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 second page of books written by authors under the letter "B"
Written by Rosalind Beardshaw
Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
When Emily's mother is called in to work on the day when she's promised to take Emily to the beach, she leaves the kid off with her grandmother, who magically makes everything alright. Grandma creates a pretend day at the beach, and generally acts silly and plays up a storm with the eager little girl. This book's a little rough around the edges: the disappointment Emily feels at the beginning is pretty strong, and the rest of the narrative is a bit clunky, and the whole book feels kinda off. But, for parents and kids who have a lot of scheduling conflicts, this might provide an opportunity to talk about things. (C)
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre
(Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, 2008)
A cute, clever, and ultimately irritating fantasy of childhood omnipotence. Here, an adorable young bear named Ted wakes up one day and wants to play doctor; he goes to school dressed in his lab coat and starts handing out goofy diagnoses left and right, and when this gets him in trouble with the teachers and principal, he cheerfully ignores their reprimands and keeps on "being" a doctor. (Part of the humor is that he prescribes cures that have nothing to do with the illnesses -- crutches for the mumps, a full body cast for bad breath, etc. -- jokes that probably soar over the heads of many young readers. If you have to stop reading the story to explain your jokes, maybe they don't really work... ) Anyway, when a playground accident occurs -- injuring a teacher, no less! -- it turns out Ted really does know how to be a doctor, and he saves the day! Functionally, the humor of the book is well-crafted, but it's the overall tone that made me dislike it, the flouting of adult authority has become a convention in modern kid's lit, and is almost always seen as a positive virtue. It's not, though, and if some kid shows up in a lab coat and starts handing medical advice and is told not to, well -- silly, uptight, priggish me -- it kinda seems like the kid should do what the teachers tell him and stop playing doctor. This didn't feel like a book that was celebrating creative, imaginative play as much as a story of an unintentional brat who didn't know when to stop and listen to the adults. But, oh-ho-ho! how funny it was to see the principal get all red in the face! I liked how this started, didn't like the end. (C-)
"The Bridge Is Up"
Written by Babs Bell
Illustrated by Rob Hefferan
(Harper Collins, 2004)
Geared towards the littlest readers, this is colorfully illustrated and light on plot: a moveable bridge is in the up position, and traffic has to wait until it comes back down. One by one the various commuters arrive -- a bus, a car, a bicycle, etc. -- with each (animal driven) vehicle waiting its turn until the final joyous release when they can go, go, go! Kids who are fascinated with machines will like this, also those who like repetitive text... Good, kinetic fun, lots of pretty colors. (B-)
"Bow Wow! Meow! A First Book Of Sounds"
Written by Melanie Bellah
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
(Golden Books, 1963)
My wife grew up with this book, and it was one of the first animal-sound books we read to our daughter. It was written in the early 1960s, but holds up well, all these decades later. The artwork is delightful (even if it is perilously close to those big-eyed velvet paintings of the same era...) while the text is simple and straightforward. Thankfully, the rhymes all work and the meter scans well, making this a pleasure to read aloud and easy to memorize. This is an easy, uncomplicated read, with lots of little details to look at and comment on -- all in all, a very sweet book. Ideal for very small babies and toddlers. (A)
Written by Ludwig Bemelmans
Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
(Viking Press, 1939)
The first of this endearing, long-lived Francophile series. A little girl named Madeline, living in a Catholic boarding school in Paris, goes to the hospital to have her appendix taken out, and when her schoolmates see how cushy things are in the hospital, they all want theirs out, too. Non-Catholics may be leery of the presence of Miss Clavel, the nun who runs the school, but there is no overt religious content, so it isn't really a big deal. Mostly this book features fun, impressionistic artwork and brisk, humorous text (including several wacked-out rhymes that I can only assume are awkward on purpose...) Francophiles will enjoy the scenes of various Parisian landmarks (the Eiffel Tower, Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame, etc.) and adult readers will enjoy the book's sly, sideways sense of humor. There are several sequels, but they seem cluttered and clunky by comparison... This one really is an oddball gem... It's been in print all these years for a reason! (B+)
Written by Ludwig Bemelmans
Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
(Viking Press, 1954)
Another charming yet odd book by Mssr. Bemelmans... Madeline and the girls from the boarding school adopt a dog named Genevieve, after the dog rescues frisky Madeline from an icy plunge into the River Seine. As with the first book, this one is packed with rich details of Parisian life (unlike the first book, this one doesn't seem to have an explanatory page, telling what all the landmarks are...) The surprise ending (Genevieve has puppies... oops! I gave it away!!) is fun, too, and gives you plenty to talk about. All in all, a nice little read. (B+)
"Madeline And The Bad Hat"
Written by Ludwig Bemelmans
Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
(Viking Press, 1956)
Horrible! The "bad hat" is Madeline's code for a little boy named Pepito, who moves in next door to the school. Pepito is the Spanish ambassador's son, and while we can be thankful that he isn't just an ethnic stereotype (he dresses up in a toreador's costume, but that's about it....) the behavior he models is simply atrocious. Pepito is supposed to be a male version of Madeline's willfulness and misbehavior -- in 1950s Dennis The Menace style, he shoots people with a slingshot and plays tricks, etc. But when Bemelmans shows the boy tying a cat up in a pillowcase and releasing it into a pack of dogs, that's just a bit too much for me. Yeah, the point is that this behavior is too violent, and goes beyond mere mischief -- Pepito gets hurt and goes to the hospital, presumably learning his lesson. But, jeez, even with the moral lesson, this seems like a bit too much, if you ask me. There are plenty of other books that you can use to discuss bad behavior -- they don't have to be so graphic, and so dark. Even if you were charmed by the other "Madeline" books, you might want to skip this one... It is definitely not suitable for the youngest, toddler-age readers. (D)
"Inside, Outside, Upside Down"
Written by Stan & Jan Berenstain
Illustrated by Stan & Jan Berenstain
(Beginner's Books, 1968)
Although they were part of a kid's cultural aether when I was growing up, I was never that big a fan of the Berenstain Bears... When I saw this one on the shelves, though, it brought a blast of recognition, and I was pleased to find that it resonated with my kid as well... A beginner's book of very few words, this has an anarchic, playful quality that's engaging and fun... On the surface, the story may seem a little anxiety-provoking: a young bear-cub boy climbs into a cardboard box, only to get scooped up by an absent-minded workman, then is packed onto a truck bed, only to escape accidentally when the truck hit a bump and the box bounces off into the roadside. No harm, no foul, though: the boy goes running back home to tell his perpelexed mother about all his fun adventures. All in all, this is a lively, engaging vocabulary-builder for the littlest readers, and one of the most memorable Berenstain books. (B)
"D Is For Dolphin"
Written by Cami Berg
Illustrated by Janet Biondi
(Windom Books, 1991)
Exploring the ABCs through beautiful blue dolphins... or is it the other way around? This is a nice book for any kids who are in love with these wonderful marine mammals... The pictures are bold and realistic, and capture some of the grandeur of the open ocean. However, some of the concepts are a bit advanced ("P is for Pod," "R is for Radar," etc.) and the tone of the artwork has very little variation -- all light blue, all underwater, all the same basic dolphin shapes -- and the book may speak best to kids who already have a special passion for dolphins and whales. You might also try checking out Lambert Davis' joyful, engaging Swimming With Dolphins, which has a bit more, um, depth to it... (B)
"To & Fro, Fast & Slow"
Written by Durga Bernhard
Illustrated by Durga Bernhard
(Walker & Company, 2001)
An "issue book" that bogs down under the weight of its own self-importance, as well as its cluttered, confusing presentation. On the surface it's about contrasts and opposites, but slowly you realize it's about a girl shuttling between her two divorced parents -- one lives in town, the other in the country, etc. The trouble is that the story isn't presented very clearly, either in the text or visually -- you're just expected to be 100% on the author's wavelength and intuitively "get" what she's telling you. If not, oh well. I just thought this book was difficult to connect with, emotionally, aesthetically or intellectually. I didn't get it, and I'm not so sure the failing was all mine. Perhaps, though, if you were an eight-year-oldish kid with divorced parents, it might have more resonance. (C-)
Written by Lynne Berry
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Henry Holt & Co., 2005)
Five little ducklings get bundled up and go for a wintertime romp, first some ice skating, then a snowball fight, and finally back home for the obligatory snacks, hot cocoa and nap. The text has joyful feel and a simple rhyming scheme -- what really makes this book a joy is Hiroe Nakata's vibrant, footloose artwork: I'm a fan. I see her name, and I'll definitely pick the book up. Add this one to your list of snowytime fun books! (B)
"Up On Daddy's Shoulders"
Written by Matt Berry
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
(Scholastic Books, 2006)
Not much to the story, but a nice "daddy book" with all the action taking place from the viewpoint of a young boy riding on Daddy's shoulders all day long, from the moment they leave the house 'til nighttime, when the boy gets plunked down into the top bunk of his bed. A very simple story that takes in nature, shooting hoops and a trip to the zoo -- definitely geared towards the littlest readers. (C+)
"Red Light, Green Light, Mama And Me"
Written by Cari Best
Illustrated by Niki Daly
(Orchard Books, 1995)
A sweet story about a young girl named Lizzie who goes to work with her mother, meeting mom's co-workers and seeing her daily routine. The fact that Mom works as the children's librarian in a big downtown library makes this an even more special story for budding young bookworms. Nice art and a charming first-person narrative, with a light tone that reflects the cheerfulness and exuberance of a happy, well-loved child. Works as a mommy book, a work book, and as pro-book propaganda. What more could you want? (B+)
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