the book all sorts of literary, cinematic, and theatrical references of their own. A girl entering the woods with red on her head so as to reach her grandmother’s reeks of Little Red Riding Hood (and I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a wolf at the tea party). The story of a girl wandering into the woods on her own and meeting the wild denizens who live there for a feast makes the book feel like a best case fairy encounter scenario. In this light the line, “You’re never alone in the woods”, so comforting here, takes on an entirely different feel. Some have mentioned comparisons to Alice in Wonderland as well, but the tone is entirely different. This is more akin to the meal with the badgers in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe than anything Lewis Carroll happened to cook up.

Yet it is the art that is, in many ways, the true allure. Kirkus compared the art to both minimalist Japanese prints as well as Dutch still life’s. Miyakoshi does indeed do marvelous things with light, but to my mind it’s the use of color that’s the most impressive. Red and yellow and the occasional hint of orange/peach appear at choice moments. Against a sea of black and white they draw your eye precisely to where it needs to go. That said, I felt it was Miyakoshi’s artistic choices that impressed me most. Nowhere is this more evident than when Kikko TeaParty3enters the party for the first time, every animal in the place staring at her. It’s a magnificent image. The best in the book by far. Somehow, Miyakoshi was able to draw this scene in such a way where the expressions on the animals’ faces are ambiguous. It isn’t just that they are animals. First and foremost, it seems clear that they are caught entirely unguarded in Kikko’s presence. The animals that had been playing music have stopped mid-note. And I, an adult, looked at this scene and (as I mentioned before) applied my own interpretation on how things could go. While it would be conceivable for Kikko to walk away from the party unscathed, in the hands of another writer she could easily have ended up the main course. That is probably why Miyakoshi follows up that two-page spread (which should have been wordless, but that’s neither here nor there) with an immediate scene of friendly, comforting words and images. The animals not only accept Kikko’s presence, they welcome her, are interested in her, and even help her when they discover her plight (smashing her grandmother’s pie). Adults everywhere who have found themselves unaccompanied (and even uninvited) at parties where they knew no one, and will recognize in this a clearly idyllic, unapologetically optimistic situation. In other words, perfect picture book fodder.

Translation is a delicate art. Done well, it creates some of our greatest children’s literature masterpieces. Done poorly and the book just melts away from the publishing world like mist, as if it was never there. Because I do not have a final copy of this book in hand, I don’t know if the translator for this book is ever named. Whoever they are, I think they knew precisely how to tackle it. Originally published in what I believe to be Japan, I marvel even now at how the story opens. The first line reads, “That morning, Kikko had awoken to a winter wonderland.” We are plunged into the story in such as way as to believe that we’ve been reading about Kikko for quite some time. It doesn’t say “One morning”, which is a distinction of vast importance. It says “That morning” and we are left to consider why that choice was made. What happened before “That morning” that led up to the events of this particular day? Whole short stories have been conjured from less. I love it.

If none of the reasons I’ve mentioned do it for you, consider this: On the front inside book flap of this book perches a squirrel in a bright red party dress in the crook of a tree. Tiny squirrel. Tiny red flowing gown. A detail you might easily miss the first ten times you read this book but it is there and just makes the book for me. Add in the tone, the light, the mood, and the writing itself and you have a book that will be remembered long after the name has faded from its readers’ minds. Something about this book will stick with your kids for all time. If you want something that feels classic and safely dangerous, Miyakoshi’s book is a rare piece of comfortable animal noir. No one is alone in the woods and after this book no one would want to be.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Share

2 Comments on Review of the Day: The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi, last added: 12/29/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
4. Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys who I played with decided to form a boy's only 'club.' I was told very firmly that I could not be a member and that I should "buzz off!" Needless to say, my feelings were very hurt by this rejection.

When I read today's picture book I was reminded of that time when being excluded made me feel so alone. This book explores what it is like to be left out, and we see how some children deal with the problem.

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants
Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4814-1647-4
Having a little pet elephant in your life is wonderful, but an elephant is such an unusual pet that sometimes it can cause a problem because you “never quite fit in.” The truth of the matter is that no one else has a pet elephant. All the neighbors have dogs, cats, fish and birds. In other words, they have traditional pets.
   Not fitting in exactly what happens to one little boy and his pet elephant. Every day the little boy takes his pet for a walk, and when the elephant refuses to cross the cracks in the pavement because he is afraid of them, the little boy picks up the elephant and carries him across the cracks because that is what friends do for each other; they help each other out.
   One day the little boy dresses himself and his elephant in red scarves and they head out for Number 17 because it is Pet Club Day. When they get to the little green house they see that there is a notice on the door and it reads: “Strictly no elephants.” The boy and his pet are truly upset by this and they walk off in the rain, sadness resting on their shoulders. Then they see a girl who is sitting on a bench. The girl has a skunk in her lap and the boy learns that the other children don’t want her to join their games either. The boy then suggests that they should start their own pet club, one that will be all inclusive.
   With sweetness and gentle humor this picture shows children how painful it is to be left out when you are different in some way. Thankfully, the little boy in this story is not as alone as he thinks he is, and he and his new friend find a solution to their problem.
   Children will love the charming illustrations and cunning animal characters in this book, and grownups may find that odd questions start popping up around the dinner table. Questions like, “Can I get a pet elephant?” and “Where can you buy a pet skunk?”

