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Welcome to ReadThatAgain.com, a just-for-fun website reviewing a bunch of children's books that our family has enjoyed over the last few years. We try to find fun, intelligent, well-crafted books, but most importantly, books that kids like! Hopefully you'll find these reviews useful... Please feel free to comment on the site or send recommendations for books we may have missed... In the meantime, enjoy!

This is the first page of books written by authors under the letter "B"






Kids Books -- "B" By Author

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"Digby And Kate" (Puffin/Penguin Books, 1988)
"Digby And Kate Again" (Dutton/Penguin Books, 1989)
"Digby And Kate And The Beautiful Day" (Dutton/Penguin Books, 1998)
"Digby And Kate, 1, 2, 3" (Dutton/Penguin Books, 2004)
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Marsha Winborn

If you're ready to jump into the whole "reader" books scene, this "level 2" series is pretty nice, though a little rough around the edges. Digby and Kate are a pair of unlikely friends, a dog and a cat whose different temperaments do little to dampen their strong bond of friendship. Kate the cat is fiery and self-centered, she likes to hunt little critters and act impetuously; Digby is much mellower and more measured, and he responds to Kate's wild side with patience and forbearance. But even though they drive each other nuts from time to time, they always compromise, have fun together and enjoy each other's company. Each book features four or five short stories with simple themes like learning to ride a bike, raking up leaves, playing games and not cheating... Although the prose is almost mind-numbingly plain -- you rarely see verb contractions, and the sentence structures are unrelentingly flat -- there is still a nice, healthy undercurrent of wry, subtle humor, often centered around Kate's chaotic tendencies. (Her desire to kill and eat mice may be a little upsetting for smaller children; if you're reading these books for your children, you might want to gloss that part over. You never actually see any violence, though, so it's not that big of a deal...) On the surface, these stories are a bit bland, but kids will love them anyway... My girl was totally caught up by the series and wanted to read the books over and over right away. The only problem is there are only a handful of books... they run out pretty quickly! (Note to cautious parents: a central theme of the series is how Digby and Kate stay friends despite their differences. They are sometimes a little rude to each other and say things like "go away!" If you don't want to read books that model that kind of behavior, you might want to screen this series ahead of time. Digby And Kate Again is probably the mellowest one in that regard, nothing particularly objectionable there.) (B)


"One Saturday Afternoon"
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Kate Duke
(Penguin/Dutton, 1999)
A charming entry-level chapter book about a large family of bears, each with their interests and quirks -- and each with their own brief chapter inside a larger connected narrative. The story begins on an unusual note, with Mama Bear setting some boundaries and going out for a walk -- by herself -- to clear her head and get a little personal space. Papa Bear affably obliges, and diverts the kids by asking if they'd like to help him bake some bread. Mama gets out of the house for a while (how often do you see that in a children's book??) and gets a much-welcome brain break, while the kids get into all sorts of mischief. They play school, and argue about who gets to be teacher, etc. and from time to time call on their parents to referee... When Jack, the baby, starts writing on the walls and eating red crayons, Mama decides it's time for him nap. Papa gets the last chapter, where he finally gets to enjoy the fruits of his labors and have some of his fresh-baked bread... After, of course, all the kids get some first, instead. A nice portrait of mellow but not placid family life... Readers who want to see more of this family will be cheered by the sequel -- One Saturday Evening, which was eight years in the offing! (B)


"Anna's Book"
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Catherine O'Neill
(Dutton, 2004)
A little girl has a new favorite book, and wants her mom to read it... again and again and again. Her mom's kind of busy, so she finally disengages, after which Anna takes over and reads the book herself... again and again and again... (Yay, happy ending!) It's a nice, simple story... At first we weren't really wowed by it, but it has since become a favorite... the kind of thing that gets requested again and again, as a matter of fact. Plus, anything that's pro-book propaganda is fine by me. Hate the sequel, though. (See below.) (B)


