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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: picture books, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Ballerina Bess

Ballerina Bess. Dorothy Jane Mills and Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1965. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: This is Bess. Bess wants to dance. Bess wants to be a ballerina.

Premise/plot: Young readers meet Bess who wants to be a ballerina. Ballerina Bess is from the Early-Start Preschool Reader series. It has a 25 word vocabulary.

My thoughts: I had this one and Ann Likes Red growing up. While I think I prefer Ann Likes Red a little better, this one is still a lot of fun if you like vintage children's books. (It was published in 1965.)

Simple can be a great thing when you are learning to read. Words need to be either sight words (common frequency like is, was, the, this, etc.), or easy to sound out. To read a whole book on your own can be a great confidence booster.

One thing that I just noticed now as an adult is that there are a few pages where LEGS are missing. On one page readers clearly see Bess dancing ON HER TOES. And on the very next page, Bess is missing BOTH LEGS as she's shopping at a store. The sales clerk has legs, but Bess and her mother DO NOT. And on the next page. Bess, her mom, and the sales clerk are all missing legs. But fortunately Bess' legs return for the next page when she's dancing once more.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud


The premise of David Cali and Benjamin Chaud's trilogy is simple, circular and deeply satisfying. Beginning in 2014 with I Didn't Do My Homework Because . . ., Cali and Chaud have taken readers on one detail packed adventure after another, starring our young hero in his pinstriped suit, red necktie and red socks, and his faithful, bug-eyed dachshund and his bespectacled, clever teacher. 



The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer begins with the inevitable question upon returning to school, "So, what did you do this summer?" Our hero responds, "Well, you may not believe this, but . . . " On a visit to the beach, he finds a message in a bottle and inside it is a treasure map! But, a magpie swoops in and pecks it out of his hands and the adventure begins. There are pirates, submarines and time travel that finds our hero floating down the Seine in his submarine as a bucket of slop is tossed on his head as he passes under the bridge in front of Notre Dame. Turns out he didn't time travel - he just happened onto a movie set.


There are libraries, hot air balloons, the Taj Mahal, mummies, pyramids and the Great Wall. And Yetis. But I don't want to give the whole story away. The final page ends, circling back to the start of the story, with a nice little reveal that brings the teacher back into the story. Three is a nice number, but I wouldn't mind one or two more books featuring our imaginative, well dressed hero and his dog . . . 




The first two books in the trilogy and .  . .



A Doodle Book of Excuses!! How cool is that?




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3. Paris party!


Let them eat cake!


Sweetness from Cafe Pray...
 
It's always fun to play with noses
on famous art...
They puzzled over my hand-drawn pieces of  Picasso's Woman & Bird


and then played "Pin the Nose on the Picasso"


After a scavenger hunt, and treats,
we made wee matchboxes des Paris.

Ah the joys of the small things in life!

Paper. Art-making. A clamor of cousins. Laughter. Balloons.
Joyeux anniversaire! Happy birthday!

Here's to finding joy in the small things and the good things, my friends!

Au revoir!
C'est la belle vie!
Swan song!

Books!




Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
The Iridescence of Birds by Partricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Henri's Scissors by Jeanette Winter
A Giraffe Comes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, ill. by Jon Cannell
Picasso and the Girl with the Ponytail by Laurence D'Anholt
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson

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4. Review of the Day: Who Broke the Teapot?! by Bill Slavin

WhoBrokeTeapotWho Broke the Teapot?!
By Bill Slavin
Tundra Books
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-77049-833-4
Ages 3-5
On shelves now

In the average life of a child, whodunits are the stuff of life itself. Who took the last cookie? Who used up all the milk and then didn’t put it on the shopping list? Who removed ALL the rolls of toilet paper that I SPECIFICALLY remember buying at the store on Sunday and now seem to have vanished into some toilet paper eating inter-dimension? The larger the family, the great the number of suspects. But picture books that could be called whodunits run a risk of actually going out and teaching something. A lesson about honesty or owning up to your own mistakes. Blech. I’ll have none of it. Hand me that copy of Bill Slavin’s Who Broke the Teapot?! instead, please. Instead of morals and sanctity I’ll take madcap romps, flashbacks, and the occasional livid cat. Loads of fun to read aloud, surprisingly beautiful to the eye, and with a twist that no one will see coming, Who Broke the Teapot?! has it all, baby. Intact teapot not included.

The scene of the crime: The kitchen. The family? Oblivious. As the mother enters the room it’s just your average morning. There’s a baby in a high chair, a brother attached to a ceiling fan by his suspenders, a dad still in his underwear reading the paper, a daughter eating pastries, a dog aiding her in this endeavor, and a cat so tangled up in wool that it’s a wonder you can still make out its paws. And yet in the doorway, far from the madding crowd, sits a lone, broken, teapot. Everyone proclaims innocence. Everyone seems trustworthy in that respect. Indeed, the only person to claim responsibility is the baby (to whom the mother tosses a dismissive, “I doubt it”). Now take a trip back in time just five minutes and all is revealed. The true culprit? You’ll have to read the book yourself. You final parting shot is the mother accepting a teapot stuck together with scotch tape and love from her affectionate offspring.