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants as of 11/23/2015 3:44:00 PM
Add a Comment
5. Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 3 – Perennial Christmas Crackers

So, you’re torn between traditional sensible titles and contemporary crazy reads to fill your under 12 year-olds’ stockings. Why not splash out on both and please everyone. Here are some more stocking stuffers to complement the rollicking fun ones Romi featured in her Christmas inspired picture book round up. Time to get your Santa on. […]

Add a Comment
6. Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

When I was a child for some reason illustrators did not create wordless picture books. These days I encounter books of this type several times each year and some of them are truly amazing. Today's picture book is a wordless title and it was created by the illustrator who brought us Flora and the Flamingo, which was a Caldecott Honor title this year. Just like Flora and the Flamingo this story features a little girl and a very personable bird, and the way in which the story is told is quite magical.

Flora and the PenguinFlora and the Penguin
Molly Idle
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle, 2014, 978-1-4521-2891-7
The ice is frozen and Flora is going skating. Bundled up in warm clothing, she sits on the ice to tie the laces of her skates. Not far away there is a hole in the ice and the tip of something orange is poking through the hole. When Flora goes to investigate she sees that a penguin is coming through the hole in the ice, and in no time she and the very elegant bird are greeting one another.
Soon the new friends are skating across the ice. Perfectly synchronized they glide and twirl, jump and spin. Their beautifully coordinated performance is joyous until something beneath the ice captures the penguin's attention and with a dive and small splash the bird is gone. Flora is left all alone until the penguin pops up through the hole in the ice again. It has a fish in its beak, which it offers to Flora as a gift. Not surprisingly the girl does not appreciate her present. In fact she throws it back into the hole in the ice, shocking the penguin who then makes it very clear that Flora is in the penguin equivalent of the dog house.
   Sometimes we do things that hurt our friend's feelings and have to make amends as best we can to show them that we are sorry and that we appreciate them. In this wordless picture book Molly Idle tell a story that captures the ebb and flow of a new friendship. As the story unfolds we see how hurt feelings can be repaired if one is little creative. Readers will be delighted to explore the compelling art work and, on some pages, they will find flaps to lift. The story ends with a grand fold out page that carries us forward to a perfect ending.


0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
7. Picture Book Monday with a review of What Forest Knows


Today's picture book is one of the most memorable and lovely books that I have read in a long time. It perfectly captures the beauty that can be found in a forest, it gives a forest a voice, and it explores the connection that all of us should have with places in nature.

What forest Knows
George Ella Lyon
What forest KnowsIllustrated by August Hall
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-6775-0
Forest is wise and knows the ways of the seasons. It also knows the animals that live amongst its trees. In winter it “knows snow,” and knows that squirrels are sleeping in hollows and moles are “resting among roots.” Forest knows about waiting…waiting for that moment when life starts to flow through the trees once more and buds swell and open. It knows the voices of the birds as they build their nests in the trees.
   Forest knows the changes that come as spring spills into summer, and as summer drifts like falling leaves into fall. It sees the animals raise their young and then prepare for the winter that is coming.
   Forest is not the only one who knows of these things. There are others, a dog with a sniffing nose, and a boy. The boy and his furry companion have eyes that see, ears that hear, and noses that smell. They know Forest well.
   In this beautiful picture book we visit a wild place, getting to know the plants and animals that call it home. We witness the changes that take place as the seasons unfold, and we discover that Forest’s world, and other worlds in nature, are out there waiting for us. We are a part of them, and if we are lucky, they are a part of us.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of What Forest Knows as of 12/15/2014 8:58:00 AM
Add a Comment
8. Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes Santa Cat


Back in the spring Cat decided that he wanted to stand in for the Easter Bunny (you can read about his adventures in Here Comes Easter Cat). With Christmas just around the corner, Cat has now decided that he wants to be Santa. The thing is, being Santa is a lot harder than it seems.