"Anna Shares"
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Catherine O'Neill
(Dutton, 2004)
As with the first "Anna" story, I like the artwork, the pacing, the feel of this book. The only trouble with it was that the title is completely misleading... The little girl Anna doesn't learn to share, and indeed is rewarded for being a complete brat. Anna has a friend over to play, but when her mother brings out cookies to share, Anna grabs them all and refuses to give any to the boy. He cries, the mother intervenes and gives him one of the four cookies, then Anna pitches a fit, causing the mom to send her friend home. After that, Anna "shares" the remaining three cookies with her stuffed animals, then gobbles them up, and smiles with self-satisfaction. While this depictation of greedy, selfish behavior rings true emotionally -- kids are like that -- the "resolution" offered by the author is worse than a half-measure, it's a travesty. Reviewers who praise this book for celebrating Anna's inner "strength" are themselves condoning hostile, antisocial behavior, and miss the point that all adults, book authors included, have a responsibility to help small children tell the difference between right and wrong. Being a greedy jerk and a bully is not right. My daughter, who is very young and wrestling with the whole sharing-vs.-asserting yourself dilemma, found this book at the library and brought it over for me to read, and I was horrified by the ending -- it's one hundred percent NOT the message I want her to see. (D-)


"Home"
Written by Jeannie Baker
Illustrated by Jeannie Baker
(Greenwillow, 2004)

A brilliant book showing the rebirth of a blighted urban neighborhood, as seen through the eyes of a young family that moves into a modest home on a seedy, run-down city street. Each densely-detailed, text-free page shows the same vista -- the view outside the daughter's window, from the day she was born, up through her marriage and the birth of her own child. Taken in two year leaps, we see the neighborhood slowly change for the better: the family digs up the concrete in their back yard and plants first a lawn, and then a wild, sprawling garden. One year their neighbor reaches over the fence and offers the girl a cutting of one of his plants, which eventually grows to be a towering tree; eventually the two families take down the fence between their yards, and a junky sheet metal fence facing the street is replaced with a trim wooden one, with a gate that the girl can use to go out onto the steadily improving boulevard. Meanwhile, a nearby crack alley is turned into a well-traveled corner park, vacant storefronts are brought to life and, way off in the distance, a highway flyover and an abandoned factory are torn down, to reveal a hidden river, with sailboats drifting by. The optimism of this book stands in contrast to many of Baker's other works, which shows environmental issues going in the opposite direction: downhill and towards disaster. Although this is a beautiful parable about community involvement and reclaiming the green from the gray, Baker never denies the permanence of the city: this story isn't about escapism, but rather about hopefulness and the hard work it takes to make positive change come true. Beautiful, and highly recommended. (A+)


"The Story Of Rosy Dock"
Written by Jeannie Baker
Illustrated by Jeannie Baker
(Greenwillow, 1995)

Another beautifully illustrated, ecologically-themed photo-collage picturebook from Australian author Jeannie Baker. This one focusses on the desert habitat around the Finke River, in central Australia, an area that is usually drought-stricken, but has sudden torrential rains that explosively bring the sands into full bloom... Baker vividly shows the cycles of desert life, and how various plants and animals adapt to the forboding climate. The "rosy dock" of the title refers to a red-petaled flower that a European immigrant introduced into the Outback; it flourished and now covers much of the desert, blooming wildly when the rains come. Oddly enough, Baker only describes how the red flowers burst into bloom, but she doesn't make clear that they are an invasive species that is crowding out the native plants, at least not in the main story. There is an endnote text that talks about the ecological issues, but if you just read the picture part of the book, you might think it was a good thing. Even though the underlying issues are a bit fuzzy, the book does a great job showing the life cycles of the desert -- her artwork, as always, is captivating and intensely detailed. (B)


"Home In The Sky"
Written by Jeannie Baker
Illustrated by Jeannie Baker
(Greenwillow, 1984)

A pigeon in New York City flies the coop and goes astray for a couple of days. A boy finds the bird in a subway car and brings him to his apartment, but his mother convinces him to let the bird go, since it is obviously tame and has a home. The bird makes it home safely, and rejoins his old flock. The story might not resonate with everyone, but Baker -- with her usual visual aplomb -- creates an intimate vision of New York in all its dingy glory. Cool collages. (B-)