WhoBroke2Generally when I write a picture book review I have a pretty standard format that I adhere to. I start with an opening paragraph (done), move on to a description of the plot in the next paragraph (so far, so good), and in the third paragraph I talk about some aspect of the writing. It could be the overall theme or the writing or the plotting. After that I talk about the art. This pattern is almost never mucked with . . . until today!! Because ladies and gents, you have just GOT to take a gander at what Mr. Slavin’s doing here with his acrylics. Glancing at the art isn’t going to do it. You have to pick this book up and really inspect the art. For the bulk of it the human characters are your usual cartoony folks. Very smooth paints. But even the most cursory glance at the backgrounds yields rewards. The walls are textured with thick, luscious paints adhering to different patterns. There’s even a touch of mixed media to the old affair, what with cat’s yarn being real thread and all (note too how Slavin seamlessly makes it look as if the yarn is wrapped around the legs of the high chair). Then the typography starts to get involved. The second time the mom says “Who broke the teapot?!” the words look like the disparate letters of a rushed ransom note. As emotions heat up (really just the emotions of the mom, to be honest) the thick paints crunch when she says “CRUNCHED”, acquire zigzags as her temper unfurls, and eventually belie the smoothness of the characters’ skin when the texture invades the inside of the two-page spread of the now screaming mother’s mouth.

So, good textures. But let us not forget in all this just how important the colors of those thick paints are as well. Watching them shift from one mood to another is akin to standing beneath the Northern Lights. You could be forgiven for not noticing the first, second, third, or even fourth time you read the book. Yet these color changes are imperative to the storytelling. As emotions heat up or the action on the page ramps up, the cool blues and greens ignite into hot reds, yellows, and oranges. Taken as a whole the book is a rainbow of different backgrounds, until at long last everything subsides a little and becomes a chipper cool blue.

WhoBroke1Now kids love a good mystery, and I’m not talking just the 9 and 10-year-olds. Virtually every single age of childhood has a weakness for books that set up mysterious circumstances and then reveal all with a flourish. Heck, why do you think babies like the game of peekaboo? Think of it as the ultimate example of mystery and payoff. Picture book mysteries are, however, far more difficult to write than, say, an episode of Nate the Great. You have to center the book squarely in the child’s universe, give them all the clues, and then make clear to the reader what actually happened. To do this you can show the perpetrator of the crime committing the foul deed at the start of the book or you can spot clues throughout the story pointing clearly to the miscreant. In the case of Who Broke the Teapot, Slavin teaches (in his own way) that old Sherlock Holmes phrase, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I love it when a book turns everything around at the end and asks the reader to think long and hard about what they’ve just seen. Remember the end of The Cat in the Hat when everything’s been cleaned up just in time and the mother comes in asking the kids what they got up to while she was gone? The book ends with a canny, “Well, what would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?” Who Broke the Teapot?! does something similar at its end as well. The facts have been laid before the readers. The baby has claimed responsibility and maybe he is to blame after all. But wasn’t the mother just as responsible? It would be very interesting indeed to poll a classroom of Kindergartners to see where they ascribe the bulk of the blame. It may even say something about a kid if they side with the baby more or the mommy more.

WhoBroke3I also love that the flashback does far more than explain who broke the teapot. It explains why exactly most of the members of this family are dwelling in a kind of generally accepted chaotic stew. You take it for granted when you first start reading. A kid’s hanging from a ceiling fan? Sure. Yeah. That happens. But the explanation, when it comes, belies that initial response. The parents don’t question his position so you don’t question it. That is your first mistake. Never take your lead from parents. And speaking of the flashback, let’s just stand aside for a moment and remember just how sophisticated it is to portray this concept in a picture book at all. You’re asking a child audience to accept that there is a “before” to every book they read. Few titles go back in time to explain how we got to where we are now. Slavin’s does so easily, and it will be the rare reader that can’t follow him on this trip back into the past.

I think the only real mystery here is why this book isn’t better known. And its only crime is that it’s Canadian, and therefore can’t win any of the big American awards here in the States. It’s also too amusing for awards. Until we get ourselves an official humor award for children’s books, titles like Who Broke the Teapot?! are doomed to fly under the radar. That’s okay. This is going to be the kind of book that children remember for decades. They’re going to be the ones walking into their public libraries asking the children’s librarians on the desks to bring to them an obscure picture book from their youth. “There was a thing that was broken . . . like a china plate or something . . . and there was this cat tied up in string?” You have my sympathies, children’s librarians of the future. In the meantime, better enjoy the book now. Whether it’s read to a large group or one-on-one, this puppy packs a powerful punch.

On shelves now

Source: Publisher sent final copy for review.

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5. Starting School: 10 favorite picture books (ages 3-6)

Starting school is a big deal in a little person's life. I love sharing these ten picture books with kids throughout the fall. In part, it's creating a shared experience--letting kids know they aren't the only ones going through these experiences. It's also a time to notice all the changes and talk about what's happening.

10 picture books for the beginning of school
Preschoolers will particularly like the energetic, sweet rhyming in Susan Katz's ABC, School's for Me and the fun song that goes along with Pete the Cat.

Kids new to kindergarten will be reassured that they'll quickly get used to kindergarten, just like monkey in Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. Other new kindergarteners will love the out-of-this-world energy of Planet Kindergarten. My teenagers still smile at the classic ABC story of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.

If your little one is anxious, they might like the upbeat reassurance in Little Lola, or they might like the way Hyewon Yum turns the tables in Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! showing how nervous parents are, even if the kids have everything under control.

Do you have any favorite books to share as your kids start the school year? I love adding to my collection!

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Chronicle, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Boyds Mills. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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6. Picture Book Monday with a review of the day everything went wrong

Not long ago I had a day when everything seemed to go wrong. The hose attacked my ankles and I fell over. The dishwasher dumped water all over my feet. A stack of books fell over onto my toes, which hurt a lot. On and on it went until I began to seriously consider climbing into bed and staying there for the rest of the day. At least in bed I would be safe!