Here comes Santa Cat
Here Comes Santa CatDeborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-4100-3
Cat is back and this time, wait for it…he is wearing a Santa suit. When he is asked why he is dressed up, Cat explains, using pictures, that he needs to be Santa so that he can give himself a present. Surely, Santa will do that. No. Apparently Cat does not think that Santa will be giving him anything this year because he has been naughty a lot of the time and nice only on a few occasions. Well, that makes sense.
   Okay, so Cat will be Santa, but does Cat know that he needs to come down chimneys, and does he happen to have some flying reindeer hanging around? It turns out that Cat does not much care for chimney climbing, and the jet pack he uses to fly is rather temperamental. Perhaps Cat would be better off giving up trying to be Santa. Instead, he can try being nice. You never know, Cat might even enjoy the experience.
   In this laugh-out-loud picture book Cat once again tries to take on the role of a holiday figurehead, only to discover that being such a character is not as easy as it seems. Readers will be delighted to see how the sometimes grouchy feline stumbles from one disaster to another, until, at long last, something happens that turns things around for Cat. Just in time.


0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes Santa Cat as of 12/26/2014 3:40:00 AM
Add a Comment
9. Picture Book Monday with a review of Alone Together

I really like my alone time. In fact, I need some alone time every day, otherwise I start to feel squirrely. In today's picture book you will meet a bear who is trying to have a little time alone, a little time when he can be quiet and calm. The problem is that his friend Goose does not really understand why Bear needs this.

Alone TogetherAlone Together
Suzanne Bloom
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boys Mill Press, 2014, 978-1-62091-736-7
One day Fox and Goose are sitting together when Fox asks his friend where Bear is. Goose says that Bear is not far away sitting alone. Fox is surprised when he hears this and Goose has to explain that sometimes Bear like to be alone. Fox, who is a friendly little fellow, goes over to Bear and asks him if he is “sad” or “mad” or “lonely.” Bear is none of these things. He is just having “some quiet time.”
   Fox says that he likes quiet time too, but it turns out that Fox’s quiet time is nothing like Bear’s quiet time. Fox hums, twirls, and whooses “like the wind,” and poor Bear is not at all happy. He just wants some quiet. Some real quiet.

   Some people need quiet time on their own. They are not upset about anything, they just need some space to enjoy being with themselves. The problem is that other people don’t always understand why they need this time, and they don’t understand what quiet time means. In this sweet picture book Suzanne Bloom’s expressive and minimal illustrations are paired with a spare text to give young readers a story that explores how three very different characters find a way to be alone, and quiet, together. 

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Alone Together as of 1/19/2015 1:19:00 PM
Add a Comment
10. Some New-ish Picture Books I Love Including A New Dr. Seuss: Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories; The Worst Princess; Drop It, Rocket!; and Mr. Wuffles!

Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss aka Ted Geisel
Published by: Random House Books For Young Readers
Published: Sept 9, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385382984
Ages: 4-8 (and up)
Source: Book obtained from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5

It’s incredible to me that we can read new Dr. Seuss stories after Ted Geisel died, but these Dr. Seus stories were “lost.” They’re treasure I’m glad was rediscovered: A new Horton the Elephant story, a fanciful story about Marco (from And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street) who arrives to school late and tells the tale about why; a police officer who saves the town; and a short grinch story featuring a different grinch than the one who stole Christmas. These stories have the same wonderful rollicking, almost perfect rhythm that Dr. Seuss is known for; twists and plot surprises that keep the reader interest; conflict that keeps us riveted; characters we care about, empathize with, and root for; and humor. I loved the satisfying ending, especially, in Horton and the Kwuggerbug where a mean-spirited character gets his just desserts; this was my favorite story in the book. I also love that the stories include fanciful made-up words and great imagination that fit his stories perfectly.

Dr. Seuss’ beautiful, strange, evocative, and trademark illustrations fit the stories perfectly, with crazy cliffs and strange-looking trees, emotionally expressive characters, and bright colors. They’re Dr. Seuss’ strong illustrative style that generations of readers have loved and been entranced with, and generations will continue to love.

The stories all have a strong emotional appeal, with conflict and psychological tension. These are pure Dr. Seuss, and they’re a delight. When I finished reading, I had Dr. Seuss’ rhythms and some of the rhymes running through my head–which shows how catchy they are; I think is a sign of greatness. I loved these “new” stories, and I think children and Dr Seuss fans will love them, too.

My only criticism is that Horton and the Kwuggerbug probably should have been published on its own; the other stories aren’t as polished or as captivating. For instance, How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town is all about what might happen, not what is happening, so it’s not as dramatic or intense or fun, though it’s still enjoyable.

Also included is a long, detailed introduction by Charles D Cohen–an expert on Dr Seuss stories. It provides some fascinating detail for readers who love Dr. Seuss.

Highly recommended.


The Worst Princess
Written by Anna Kemp
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Ages: 3-7 (and up)
Source: Obtained from the publisher for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5

This is a refreshing tale about a princess who thinks she needs to be saved from her tower–until she realizes that getting “saved” just locks her up in a different tower. The princess makes friends with a dragon, and together they travel the world. In the end, the princess saves herself.