"Where The Forest Meets The Sea"
Written by Jeannie Baker
Illustrated by Jeannie Baker
(Greenwillow, 1987)

A boy and his father boat into a secluded cove on Australia's Eastern shore (on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest) and spend the day on the edge of pure, wild Nature. The boy goes off by himself and imagines a world of dinosaurs and crocodiles, primordial life not much distant from what is still there before him. In the book's final pages, however, he has a vision of the rugged beach covered with condos and hotels, chopped up and contoured by capitalism. The message is hardly subtle, but then again, neither is the commercial development of practically the entire Pacific Basin. Baker's visual style is stunning: her collages of the giant tree trunks seem fully three-dimensional and practically leap off the pages. A sumptuous downer, definitely worth checking out for any kids who are pondering ecological issues. (B)


"Little Green"
Written by Keith Baker
Illustrated by Keith Baker
(Harcourt, 2001)

A young boy sits at a window seat and watches a ruby-throated hummingbird whiz about the garden, describing what he sees. The collage-style pictures of the hummingbird and flowers are quite nice; the book also turns out to be about art and creative thought, because at the end, we find that the boy has been painting what he sees -- not a literal, representational picture, however, but a bunch of dynamic squiggles and splashy dashes that show how the bird's wild flight felt to the boy. The end result, a wild, chaotic, joyful picture, looks like the kind of thing a much younger child might make, thus validating the artistic work of budding young artists. Nice. (B)


"The Third-Story Cat"
Written by Leslie Baker
Illustrated by Leslie Baker
(Little, Brown & Co., 1987)

A gorgeously illustrated epic story of an indoor cat who escapes one day and has a big adventure in the park near her house, then comes back to curl up with the the little girl who "owns" her... This book perfectly captures the body language and attitude of a lissome calico cat, and the interior life of an innocent, vulnerable house pet. This should be like capnip to feline fans everywhere. (A)


"The Antique Store Cat"
Written by Leslie Baker
Illustrated by Leslie Baker
(Little Brown, 1992)

In the first sequel to Baker's Third Story Cat, Alice the calico escapes again and when it starts raining finds refuge in a neighborhood antique store. Naturally, she breaks some stuff by accident, but then saves the day when a dishonest customer comes by... Then, just as she grows lonely for home, the little girl she lives with shows up and takes her home. The plot is a bit forced -- enjoyable, but more conventional and not as magical (or as inherently feline) as the first book. I like Baker's artwork, though! (B-)


"Paris Cat"
Written by Leslie Baker
Illustrated by Leslie Baker
(Little Brown, 1999)

A disappointing followup to Baker's sublime Third Story Cat. Here, without prelude, Alice the calico cat and Annie, her girl, are in Paris, and Annie promptly runs off and gets lost. She tours the town, rambling through the Louvre and various other landmarks, but there's very little rhyme or reason to the story, and it doesn't even echo the first volume very well. Lovely watercolors, though. One funny bit is how the little, lost kitty is terrified by the sight of all the dogs that the Parisians take with them to the cafes and restaurants. If only she'd mentioned all the cigarette smoking as well, it would be quite a travelogue! Anyway, this doesn't add much to the original book -- detracts from its magical feel, actually. I'd say skip this one. (C)


"My Day, Your Day"
Written by Robin Ballard
Illustrated by Robin Ballard
(Greenwillow, 2001)

Parents take their kids to school, and while they are there, the parents go to work. In a series of "split screen" two-page spreads, we see each child at school (on the left-hand side) and the parents at work (on the right)... Each parent-child duo can be identified by their matching clothes, and each child does something at school that mirrors their parent's profession (a girl whose dad works in construction likes to play with blocks, a boy whose mother is an agronomist enjoys a seed-planting project, etc.) This book is a little difficult for a number of reasons: it flips from character to character, and from locale to locale, which makes it extra work for readers, also, it's largely textless, so parents are put in the position of reinforcing the central message (which I find a little troubling) that kids grow up to be just like their parents. I'm sure kids are very influenced by what their parents do and what their interests are, but this book seems to project the message that this affinity and imitation are inevitable and universal, which I just don't think is true. Still, it's a good, positive representation of the school day, and a curiousity-satisfying glimpse into the adult world, for kids who wonder where mommy and daddy go after they drop them off in the morning. Worth a spin. (B-)