Today's picture book is about a charming little badger character who has a bad day, a day full of little calamities.

The Day Everything Went WrongThe day everything went wrong
Moritz Petz
Illustrated by Amelie Jackowski
Translated by David Henry Wilson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4209-0
One morning Badger wakes up and he decides that today he will only do “things I enjoy doing.” It is going to be his special day. As soon as he gets out of bed he knocks over his bedside lamp, but thankfully it does not break.
   In the best of moods Badger sits down to have his breakfast, which is when he knocks over his cup and it falls to the floor and shatters. Badger is very upset because the cup was his favorite one. Badger then decides that he wants to draw a picture, but he can’t find his colored pencils anywhere. He cannot help feeling rather upset that his day, which was going to be “such a treat” is going so wrong. Perhaps he will be better off in his yard where he always has fun.
   While Badger is playing outside he trips and knocks over the wheelbarrow, cutting his knee in the process. Dear me! Badger needs to do something to turn his rotten day into one that is not so full of accidents, and so he heads off to find his friends. Maybe if he leaves home his day will improve.
   It turns out that Badger is not the only one having a bad day. Raccoon’s clothesline has broken, Stag has lost his ball, Squirrel has a scratch, Rabbit’s fishing line is tangled, Fox’s front door is blocked, and Mouse cannot figure out how to bake a cake. The bad day seems to be touching everyone in the forest.
   Everyone has bad days sometimes, days when nothing seems to go right and when one wishes one could go back to bed. In this charming picture book we meet a badger who is having just such a day and who does his best to turn a bad day into a good one. Children who are having (or have had) a bad day of their own will really appreciate why the animals in the story are so upset.  




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7. We Have BOOK COVERS!

Wow, the writing business can be full of happy surprises. I am so fortunate to have two books coming out in the spring 2017. 

MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN (illustrated by Carol Schwartz, published by Tilbury House) is a rhyming cumulative picture book about insects you'd find in a garden. It has a release date of January 31, 2017. 

MAMA LOVES YOU SO (illustrated by Simone Shin, published by Little Simon) is a rhyming board book that celebrates a mother’s love trumping even majestic mother nature. If you know me, you know I'm a huge nature-lover so I used nature metaphors to illustrate the power of a mother's love. Little Simon is releasing this book on March 14, 2017.

Two books with release-dates about six weeks apart. But this week, I saw where both covers appeared online. WOW! Just look at these...





AREN'T THEY GORGEOUS???

I am so lucky to have two amazing illustrators create the art for my words. Thank you, Carol and Simone! If you'd like some more eye candy, please visit their websites:
 

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8. REX by Simon James



Simon James has long been a favorite in my house, although rarely reviewed here. In my review of his book Nurse Clementine back in 2013, I talked about how much we loved and still love (I read it in the library to my students) Dear Mr. Blueberry and shared more of his work in that review, which I hope you'll check out. What James does best, time after time, is pair sweet with silly, creating poignant and playful picture books that truly hold up with time.


With Rex, James takes on dinosaurs and daddies with charmingly cartoonish, colorful illustrations filled with sharp teeth and erupting volcanoes. Rex starts off, "Once upon about 65 million years ago, there lived a terrifying tyrannosaurus." Fierce as this guy is (he scared "every saurus he saw!") he stomps off each night looking for a cave to sleep in and no one dares wake him. But one night, something does wake him. 


Little Rex imprints on the big dinosaur and even calls him Dad. As the big dinosaur tries to get away from Little Rex, James packs in all the big name dinosaurs and even one I've never heard of - the trigonosaurus. Their first day together ends with Little Rex curled up on the big dinosaur's belly, settling in for the night. The next day the learning and bonding begins, including "relaxing by a warm river of molten lava." Despite this, the big dinosaur makes sure that Little Rex knows he's not really his dad, he just found him in a cave, setting up a sweet, although not surprising, ending for Rex.


More books by Simon James:







Source: Review Copy

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9.


Me and Annie McPhee brings picture book pros Oliver Dunrea and Will Hillenbrand together for a rhyming, counting story filled with funny animals doing unexpected things, all on "one tiny island." Me and Annie McPhee begins, "In the middle of the sea, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing to see but sea." And who is seeing all this sea? The narrator and Annie McPhee, and they fit on an island that is just big enough for the two of them.


But, they are not alone. There are dogs who think they are frogs, perky pigs all wearing wigs, baby geese all named Maurice and "sleek snails sliding on shale," among many others. Dunrea's rhymes are so silly and tongue-twister-y, that reading Me and Annie McPhee out loud is a fun challenge. Hillenbrand uses a gentle pastel palette, tucking little clues into every illustration, hinting at the next animal to arrive. Just as the island seems to reach peak capacity, little Annie McPhee reaches her limit, proclaiming, "TOO CROWDED FOR ME!" Happily, a surprise visitor arrives (clever eyes might have spotted this visitor early on in the story) and the narrator and Annie head off for another adventure. Me and Annie McPhee is a book that little listeners will definitely ask to hear over and over again.

Source: Review Copy

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10. Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for August

Our favorite books this August are sure to capture imaginations with beautiful illustrations, unconventional characters, and fascinating true stories. Read on to see the titles that hooked our book experts this month!