I love books that show girls being strong, not ruled by sexism, who are able to save themselves–especially when the books are written well, without being preachy or didactic. This book is a delight on all levels–the content, the way the story is written, and the illustrations.

Kemp’s rhyming text flows smoothly; there is rarely a rhyme that feels even slightly forced. The story is lively and entertaining, and the dialogue helps it move quickly. Humor permeates the story, from the names the princess and prince call each other (twit, turtledove), to the insults given (the prince telling her to twirl her pretty curls), to the dragon setting the prince’s shorts on fire. I love the princess making tea for the dragon, and the way they become friends who defend each other and travel the world together. Princess Sue is a strong role model that breaks out of the sexism she was trapped in.

Ogilvie’s illustrations are vivid and alive, quirky and expressive, and a delight to pore through, with a lot of detail to enjoy. The characters and the objects they interacting with have strong outlines which bring them into the forefront and focus, while backgrounds are more muted and blurry. I love the bold, bright colors. Princess Sue’s bright orange hair is echoed in the dragon’s bright orange-red scales, which visually and emotionally tie the two together even more. And the prince does look like the pompous twit he acts like, with his thin curly mustache, foppish hair, long narrow nose, and stuck up expression.

This is an important–and fun!–book for both girls and boys. None of us need be constrained by the gender rules for behavior that society sets for us. Girls can think for themselves, protect themselves and others, travel the world, and be outspoken. Boys can stay at home, cook, take care of children, or follow their dreams, whatever they might be. Though the book doesn’t show boys escaping their forced gender roles, it will make children (and adults) think, and it challenges sexism in a humorous way. We need more books like this.

If you love strong-girl characters, you have *got* to get yourself–or the kids in your life–a copy of this book! I think it’ll become a classic, like Princess Smartypants
and The Paper Bag Princess. This, for me, became an instant favorite.
.

Highly recommended! If I could give it a higher rating, I would. This is a keeper, and one to give away as gifts, too.


Drop It, Rocket! (Step Into Reading, Step 1)
Written and illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published By: Random House Books for Young Readers
Published: July 8, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385372541
Ages: 6-9
Source: Obtained from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (As you may be able to tell, I only review books I love.)
My rating: 5/5

Rocket loves to find new words. He brings the little yellow bird many objects so they can make words from them. But when he finds a red boot he refuses to put it back down or trade it for anything–except for a book which the friends then pore over.

Hill’s sentences and words are short and easy for young readers to read, so that should bring a feeling of success, and yet they keep reader interest by telling a great story. The story moves quickly with a lot of dialogue, and there’s some great humor (with a set up of Rocket dropping every object he’s asked to, until he gets to the boot) and conflict. I love the focus on words and reading. It’s very feel-good and fills me with delight.

Hill’s illustrations are sweet, light hearted, and expressive, with great emotion, facial expressions, and body language. The illustrations perfectly compliment and enhance the text. I love how they work together so that the illustrations show things that the text doesn’t, such as how all the objects Rocket brought back are printed out as words. The great amount of white space around each illustration helps to add to the light, airy feeling of the illustrations.

If you love books about books or words, you’ll want to pick this one up! Highly recommended.


Mr. Wuffles!
Written and illustrated by: David Wiesner
Published by: Clarion Books
Published: October 1, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0618756612
Ages: 4-8
Source: I purchased the book myself.
My rating: 5/5

I love David Wiesner’s books; he’s created some of my very favorites, especially Tuesday and Flotsam–so I look forward to each new release, and Mr. Wuffles! didn’t disappoint. Mr. Wuffles! is a Caldecott Medal Honor Winning title, and it deserves to be.

Mr. Wuffles doesn’t play with any of the toys his human buys for him. But when a tiny alien spaceship–the size and almost the look of a golf ball with protrusions–lands in Mr. Wuffles’ house, Mr. Wuffles goes crazy playing with it. The tiny aliens inside get headaches and feel sick from being tossed around, so when they think Mr. Wuffles is asleep they sneak out. Mr. Wuffles is about to attack them when a ladybug distracts him, and the aliens flee to safety–into the walls of the house, where they are greeted by ants and ladybugs who’ve all been chased by the cat (as evidenced by the paintings on the wall). The aliens and the bugs–who look similar in shape–become allies and friends, sharing food and ideas, and coming up with a plan for escape, while Mr. Wuffles watches them under the radiator. The aliens and bugs distract the cat until they get their spaceship working and fly away, out the window, while the triumphant bugs don some of the alien attire and add to their paintings on the inner walls of the house.