"I Used To Be The Baby"
Written by Robin Ballard
Illustrated by Robin Ballard
(Greenwillow, 2002)

A nice, straightforward story about an older child (maybe three or four years old?) who is adjusting to his new role as the "big" one... He's a model sibling, playing with the baby, helping feed him and take him to the park, reading him books, and everything in between. It's nice, uncomplicated modeling for positive behavior... The only sour note for the more overprotective among us is one page in which the kids are parked in front of the TV... Other than that, though, everything in here is positive and appropriate, if a bit overly idealistic. Not dramatically engaging or particularly exciting, but good, functional pro-baby propaganda. (B)


"Close Your Eyes"
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
(Frances Foster Books, 2002)

It's naptime for a bouncy little tiger, but the kitten wants to stay up and the mama tiger has to talk it into going down... The kitten asks a million little questions like, if I close my eyes, will I be able to see the sky? and the mother patiently encourages it to use its imagination and dream sweet dreams. Simply written, with boldly colored, eye-popping artwork, this is a lovely little book. My only complaint is that it dwells on anxieties that my child didn't already have (fear of the dark, for example) so we had to skip a few pages worth of text to keep the soft, reassuring tone going. (However, if you have a child working through some of these issues, this would be a good book to use to address them...) A winner: I was asked to read it again and again. (A)


"The Great Blue House"
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
(Farrar Straus Giroux/Frances Foster Books, 2005)

What happens inside a large, comfy summer home when the humans go back to the city in the Fall? The critters come in and take refuge from the wind and snow, and raise families of their own. Writing in a soft, poetic tone, Banks tells the story of a big, old house with lots of little stories. It also turns out to be a circle-of-life story: by the time the humans come back, the cat that snuck in through the cat flaps is about to have kittens and the sparrow in the attic has hatched her brood as well. Plus, the humans have a new baby, too! Like many of the Banks-Hallensleben books, this has a somewhat rarified air -- I wouldn't recommended it for everyone, but for the right readers it will be a real treat. (B)


"Fox"
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007)

A coming-of-age story about a fox pup who is under the care of two loving parents, but is eager to see the world for itself. After spending a year learning to hunt and to hide and to store food for the winter, the little fox emerges in its second Spring as a young adult, and is told by the parents now is the time. The story is a more conventional narrative than the typical Banks-Hallensleben outing -- the text is a little flat, but the artwork is luminous. There are a few minor quibbles -- the way Banks words it, it almost seems like the entire story takes place in a single day; also, overprotectivoid parents must be prepared to admit that critters kill critters, for this is a nature book that mentions killing, although nothing violent or upsetting is shown in the pictures. Hallensleben does a fabulous job -- each panel evokes a sense of wonder and warmth that will instantly draw you in. Nice book -- would make a great companion to Joyce Carol Oates's Where Is Little Reynard. (B)


"I Want To Be An Astronaut"
Written by Byron Barton
Illustrated by Byron Barton
(Harper Collins, 1988)

A nice book with bold graphics, ideal for kids who want to grow up and jump around in zero gravity. Personally, I find it a little depressing that the book centers in on NASA's space shuttle, which has always struck me as a rather timid project and more of a place-saver than an actual space program, but hey, you make due with what you've got, right? I just want my kid to be able to go to Mars, if she wants to. (B+)


"If Frogs Made Weather"
Written by Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrated by Dorothy Donohue
(Holiday House, 2005)

If frogs made the weather, it would always be wet... If it was up to cats, it would always be sunny... Birds like the springtime, flies prefer the heat of summer... I see where this is going, and I like the concept, but this book didn't really click with me. The writing, which is kind of haiku-ish, feels like it should rhyme, but doesn't, and winds up feeling a bit stilted. Also, some of the choices don't ring true, like -- why would turtles prefer it to rain, or weasels want it to be foggy? I suppose mostly this is okay -- possibly I'm just being a bit too grouchy. (C+)






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