For Pre-K –K (Ages 3-6):

arctic animals board book

Who’s That?: Arctic Animals (Board Book) by Tad Carpenter

We love all the vibrant and entertaining titles in the Who’s That? board book series – this one especially. Kids will love opening the sturdy flaps to meet creatures like a walrus and a polar bear. A cool read for a hot day!

For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):

school's first day of school picture book School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

It’s the first day of school at Frederick Douglass Elementary and everyone’s just a little bit nervous, especially the school! What will the children do once they come? Will they like the school? Will they be nice to him? Find out what happens to the school on its first day! With charming illustrations, this delightful read-aloud picture book will have young readers reaching for it every day of the year!

 

 

For 3rd & 4th grade (Ages 8-10):

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks

During the mid-twentieth century, Vivien Thomas overcame racism from his colleagues and developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. This is a fascinating biography of how one innovative doctor ushered in a new era of medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

For 5th & 6th grade (Ages 10-12):

dicamillo young adult bookRaymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Clarke is convinced that winning the 1975 Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest would inspire her father to come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. We couldn’t put down this coming-of-age novel as it beautifully explored the subjects of loneliness, loss, and friendship.

Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+):

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

This novel-in-verse follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.

Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.

 

 

 

 

 

The post Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for August appeared first on First Book Blog.

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11. The Hole Story of the Doughnut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Pat Miller. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Few remember the master mariner Hanson Crockett Gregory, though he was bold and brave and bright. But the pastry he invented more than 166 years ago is eaten daily by doughnut lovers everywhere. This is his story.

Premise/plot: Readers learn the true story behind the creation of the doughnut. Also how that story got embellished through the years into something more of a legend.

My thoughts: I liked it. I really did. I can't say that I loved, loved, LOVED it. But it was lively, engaging, entertaining, not particularly moralistic or educational. I don't remember picture book biographies being this entertaining when I was a child. So it's easy to recommend.

Text: 3.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Picture Book Monday with a review of This is not a picture Book

Many children are put off when they see a book that is full of words. They want pictures to look at, not words! After all, how can words possibly take the place of pictures. In today's picture book we meet a young duck who has this reaction when he finds a book that has no artwork in it. As the story unfolds, the duck discovers something rather remarkable about words, something that opens up a whole new world to him.

This Is Not a Picture Book!This is not a picture Book
Sergio Ruzzier
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle, 2016, 978-1-4521-2907-5
One day a duckling finds a book and, full of expectation, he picks it up. When he opens the book he discovers that the book has no pictures in it, only words. What is the point of a book that has no pictures in it! The duckling then gives the book a hefty kick, but he does not stay angry for long. After all, it’s not the book’s fault that it is picture-less. Feeling a little bad about his behavior, the duckling picks the book up and apologizes for his outburst.
   Then a little caterpillar comes along and asks the duckling what the book is. The duckling explains that it is a book “with no pictures,” and the insect then asks if the bird can read what the words say. The duckling is not sure if he can, but he starts trying to figure the words out even though it is not easy for him to do so. He finds words that are funny, and words that are sad. There are even words that “carry you away...”
   In this marvelous picture book a little duckling discovers that a book that does not have pictures is actually quite a miraculous thing. Words take more work to figure out than pictures, but in the end the work is worth it. Children are going to love the way this narrative ends, and they may even begin to think about what it is going to be like for them when they can read books, word-filled books, for themselves. 

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13. Shrunken Treasures

Shrunken Treasures. Scott Nash. 2016. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love picture books? Love literature? Love the idea of loving literature? Shrunken Treasures might be just right for you. Here's why: Scott Nash has condensed nine literary works into verse 'for children.' (I'm not absolutely convinced that this one is truly for children, and that it will be appreciated by children.) Am I convinced that it can and will be appreciated by adults? It's much easier to say YES to that one.

So which books are condensed?
  • The Odyssey
  • Frankenstein
  • Moby-Dick
  • Jane Eyre
  • A Thousand and One Nights
  • Hamlet
  • Don Quixote
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Remembrance of Things Past
I believe two of these can be sung to nursery rhyme tunes. Not all were written with singing in mind. The shortest of the condensed works is Remembrance of Things Past.

How "useful" are these condensed stories? (I mean "useful" for students wanting to avoid reading the originals for their school assignments.) Not very! But I'm not complaining about that...at all. Hamlet, for example, is about a dog--a Great Dane--with a habit of digging holes. A Thousand and One Nights stars a tiger and a mouse. Don Quixote covers about one or possibly two chapters of a very, very long novel.

I enjoyed this one. I didn't love, love, love it. I think one thing that kept me from loving it was the fact that I didn't really "like" the illustrations.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The Wildest Race Ever

The Wildest Race Ever. Meghan McCarthy. 2016. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on August 30, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction picture book tells the wild-but-true story of the first Olympic marathon. McCarthy introduces us to ten runners out of the thirty-two that started the race. This story has plenty of twists and turns. It's never dull!

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It appears to be well-researched. A select bibliography is included. And a link is provided for a full bibliography. It is well-written in my opinion! The story is lively and fun. I really liked the end papers!