There are only a few short lines of text in the story; most of the story is told through the illustrations. But the sparse text works to emphasize certain details in the book, and bring the story full circle. In the first two panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human says “Look, Mr. Wuffles, a new toy!” and when the cat walks away, says “Oh, Mr. Wuffles,” which makes the reader notice all the toys Mr. Wuffles never plays with. Three quarters of the way through the book, we see Mr. Wuffles’ human asking him what is so interesting–while he stares determinedly under the radiator, where the aliens and bugs are–to Mr. Wuffles, they seem like living or animated toys. And then in some of the last panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human brings hima new toy–a rocket–while saying “Hey, Mr. Wuffles–blast off!” and then when Mr. Wuffles walks away, saying “Oh, Mr. Wuffles.” So we see again Mr. Wuffles snubbing toys for living creatures–bugs and aliens. And there’s also some humor with the rocket symbolizing outer space and exploration of the universe and other intelligent life–while real aliens have already visited Mr. Wuffles’ home. The text works well, emphasizing key story points.

The illustrations are what make the book. SO much is told through the beautiful, colorful illustrations–through body language, through action. The story is well paced and also holds a lot of humor, with a funny explanation for why some pets may prefer chasing after bugs and living creatures than playing with their toys, and humor that animals, insects, and aliens may be more intelligent than us or notice things that we don’t.

The illustrations are painted in various sizes of panels, almost like a comic book, some taking up a full spread, some half a page, some a quarter or a fifth or less, the action moving beautifully from one panel to the next. The viewpoint also changes, moving us from seeing Mr. Wuffles and what he’s doing, to seeing the aliens and bugs and what they’re doing. The bright, rich colors, realism, and strong storytelling bring the story alive. There is so much to see on every page–details readers will love to find–and fantastic expression and body language.

Anyone who’s owned a cat will also recognize the body language and behaviors of a cat–chasing after a fly, leaping up in surprise, swatting at moving objects, getting overwhelmed at too much stimuli, a swishing tail when wanting to pounce or annoyed at something–and refusing to play with some expensive toys while loving chasing after anything from nature.

This is a funny, light-hearted fantasy romp, especially for children with imagination and cat lovers. There’s also a bit of a fun surprise for readers who buy the hardcover; take off the paper jacket, and instead of the cover you see outer space. :) Highly recommended.

If you can, I hope you buy pick these books up at your local bookstore or library. They are well worth it, and will bring many enjoyable reads. I know I’ll be buying copies for gifts–they’re that good.

0 Comments on Some New-ish Picture Books I Love Including A New Dr. Seuss: Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories; The Worst Princess; Drop It, Rocket!; and Mr. Wuffles! as of 1/25/2015 4:05:00 PM
Add a Comment
11. Picture Book Monday with a review of Uh-Oh, Dodo!

Some people like to think that it is easy being a small child, but there are so many mistakes that one can make when one is very young and inexperienced. In today's picture book you will meet a young dodo bird who is constantly putting his rather large feet into it, and we cannot help laughing at the mistakes he makes. 

Uh-Oh, Dodo!
Uh-Oh, Dodo!Jennifer Sattler
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Boyds Mills Press, 2013, 978-1-59078-9259-2
Dodo is a little dodo bird who has very large yellow feet, a little feather dusterish white tail and a large beak. Today he and his Mama are going for a walk. Dodo’s feet, like the feet of many little birds, have a mind of their own. Dodo is so taken with how talented his toes are that he forgets to pay attention to what he is doing and he walks straight into his mother’s backside.
   Dodo sings loudly for everyone to enjoy, only not everyone is pleased by the noise he is making. A mama bird who has chicks in her nest angrily shushes him. Next, Dodo decides to start a “funny-shaped rock collection.” He collects all kinds of rock like objects, including a knobbly green rock. Dodo soon discovers that the rock is not a rock at all. It is a tortoise who is not really interested in being part of any collection.
   Just like so many little children, poor Dodo goes from one uh-oh moment to another as he follows his mother. Everything he does is well intentioned, but somehow things go wrong and Dodo ends up in some kind of pickle.
   Young children are going to love the uh-ohs in this book, many of which are sweetly funny. They will easily connect with the little bird who tries to play with the wrong animal, hugs the wrong legs, and eventually wears himself out completely.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Uh-Oh, Dodo! as of 1/26/2015 7:13:00 PM
Add a Comment
12. Picture Book Monday with a review of The baseball player and the Walrus


Many people think that they know what a person needs to have to be happy. Happiness = having lots of money and being famous. However, judging from the stories we see in the media. the rich and famous often are not very happy people. Something is missing from their lives.

Today's picture book explores the way in which one rich and famous person stumbles across something that makes him happy, and we see how he tries to figure out how to change his life so that happiness can be his.