It is probably best suited for slightly older readers. (Elementary perhaps instead of preschool.) It might make for a slightly awkward group read-aloud because there are a lot of sidebars and such in addition to the main narrative.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Review of the Day: Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

LeaveMeAloneLeave Me Alone!
By Vera Brosgol
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781626724419
Ages 4-7
On shelves September 13th

Knitting. It shouldn’t be so hard. I say this as the grown daughter of a chronic knitterer (not a word). I grew up neck deep in roving. I know the difference between a gossip wheel and a walking wheel (these are different spinning wheels). I know that if you want a permanent non-toxic dye for wool you use Kool-aid, that wool straight from the sheep is incredibly oily, and that out there are people who have turned the fur of their dogs and cats into sweaters. Yet the simplest act of knitting is lost on a good 50% of the children’s book illustrators out there that year after year can’t even be bothered to figure out which way the knitting needles are supposed to go. Down, people. The ends go down. In 2016 alone we’ve seen books like Maggie McGillicuddy’s Eye for Trouble get it wrong. Fortunately 2016 has also seen correctly positioned needles in Cat Knit, Ned the Knitting Pirate, and the greatest knitting related picture book I’ve seen to date Leave Me Alone! A superb readaloud of unparalleled visual humor, this is a knitting picture book par excellence and a pretty darn good original folktale too, come to think of it. Allowing for the occasional alien, of course.

“Once there was an old woman. She lived in a small village in a small house . . . with a very big family.” And by big family we mean big extended family. One gets the feeling that all her grown kids just sort of dump their own children on her, because there are thirty small grandchildren running amok in her home. Winter is coming soon and the old woman is keen on getting some knitting done for her extended brood. Trouble is, knitting and small children do NOT mix. So she picks up her stuff and goes into the deep, dark forest. That’s where the bear family finds her. So she goes to the mountains. Where the goats find her. Next it’s the moon. Where curious aliens find her. That leaves a wormhole where the void turns out to be her saving. Only problem is, it’s lonely in the void. Once her work is done, she heads back and when she sees her grandkids again, she doesn’t have to say a single word.

Here is the crazy thing about this book: It’s Vera Brosgol’s first picture book. I say that this is crazy because this does not read like a debut. This reads like Brosgol has been churning out picture books for decades, honing her skill, until finally at long last she’s produced a true diamond. But no. Some people get all the talent apparently. This is not, I should not, Ms. Brosgol’s first book in general. Her graphic novel Anya’s Ghost got a fair amount of attention a couple of years ago, and it was good. But nothing about that title prepared me for Leave Me Alone! Here we have a pitch perfect combination of text and image. If you were to read this book to someone without mentioning the creator, I don’t think there’s a soul alive who wouldn’t assume that the author and illustrator are one and the same. This is due largely to the timing. Just open the book to the first page. Examine the old woman on that page. Turn the page. Now look how that same woman has been transposed to a new setting and her expression has changed accordingly. Basically this sold the book to me right from the start.

LeaveAlone2 copyFunny picture books. For an author, creating a picture book that is funny means doing two things at once. You must appeal to both children and parents with your humor at the same time. Do you know how hard that is? Making something that a five-year-old thinks is funny that is also humorous to their parental unit is such a crazy balancing act that most picture book creators just fall on one side of the equation or the other. Make it funny only to adults and then you may as well just forget about the kids altogether (see: A Child’s First Book of Trump). Opt instead to only make it funny to kids and you doom the grown-ups to reading something they’d rather eat hot nails than read again (see: Walter the Farting Dog). But I honestly believe Brosgol has found the golden mean. Both adults and kids will find moments like the older sister stuffing a yarn ball in her brother’s mouth or the presence of the samovar (even in a wormhole) or the bear tentatively touching its nose after the old woman’s vigorous poke very funny indeed.

And let’s not downplay the writing here. There is serious readaloud potential with this book. I’ll level with you. In a given year you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of picture books published. Of these, a handful make for ideal readalouds. I’m not talking about books a parent can read to a child. I’m talking about books you can read to large groups, whether you’re a teacher, a librarian, or some poor parental schmuck who got roped into reading aloud to a group of fidgeting small fry. Few books are so good that anyone and everyone can enrapture an audience with them when read out loud. But Leave Me Alone! may be one of those rare few. Those beautiful butterflies. Those little jewels. The language mimics that of classic folktales, bandying about phrases like, “deep, dark forest”. And there are so many interactive possibilities. You could teach the kids how to yell out the phrase “Leave me alone!” all together at the same time, for example.

LeaveAlone3 copyAs for the art, it’s perfect. There’s a kind of Kate Beaton feel to it (particularly when babies or goats have full balls of yarn stuffed into their mouths). As I mentioned before, Brosgol knows which way knitting needles are supposed to lie, and better still she knows how to illustrate thirty different, and very realistically rendered sweaters, at the story’s end. There are also some clever moments that you’ll notice on a third or fourth read. For example, the very first time the woman yells, “Leave me alone!” she’s exiting the gates to her home and her children’s homes. The only people who hear her are her grown children, which means we don’t have to worry about small ears hearing such a caustic phrase from their grandma. Smart. And did you see that the twins get identical sweaters at the end of the book? Finally, there are the visual gags. The goats that surreptitiously followed the old woman to the moon, nibbling on a moon man’s scanner, for example.

I’ve seen a fair amount of hand wringing over the years over whether or not a children’s book can contain a protagonist that is not, in fact, a child, an animal, or an inanimate object rendered animate. Which is to say, are children capable of identifying with adults? More precisely, an adult who just wants to be alone for two seconds? The answer is swift and sure. Certainly they can. Particularly if the kid reading this book is an older sibling. The concept of being alone, of craving some time for one’s own self, is both familiar and foreign to a lot of kids. I’m reminded of the Frog & Toad story “Alone” from Days With Frog and Toad where Toad has a dark morning of the soul when he learns that Frog would like to have some alone time. Because of all of this, we see a lot of picture books where a character wants to be alone, has difficulty getting that “me time”, and eventually decides that companionship is the way to go (Octopus Alone, A Visitor for Bear, etc.). A few celebrate the idea (All Alone] by Kevin Henkes) but generally speaking parents use these books to convince their perhaps less than socially adept children that there are benefits to the concept of friendship. And there is a place in the world for such books. Fortunately there is also a place in the world for this book.

Folks sometimes talk to me about current trends in picture books. Sometimes they’re trying to figure out what the “next big thing” might be. But of course, the best picture books are the ones that at their core don’t really resemble anything but themselves. Leave Me Alone! isn’t typical. It reads aloud to big crowds of kids with great ease, lends itself to wonderful expressions, pops off the page, and will make anyone of any age laugh at some point. It’s a great book, and if I have to write another 500 words to convince you of it, I can do so. But why delay you from seeing it any longer? Go. Seek. Find. Read. Savor.

On shelves September 13th.

Like This? Then Try:

Source: Galley sent by publisher for review.

Misc: Cute promotion or THE CUTEST PROMOTION?  As you can see from this Bustle interview, Ms. Brosgol knit twenty-five teeny tiny sweaters to promote this book.  I steal the image for my own nefarious purposes and show it to you here:

LeaveAloneSweaters

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1 Comments on Review of the Day: Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol, last added: 8/23/2016
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16. Lucy by Randy Cecil, 144 pp, RL 2


Lucy by Randy Cecil is a truly special book that is hard to categorize. Is it a really long picture book? Is it a really big chapter book? Told in three acts and illustrated in soft black and grey tones, Lucy feels almost like a silent movie that has been captured in the pages of a book. A few years ago while working for a literary agent, I learned that the industry standard for a picture book is 1,500 words. That means that greats like Bill Peet and William Steig, to name just a few, might not get published if they were submitting manuscripts today. I also often find myself missing the richness of a longer picture book and the complex stories that can be told when more than 1,500 words are used. I am SO grateful to both Randy Cecil for writing Lucy and to Candlewick Press for publishing this marvelous, genre and standard bending book.
Told in three acts (plus a very short Act IV), there are layers of threes in this book. There are three main characters: Lucy, the stray dog, Eleanor, the girl who feeds her each morning and Eleanor's father, Sam Wische, an aspiring performer. We see Lucy perform her morning routine three times in a row, we see Eleanor perform her morning routine three times in a row and we see Sam try to perform in front of an audience three times, the third one being the charm. There are three flashbacks to Lucy's life before she became a stray.

Lucy, Eleanor and Sam's lives all intertwine and overlap, coming together for a climactic, satisfying ending in Act III. Lucy is looking for something special from her life before becoming a stray, Eleanor finds herself looking for Lucy in Act III, and Sam is looking for a way to overcome his stage fright and share his passion. Cecil's storytelling is sweet and uncomplicated and the repetition is comforting, as are warmly fuzzy illustrations that are presented in a circular composition. Lucy might feel like a simple story, but the more you read it, and the more you think about it long after having read it, the more you will realize that it's not!


Source: Review Copy





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17. On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall



On Bird Hill is a marvelous, meditative, playful rhyming picture book Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall. Both Yolen and Marstall have a gift for putting the natural world on the page and that shines through in On Bird Hill, which also has a thread of the fantastic running through it, with pleasant surprises tucked throughout. But the coolest thing about On Bird Hill? It's the debut title in a new series created for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with 25% of the net proceeds supporting children's educational and community programs centered on ornithology.


Loosely based on the cumulative nursery rhyme "The Green Grass Grew All Around" with words by William Jerome and melody by Harry Von Tilzer, Yolen's couplets follow a boy as he walks his dog and sees a newly hatched bird. On Bird Hill begins, "As I was walking on Bird Hill, / Though it was day, the moon shone still," signaling something special. 


Marstall's illustrations are pastoral and wondrous, with smooth rolling hills and curious trees with curly leaves and tiny, round red fruits. Colorful insects dot the branches and leaves while life on land and sea bustles. Sail boats drift by, picnickers arrive by canoe and animals graze in the green fields. When the couplets arrive at the bird in her nest, the illustrations deepen. A close up of the nest shows the hatchling inside the egg, kinda creepy but kinda cool. And when the egg hatches, the inside of the shell shows a starry night on the island, Magritte style. As the hatchling "left the egg / He fluffed his wings, he stretched each leg," and Marstall instills a little humor into the story.



On Bird Hill has the look and feel of a classic and little listeners are sure to ask to have it read out loud over and over.

Source: Review Copy

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18. Great Kirkus Review for Darwin!




































I'm thrilled to share that Kirkus calls my forthcoming book, CHARLES DARWIN'S AROUND-THE-WORLD ADVENTURE, "A notable choice for both STEM curricula and family sharing." Thank you, Kirkus! (October will be here in no time!)

Read the full review here.

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19. Lauren Rille – Getting Technical About Emotion

The first half of always awesome Lauren Rille of Simon & Schuster's afternoon session went over Bigger Picture Stuff for getting your picture book sketches and layout in good, overall shape before you move on to final art. But here are a few Smaller Picture Stuff details from the second half of her talk:

Once global pacing, tone, palette, etc., are established in your story art, then you can go through and focus on all of those big picture things again, but page by page.