The baseball player and the Walrus
Ben Loory
The baseball player and the WalrusIllustrated by Alex Latimer
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3951-2
There once was a baseball player who had it all; fame, fortune, and fans. The surprising thing is that the baseball player was not happy. He knew that something was missing in his life but he had no idea what that something was.
   Then one day the baseball player went to the zoo and he saw all the animals. He saw the lions, tigers, giraffes, and elephants, and then he came to the walrus pool. The baseball player was very taken with the walrus and he stayed and watched it all day long. Something about the animal lifted the baseball player’s spirits and made him feel happy inside.
   That evening the baseball player decided that he was going to buy the walrus. He created a splendid walrus habitat in his back yard, and stocked up on fish and walrus vitamins. He showed the zoo people that he was going to be a responsible walrus owner, and they finally agreed to let him take the walrus home.
   The walrus and the baseball player became fast friends and had many grand times together, but when the baseball season began the player had to be away from home a lot and both he and the walrus were very unhappy. Eventually the baseball player decided that he had had enough, and he quit his job and went home as fast as he could to be with his walrus. Everything was perfect for a while, until the baseball player realized that without a job he could no longer afford to keep his dear friend.
   Many people think that happiness should be a secondary consideration in life. We have to make money, buy things, and be ‘successful’ first and foremost. In this delightful picture book we meet a man whose money, fame, and success don’t make him happy. Luckily, he finds out that having a walrus for a friend is just what he needs, and he does everything in his power to make the walrus part of his life.
   With humor and sensitivity, the author of this book gives readers a tale that is amusing, memorable, and that conveys a message that everyone should take heed of: Follow your heart.


0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of The baseball player and the Walrus as of 4/13/2015 12:46:00 PM
Add a Comment
13. Picture Book Monday with a review of Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

Many children are eager to meet Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. They are curious to see what these marvelous characters are like, and perhaps to even petition them for more presents, chocolate eggs, and money. In today's picture book you will meet Cat, a feline who is not content with getting things from these characters. Cat wants more; he wants to do their job for them and become the hero of the moment.


Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-525-42774-2
Cat has lost a tooth and like all self-respecting people (and cats), he puts his tooth under his pillow so that the tooth fairy will come. In the morning Cat finds a coin under his pillow, but he is not happy because he was hoping that he would get to meet the tooth fairy. Cat, who is a very determined fellow and who likes scheming, decides that he is going to find a way to get the tooth fairy to come back. He does not have another tooth to leave under his pillow, so he puts the tooth of comb there instead.
   Not surprisingly, the tooth fairy does not come. Shame on cat for thinking he could trick her! Cat is scowling at the tooth from the comb when the doorbell rings. When he opens the door, Cat finds that there are two packages and an envelope on the doorstep. The envelope contains a letter from the tooth fairy. She commends Cat for trying the comb tooth trick, and then says that if he helps her “with a few deliveries” it might be possible for them to meet face to face.
   In the larger box Cat finds a tooth fairy costume, and in the smaller box he finds someone, Mouse, who is going to help him. It would appear that Cat is not the only one to try the comb tooth trick on the tooth fairy. Mouse did the same thing.
   Cat and Mouse are given the job of retrieving three teeth for the tooth fairy, but the jobs turn out to be a lot trickier than they imagined it would be. Not only are the retrievals difficult, but Cat and Mouse have to figure out how to work together!
   Once again Cat, who is naughty sometimes but who is also very lovable, is given the chance to take on a new role. Cat likes to think that he is pretty sneaky, but it turns out that this time there is someone around who is even sneakier than he is.

   Throughout the book the narrative is told in the form of a conversation between Cat and a hidden reader. This interesting format, and the wonderfully expressive illustrations, makes this a picture book that is sure to delight readers of all ages. In addition to exploring the nature of cooperation, it offers up a reminder that one should never try to pull a fast on a fairy.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
14. Picture Book Monday with a review of Rufus the Writer

The amazing thing about writing stories is that the writing process ends up being a gift to the person who creates the story, and the story itself is a gift to those who read it. In today's picture book you will meet a boy who loves to write stories, and who happily gives his stories away to the people he cares about.

Rufus the WriterRufus the Writer
Elizabeth Bram
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-37853-6
One day Rufus is lying in the grass looking up at the summer sky when he gets an idea. Instead of having the usual summer lemonade stand he will have a story stand. Rufus runs indoors to gather up what he needs, and he sets up a table outdoors, which he covers with a cloth. He makes a sign for his story stand and lays out paper, pencils, and colors. Rufus then goes and changes his clothes. After all, a writer has to look the part!
   Millie and Walter come by and they invite Rufus to go swimming with them. He explains that he has to take care of his story stand. Walter asks to buy a story and when he asks what the fee will be Rufus tells the little boy to bring him “a special shell from the beach.” After his friends leave, Rufus writes his fist story stand tale, one that will be perfect just for Walter.
   Rufus is working on illustrating his first story when his friend Sandy comes up with some wonderful news. His cat Rainbow has had kittens. Rufus offers to write a story for Sandy so that he can buy one of the kittens. Sandy says that Rufus can have the kitten for free, but Rufus still insists on writing a story in payment, and this is what he does. He writes a story all about a man who discovers that cats are far more important that things.
   The next story Rufus works on is for his sister Annie, who is going to be having her birthday the next day. A story will be a perfect gift; a personal gift unlike any other.
   In this charming picture book we meet a boy who understands how precious stories are. We watch as he carefully crafts tales that will suit the people he is writing them for. Children will enjoy seeing how Rufus’ stories are unique, and how each one has its own flavor, voice and illustrative style.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Rufus the Writer as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
15. Picture Book Monday with a review of A Lucky Author has a Dog