Simon's New Bed by Christian Trimmer and illustrated by Melissa van der Paardt has a fantastic example of how you can push POV/perspective in just one spread to completely change the entire emotional tone of the story:


Lauren shares the initial sketch of the scene where dog Simon comes into the room ready to use his new dog bed for the first time... And cat Miss Adora Belle...

The editorial team likes this sketch very much, but they ask Melissa to push the drawing even farther, to visually interrupt what had been a light and breezy, happy day of anticipation for Simon in these two earlier spreads:
And "stop the music" as Lauren says in the spread in question. And Melissa comes back with this:
Environment is the same, characters are the same, but look at all you can achieve with just a shift in camera angle!

And even with the POV change, the editorial team wants things to go one step further. Since this scene is the big shifting moment in the story's emotional arc so far, changing up the lighting and palette compared to the earlier spread will help underscore the change in the story's tone even more.
So good!

Thanks to Lauren and S&S for letting us use these images from her actual slides!

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20. Ingredients of a Successful Picture Book: Barney Saltzberg

Barney Saltzberg is a writer/illustrator and musician. He has written and illustrated close to fifty books for children, including the best-selling Feel and Touch series, which has over one million copies in print.

What is a successful picture book (professionally and personally)?

Barney believes the rhythm of a page turn is so important. It's like music. Also the element of surprise. He wants to write a book that resonates every time.

Picture books are often placed in different categories whether more commercial sales or school and library. What considerations do you make when writing your books?

Barney says he doesn't think about that when he writes the books that I write and the marketing department and schools find where it fits.

On ways you get feedback on your work:

You have to be careful of who you share your work to and at which stage. While Barney did have a critiques earlier in his career, he now has authors/illustrators that he turns to for feedback when needed.

Barney tries not to go into the book store a lot. There are times he see another book and thinks, Wow, I wish I wrote that. As writers, we're trying to find our voice but if we compare ourselves with others, it's going to be a problem.


People like to classify picture books (boy books/girl books). How do you feel about that?

"We live in a world where Toys R Us has a girl aisle and a boy aisle and it drives me nuts."

Barney's next book is called WOULD YOU RATHER BE A PRINCESS OR A DRAGON? Barney's answer is that you can be both. Barney thinks parents will have some issues with this one.


Hey, all...can't wait for this one!

Favorite picture book childhood:



ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman

"I remember thinking it was hilarious when I was a kid."

Barney says there's a sense of humor and a sense of angst in the story, and the book works on so many levels. As a kid it appealed to his elevated sense of humor, that he as a kid got this inside joke. Having been lost as a child, there's a sense of wanting to find out what happens.

Final thought:

When getting feedback that Barney doesn't think works for him, he always takes the opportunity to sleep on it first before reacting and making a decision about it.

Don't wait for inspiration, make yourself go to work every day.


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21. Ingredients of a Successful Picture Book: Jessixa Bagley and Don Tate



Jessixa Bagley and Don Tate took part in our panel on picture books. Jessixa is the Golden Kite winner for picture book texts, and Don has won numerous awards for his critically acclaimed texts and illustrations.

What makes a picture book successful? 

There's a sense of completion to it, Jessixa said. It doesn't assume that the reader has knowledge about the subject. There's nothing left hanging. It's like an amuse bouche, a perfect bite. She's also drawn to books with a really deep meaning—a meaning that can be joyful too.

Don loves it when people can flip through his book and know the story by the pictures. He loves making emotional connection with readers. We connect with our readers through emotions. Page turns help guide readers from left to right through the story. "I like it when the illustrator has really done their job ... and you want to linger and live in that space for a while."

When it comes to developing stories for markets 
Don doesn't illustrate books differently on whether they're commercial or more for libraries. Don loves to illustrate books about little-known historical figures, which typically puts his books into the school/library market. This lets him do more school visits.

Jessixa also doesn't think about making books directly for markets, and thinks that books with emotional content can be really useful in school markets.

What collaborations help? 
Don is in several critique groups. They help him make his manuscripts stronger for agents.

Jessixa says you should treat your work like a baby egg. Nurture it until it gets a little more solid, and then you can share it. You won't be as hurt by the feedback. It won't be as bruising. It will be able to hatch. "We've all had the experience where you work on something really hard and you show it to someone and they don't respond to it, and you're gutted."

Advice: 
Don: Be sure to keep your stories child-focused. It's important to engage a child by beginning in childhood. Children like to see themselves represented on the first page of a book. He's not a fan of labeling books by gender. Sometimes, books appeal more to boy than to girls. But you don't need to labels. "Let the readers find them where they will."

Jessixa wasn't a girly girl. She wasn't a tomboy. She was just herself, so she gravitated toward identity-neutral things. There is universality to her work that she wants to extend. "I have a hard time with the fact that there are pink LEGOs and those are the girl LEGOs."

"Allowing the space to have things appeal to more people, whether it's gender or diversity, is going to make us all a lot stronger."




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22. Ingredients of a Successful Picture Book Panel: Susan Rich and John Parra

John Parra is asked what he thinks makes a good picture book:

"When I feel like I get to a magical sweet spot in the [sketch] work that I can translate into the [final art] work... when I can feel like something magical is happening... that's what I'm looking for personally and professionally, even before an audience sees it.

Not everything you do will work or be interpreted by an audience they way you wished it would, but when you do get positive responses, you know it's good."

Susan Rich is asked the same question, and she says she asks herself three questions (which she says are stolen from The Horn Book) when reading the picture book:

"The picture book presents a what if..."

A then what that follows well from that what if...

And then you can step back and say so what."