I am very lucky to have not one but two dogs in my life, and since I work at home they are my constant companions. They don't mind when I read reviews and stories out loud. In fact they are wonderful listeners! They don't mind when I mutter and fuss when things are not going well, and will press their noses into my hand when they feel that I need a little attention. They are wonderful work mates, which is why I was immediately drawn to today's picture book. Anyone who has a dog in their life is lucky, but I think we authors really need our dogs.

A Lucky Author Has a DogA Lucky Author has a dog
Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Steven Henry
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-51876-5
Every morning a dog up wakes its person with a kiss. The dog’s person is a little different from other people because she is an author, and authors tend to stay at home to work, which means that the dog has a companion all day long. The dog is therefore very lucky indeed.
   The interesting thing is that the dog is not the only one who is lucky. The author is lucky too because she has the dog. Dogs are wonderful partners who understand that what the author is doing is important even if the dog really “isn’t exactly sure what an author does.” The dog is an “encouraging friend” who is always there, and the dog knows when it is time for the author to take a break. Walks are good for the dog, but they are also good for the author as well because new sights, smells and sounds help feed a mind that is stuck and frustrated. In fact, a dog can really show an author “how to look and listen the way a dog does,” which can make all the difference in the world when you are a wordsmith and storyteller.
   In this unique picture book we find out what the life of an author is like, and we also come to appreciate that being an author’s dog is not a job to be taken lightly. As the narrative carries us through the day we see that the relationship between the author and her friend is special because both partners know that they are lucky to have each other.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of A Lucky Author has a Dog as of 9/28/2015 1:42:00 PM
Add a Comment
16. 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
Display Comments Add a Comment
17. 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.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews:

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.

printfriendly Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christyemail Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christytwitter Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christyfacebook Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christygoogle plus Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christytumblr Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christyshare save 171 16 Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christy

0 Comments on Review of the Day: Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven and Jana Christy as of 11/7/2013 1:04:00 PM
Add a Comment
18. 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.


0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tweedles Go Electric as of 3/17/2014 7:37:00 AM
Add a Comment
19. 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.

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of If I were a book as of 4/7/2014 8:01:00 AM
Add a Comment
20. 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
Add a Comment
21. 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.    

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Brimsby’s Hats as of 5/26/2014 9:24:00 AM
Add a Comment
22. 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.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: Hooray for Books,

Videos: And here’s a lovely little book trailer to round us all out.

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell

3 Comments on Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell, last added: 7/2/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
23. 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.”

0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Chickadees at Night as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
24. 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.


0 Comments on Picture Book Monday with a review of Mister Bud wears a cone as of 8/11/2014 9:28:00 AM
Add a Comment
25. Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood

BadByeGoodBye Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah UnderwoodBad Bye, Good Bye
By Deborah Underwood
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-547-92852-4
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

As a mother who recently spent the better part of twenty hours in a car with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby, I feel a special kinship with parents who have also engaged in the ultimate endurance sport: travel with children. If you feel no particular sympathy for those engaged in this activity that is because you have not experienced it firsthand yourself. But even when my daughter was projectile vomiting regularly and even when the breast pump tipped to one side spilling milk all over my pants and EVEN WHEN I found myself wedged in the backseat between two car seats trying to change my son’s diaper on my lap while parked, I could still feel grateful because at least it was just a vacation. It wasn’t like we were moving to a new town or anything. Because if I’d had to deal with the abject misery of my three-year-old on top of the vomit/milk/diapers I don’t know how my sanity would have remained intact. And yet, other parents do it all the time. Every day someone somewhere packs up all their worldly possessions, their pets, and their miserable offspring and heads for a whole new life. It’s daunting. You can’t help but admire their guts. And boy, you’d sure like to hand them a book that they could use to show their kids that as scary as a move like that can be, ultimately it’s going to be okay. Enter a book so sparse and spare you’d never believe it capable of the depth of feeling within its pages. Deborah Underwood lends her prodigious talents to Bad Bye, Good Bye while artist Jonathan Bean fills in the gaps. The effect is a book where every syllable is imbued with meaning, yet is as much a beautiful object as it is a useful too.