"We expect picture books to be read a gazillion times, it has to stand up to weary parents and antsy toddlers over and over..."

Susan also addresses what makes a commercially successful book to her:

"... I hope they are paving the way for me to publish more books by those creators, I'm looking for sales and critical acclaim, that it connects with some demographic in an important way and that we can build on that with more books from those creators.

Curricular or seasonal hooks can make your books easier to get BUT I would never recommend starting from there. You can think about that at the query or later at the marketing level."

John says to follow your own voice, and don't worry about commercial vs. personal work, make it personal. Make it unique to your voice, and that's what's going to define you in your career. Be the first-rate you and not a third-rate Jon Klassen.

Susan says the best picture book texts have room for an illustrator to bring it to life, but also are manuscripts meaty enough to provide pacing and carry through with a full, narrative story, which is why poetry is not always a natural fit for picture books even if it's a completely beautiful and lyrical poem.

Laurent asks them about books they loved as kids:

John mentions Virginia Lee Burton's LIFE STORY.

Susan Rich loved C D B! by William Steig (link only goes to the colorized version :( )

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23. KEYNOTER SOPHIE BLACKALLLLLLL!!!! Foraging for Stories

Sophie at the Gates Foundation with her artwork for the Measles and Rubella Initiative because she's so effing amazing. http://measlesrubellainitiative.org/sophie-blackall/
While there is nothing like hearing Sophie Blackall speak in person — and seeing the treasure trove of images that make up her slideshows — you can get a bit of a taste of this morning's speech by reading her Caldecott acceptance speech so kindly available online at The Horn Book.

Sophie also shares some photos of the installation of her collections she put together for Brooklyn Public Library, an installation that is as wild and fascinating as anything you'd find at the Natural Museum of History (both Sophie's installation and the American Museum of Natural History have penguins, but Sophie's wears a top hat).


REALLY, if you're not here today to hear Sophie, the best thing you can do is go buy all of Sophie's thirty or so books, immediately.

And also read her excellent blog, which tells in depth the making-of stories behind many of her books, including Finding Winnie as well as posts about her time in places like Rwanda or the DRC, where she was lucky enough to meet amazing kids and families.

Sophie ends with an Annie Dillard quote:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.


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24. Return by Aaron Becker





With Return, Aaron Becker completes his magical, wordless trilogy. Fueled by imagination, creativity and adventure, readers have followed a young girl as she copes with loneliness, opening a door to another world with the help of a red crayon in Journey. In  Quest, our hero finds a friend and a new adventure, pulled back into another world by a king who needs their help.





In Return, our hero is slumped against the door of her father's study, red kite in hand and red rubber ball at her feet, wishing he would pay attention to her instead of the work before him on his drafting table. When she fails to get his attention, she heads to her room where she draws a door on her wall, returning to her kingdom. When her father realizes his daughter is nowhere to be found, he discovers the magical door and follows.


Becker closes his trilogy perfectly, bringing a third character into this world, connecting father and daughter. The two face a villain who has a mysterious box that gives him the power to vacuum up the creations brought to life by the red, purple and yellow magical crayons held by the girl, her friend and the king of this world. As they race to defeat him and rescue the king, they discover a sea cave where ancient drawings on the walls give them the direction they need in the magical world and back at home.

I can't think of a trilogy of picture books, wordless or otherwise, that creates a world filled with adventure, architecture and creativity like the one that Becker has gifted readers with. If you aren't sure how to read a wordless picture book out loud or what sort of magic can happen when you fall into one as special as this, be sure to read How to Read a Picture Book without Words Out Loud and/or my review of the second book in this trilogy, Quest.








The first two books in this trilogy 
with links to my reviews:



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25. Picture Book Monday with a review of Sadako's Cranes

On August 6th, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Thousands of people died that day, and many thousands died in the months and years that followed from their injuries, radiation sickness, and cancer. One of these people was a little girl called Sadako. Her story is now famous, and it has touched the hearts of people all over the world. Today I have her story in picture book form, and it is presented in a way that makes this true story accessible to children.

Sadako's CranesSadako’s Cranes
Judith Loske
Translated by Kate Westerlund
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Minedition, 2015, 978-988-8341-00-9
One sunny August day in 1945 a little girl called Sadako and her pet cat were playing by the bank of the river. They lay on the grass, eat rice balls, and tried to catch crickets. Then a big black cloud drifted over everything and with the cloud came “fire and heat.” The cloud destroyed everything around them, and when it passed “Nothing was left but gray ash.”
   The years went by and people began to think less about that terrible day and the black cloud. Life went on. Then Sadoko became sick and she had to go to hospital. They learned that the black cloud was responsible for her illness. Sadoko’s brother told her about a legend that said “If you fold 1,000 paper cranes, you’ll get to make a wish.”
   Sadoko wanted to get well so she started folding paper cranes. Making the cranes made her happy but doing so also tired her out. Sadoko’s cat kept her company, and tried to keep her spirits up by telling her “stories about things I knew she loved.”
   This tale is based on the true story of a real little girl. Sadako Sasaki was living in Hiroshima, Japan, when an atomic bomb was dropped on that city on August 6, 1945. As a result of the radiation, Sadako, like so many other people who lived in Hiroshima, developed leukemia. She heard about the legend of the paper cranes and began to make as many of the origami creations as she could.
   By telling the story from the point of view of a cat, the author and illustrator of this beautiful, moving tale adds a layer of intimacy to what is already a powerful story. At the back of the book she tells us a little about the real Sadako and her legacy. 

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