“Bad day, Bad box” says the book. On the page, a boy wrestles with a moving man for possession of a cardboard box, doomed to be loaded into the nearby moving van. The boy, we see, is in no way happy about this move. He clearly likes his home and his best friend, who has come with her mother to bid him goodbye. On the road he and his little sister pitch seven different kinds of catfits before sinking into a kind of resigned malaise. Time heals all wounds, though, and with the help of a motel swimming pool, diners, and multiple naps, they arrive in their new town in the early evening. As the family and movers pile boxes and other things into the new house, the boy meets another kid who just happens to live next door. Together they collect lightning bugs and star gaze until that “bad bye” at the beginning of the book morphs into a far more comfortable “good bye” when the new friends bid each other goodnight.

This isn’t Underwood’s first time at the rodeo. The art of the restrained use of language is sort of her bread and butter. Anyone who has seen her work her magic in The Quiet Book is aware that she says loads with very little. I sincerely hope someone out there has been bugging her to write an easy book for kids. The talent of synthesizing a story down to its most essential parts is a rare one. In this book there is a total of 57 words (or so). These usually appear in two word pairs and by some extraordinary bit of planning they also rhyme. We begin with all “bads”. It goes “Bad day, Bad box / Bad mop, Bad blocks / Bad truck, Bad guy, Bad wave, Bad bye.” The book then slips into neutral terms as the initial misery wears off. Then, as we near the end the “goods” come out. “Good tree, Good sky / Good friend, Good bye.” Such a nice transition. You could argue that it’s pretty swift considering the depths of misery on display in the early pages, and that’s not too far off, but kids are also pretty resilient. Besides, motel swimming pools do indeed go a long way towards modifying behavior.

Jonathan Bean’s one to watch. Always has been. From the moment he was doing Wendy Orr’s Mokie & Bik books to the nativity animalia title “One Starry Night” to all those other books in his roster, he proved himself a noteworthy artist. Watching his work come out you have the distinct sense that this is the calm before the storm. The last minute before he wins some big award and starts fielding offers from the biggest names in the biz. In this book I wouldn’t necessarily have said the art was by Bean had I not seen his name spelled out on the cover. It’s a slightly different style for him. Not just pencil and watercolors anymore. A style, in fact, that allows him to try and catch a bit of Americana in the story’s pages. When Underwood writes something like “Big hair, White deer” it’s Bean’s prerogative to determine what that means exactly. His solution to that, as well as other sections, is layering. Time and landscapes are layered on top of one another. America, from diners and speed limit signs to windmills and weathervanes, display scenes familiar to traveling families. A great artist gives weight and meaning to the familiar. Jonathan Bean is a great artist.

Now the cover of this book is also well worth noting. I don’t say that about a lot of picture books either. Generally speaking a picture book’s cover advertises the book to the best of its ability but only occasionally warrants close examination. Jonathan Bean, however, isn’t afraid to convey pertinent information through his cover. In fact, if you look at it closely you’ll see that he’s managed to encapsulate the entire story from one flap to another. Begin at the end of the book. Open it up. If you look at the inside back flap the very first thing you’ll see underneath the information about the author and the illustrator is the image of the boy in the story straining against his seatbelt, his face a grimace of pure unadulterated rage. Now follow the jacket to the back cover of the book and you see the boy crying in one shot and then looking miserably back in another. The weather is alternating between a starry night sky and a windy rainy day. Move onto the front cover and the rain is still there but soon it turns to clear skies and the boy’s attitude morphs into something distinctly more pleasant. In fact, by the time you open the book to the front flap he’s lifting his hands in a happy cheer. The attitude adjustment could not be more stark and it was done entirely in the span of a single book jacket. Not the kind of thing everyone would notice, and remarkable for that fact alone.

People are always talking about “the great American novel”, as if that’s an attainable ideal. We don’t ever hear anyone talk about “the great American picture book”. I don’t know that Bad Bye, Good Bye would necessarily fit the bill anyway. This is more the picture book equivalent of On the Road than To Kill a Mockingbird, after all. It’s a road trip book, albeit a safe and familiar one. For children facing the frightening prospect of the unknown (and let’s face it – adults hardly do much better) it’s good to have a book that can offer a bit of comfort. A reassurance that no matter how things change, good can follow bad just as day follows night. They are not alone in this uprooting. Somewhere out there, in another car, with another family, there might be a kid just as miserable as they are and for the exact same reason. And like all humans this knowledge ends up being comforting and necessary. Therefore give all your love to Bad Bye, Good Bye. It has necessary comfort to spare.

On shelves now.

Like This? Then Try:

  • A New Room for William by Sally Grindley
  • Herman’s Letter by Tom Percival
  • The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon
  • Alexander, Who Is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
  • Tim’s Big Move by Anke Wagner

Misc: And I interviewed Ms. Underwood about the book here.

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood

8 Comments on Review of the Day: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, last added: 8/31/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts