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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 third page of books written by authors under the letter "B"






Kids Books -- "B" By Author

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"Ballerino Nate"
Written by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley
Illustrated by R. W. Alley
(Penguin/Dial Books, 2006)

A great dance story, with a gender twist. After attending a school ballet show, a young boy named Nate decides he wants to dance ballet as well, but his older, butcher brother Ben teases him and tells him that boys can't be ballerinas. With his parents' support, Nate perseveres and enters a dance class, which he loves even though he's the only boy there. Ben keeps teasing him until one day Mom takes Nate to see a professional dance company where half the ensemble are men, and one of the principal dancers meets Nate and gives him encouragement. It turns out Ben was right about one thing: men can't be ballerinas, but the man suggests the word ballerino instead, since that indicates a male dancer. The PC sentiment aside, this is a lovely book, with great artwork that captures the personalities of all involved and provides lots of nice details (including the older brother playing video games at home, giving this a decidedly contemporary slant...) There are a few rough spots in the text -- particularly when the dad makes a parallel between the two girls on Ben's softball team and Nate going to a mostly-girl dance class; that passage could have been clearer -- but it's no biggie, the story is still a winner. A heartwarming book about gender stereotypes that makes its point without placing too much emphasis on the "you're a sissy!" part of the equation. Recommended! (A)


"Beauty And The Beast"
Adapted by Jan Brett
Illustrated by Jan Brett
(Clarion, 1989)

A magnificent version of this old fairytale... If you'd like to introduce your child to this classic theme, but are leery about exposing them to the well-known Disney film (and those godawful songs!) then this book is a wonderful alternative. Brett's finely detailed artwork is the main draw, a lush, ornate style drawing on earlier, Edwardian sources -- the look is very realistic, with the Beast shown more or less an as anthropomorphized warthog and Beauty as a lively lass with golden ringlets. The story is laid out simply and straightforwardly, with vivid scenes and good dialogue. All in all, a very classy, compelling rendition. Recommended! (A)


"Am I Big Or Little?"
Written by Margaret Park Bridges
Illustrated by Tracy Dockray
(SeaStar, 2000)

This one grapples with one of the big questions of the toddler set: am I a little baby or a big kid? Trouble is, the text doesn't really delve that deeply into the psychology of getting "big," opting instead for would-be uber-cuteness, with couplets like, "You're little enough to stand on my feet when we dance/But I'm big enough to hold on tight when you spin me" and "You're little enough to crawl under your bed/But I'm big enough to reach out and tickle you!" The preciousness of the writing is accentuated by the artwork, which is a bit too Hallmark-cardlike for me. For the right families, this book is probably a real gem, others may simply find it cloying and shallow. Also, I'm not a big fan of split-narrative texts, like this one, where the mother says something on one page, and the child's point of view follows on the next. It's a hard trick to pull off well, and Bridges' text doesn't quite do it for me. (C-)



Marc Brown -- see author profile


"The Three Billy Goats Gruff"
Adapted by Marcia Brown
Illustrated by Marcia Brown
(Harcourt Brace, 1957)

A remarkably grisly version of this old folk tale... Rather than merely knock the troll off the bridge, this billy goat gruff graphically dismembers him, poking out his eyes and reducing him to "bits, body and bones." (The rhyming line about how the goat has "two great big stones" might also raise a few eyebrows...) Besides being rather gory, the text is also oddly crafted, and a bit difficult to plow through. The artwork is okay, but not so much so that you'd really need to read the book... Unless you're into bloodshed, you might be happier with other, more subtle versions... There are plenty to be found. (C-)



Margaret Wise Brown -- see author profile


"Bob And Otto"
Written by Robert O. Bruel
Illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

The story of two friends, an earthworm and a caterpillar, whose friendship is tested when the caterpillar feels the tug of nature and has to go spin his cocoon. The friends part, apparently with some bad feelings, but reunite after Bob grows his wings and flutters back to find his old pal. The story was written by Nick Bruel's dad, a psychologist, and discovered after the older Bruel passed away, then adapted into a picturebook with a few minot changes... In all honesty, the story reads a bit roughly -- it's a nice concept, but the script could have been smoothed out a bit. It's not entirely clear how much (or why) Otto's feelings were hurt by Bob's decision to climb a tree rather than stick with his pal, down on ground level. The underlying issues of envy and resentment are perhaps too dark to tackle directly in a book aimed at preschoolers, so the compromise version is dramatically unsatisfying. Still, it's a cute story with a nice message about the compromises inherent in strong friendships, and even though I wasn't that into it, my kid did ask to have it re-read a couple of times (B-)



Jean & Laurent de Brunhoff -- and the "Babar" books


"Book, Book, Book!"
Written by Deborah Bruss
Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
(Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Ah, puns! Hoorah...! This is one of my favorite barnyard books, about a farm full of animals who get bored when the city kids go back to school, so they go to town seeking some fun of their own. They wind up at the local library, where the librarians are befuddled by their moo-ed and whinnied requests, at least until the chicken goes in and asks for a "Book, Book, Book!" The plot is goofy and the delivery is delightful... And wait'll you hear what the frog has to say! (B+)


"Fanny's Dream"
Written by Caralyn Buehner
Illustrated by Mark Buehner
(Penguin/Dial Books, 1996)

A charming spoof (and rebuttal) of the Cinderella myth... A frontierswoman farmer named Fanny dreams of going to the big dance at the mayor's mansion, where she is sure to be swept away by a prince, or duke, or colonel, or someone romantic like that. Her neighbors mock Fanny and her dreams, telling her she's too homely for a fairytale ending, and besides, she'll never get invited to the big event. When Fanny's fairy godmother fails to materialize, one of her kinder neighbors shows up instead: gentle, softspoken Heber drops by and presents Fanny with an unglamorous, low-key proposal of marriage. She accepts, and they build a life together, raising several children amid a harsh life, farming out on the plains. By the time ol' fairy godmother does show up -- twenty years later -- Fanny isn't interested. She's found the value of a hard-won successful marriage, and she isn't about to throw it away for pretty, frilly dreams. This book combines a certain strain of feminism with the no-nonsense pragmatism of the Midwest and Mountain states, and it's got a lot of heart. One word of warning, though: we thought our Cinderella-obsessed little girl might get a kick out of this -- we've read other parodies and adaptations that she's enjoyed -- but she was utterly nonplussed and didn't know what to make of this prince-less drama. So, maybe it's a "big girl" thing... Might be great at the right time, though! (B-)


"No Nap!"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh
(Clarion, 1989)

Chaos rules when Dad takes care of little Susie for the day, and she refuses to take a nap. He tries all sorts of strategies to tire her out, placate or cajole her, but eventually it's dear old Dad who passes out, and Susie who's awake when Mama gets home. The story rings true, but it may still make a few parents uneasy to read a book that models so many different strategies (and excuses) for not going to bed. Still, it's pretty charming -- nice punchline at the end! (B)


"Sunflower House"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
(Harcourt Brace & Co., 1996)

An excellent nature appreciation/gardening book, taking us full-circle through a season of sunflowers. A boy and his parents plant the flowers in a circle rather than in rows and when they plants grow tall, they provide a fun, mysterious playhouse for the boy and his friends. Of course, after the flowers mature and the plants start to fall over, the children grow sad and have to accept that there are changes that they can't control. The cycle of life makes it all okay, though: the kids decide to harvest the seeds, saving some for next year and scatter others around outside for the birds. The message is simple, the story is compelling, the realistic artwork is very nice and visually well composed. There are many books with similar themes, and this is certainly one of the best. (B+)


"Butterfly House"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Greg Shed
(Scholastic Books, 1999)

A first-person narrative about a little girl who finds a fuzzy black caterpillar and, with the help of her kindly grandfather, builds it a nesting box, where it can make the transition from larva to butterfly. Then, when the time comes, she faces the if-you-love-someone-set-them-free moment, and lets the painted lady go... In a circle-of-life twist, the girl grows up to be an old woman, and her flower garden is graced by thousands of butterflies each year, the grateful descendants of the original. A nice nature-lovers morality tale, showing kindness and empathy, and also a nice how-to book for folks who either just want to know how butterflies metamorphose, or want to build a butterfly box themselves. (B+)


"Girls A To Z"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Suzanne Bloom
(Boyds Mills Press, 2002)

A groovy, multicultural girl-power alphabet book, with Eve the Engineer, Flora the Firefighter, Ula the Umpire, and others offering the promise that any little girl can be what she wants to be when she grows up... In addition to the professional positions and more esoteric choices, there are also some more traditional roles mixed in, such as librarian, teacher, nanny and next president, so no options are denied. The artwork is nice, the message is good... My only qualm was that Chris the Computer Whiz is wheelchair-bound, the only disabled character in the book... Glad to see disabilities represented, but that particular match-up seemed a bit stereotyped. Anyway, if you're looking for a nice girl-power book, along the lines of Two Girls Can, this is a nice option. (B+)


"Whales Passing"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Lambert Davis
(Blue Sky Press, 2003)

A disappointing book about orcas, or killer whales. I was drawn in by the art, which I recognized from Mr. Davis's Swimming With Dolphins, a lovely book that is sort of this book's corollary, but with dolphins. In this one, a boy and his father stand on a seaside bluff and watch a whale pod pass by, noting their beauty and grace. The trouble, though, is with the text, which I found overly lofty and poetic, with the narrative buried under flowery rhetorical devices. A simpler, more prosaic style would have been more readable and, methinks, better suited to a younger audience. As is, I found this story to be practically unreadable. (C-)


"I Love Going Through This Book"
Written by Robert Burleigh
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Joanna Cotler Books, 2001)

Ingenious in conception, although I found Yaccarino's artwork a little difficult to focus on, and the writing a bit flat. Still, this is a delightful, barrier-breaking book in which the act of reading the book itself is the central topic... The main character goes from page to page and scene to scene, bending back pages, peering through rips and holes, wondering what's on the other side, commenting on the very book that he is part of. Then, when he gets to the end, he simply follows the arrows back around to the front cover, where he is ready to start all over again. That last zinger punchline is perhaps the best part of the book, and may delight children who are old enough to really get the joke. But, if truth be told, this book does lack fizz -- the writing's a little clunky, and it also isn't Yaccarino's best work. For a similar assault on the fourth wall, check out Jon Stone's Monster At The End Of This Book, which is a little crisper and more engaging. (B-)


"Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1939)

Burton's books are definitely from another era, celebrating hard work, determination and pride in labor, and also in thrall to the power of the still-booming industrial revolution. There's a whiff of the hardships of the Great Depression here, as well, in this Paul Bunyan-esque tall tale of a rugged fella who can dig as much with his good, old steam shovel as a hundred men can in one day, and yet they have been displaced and made redundant by the new diesel machines. Still, they find a job that they can prove themselves on, and though it's their last project together Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne (the steam shovel) go out in a blaze of glory. Like Burton's later work, The Old House, this book asserts the value of honoring our past, particularly things that are being discarded in the rush towards modernity, and yet it also recognizes the inevitability of change. Obviously the story works on more than one level, as proved by the book's enduring popularity with little kids -- if it was just a preachy morality tale, it wouldn't still be in print, more than six decades after it was written. The bottom line: little kids who like big machines will dig this book. (Pardon the pun...!) (B-)


"The Little House"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1942)

A powerful, visually appealing story of a little country farmhouse that gets slowly engulfed, year by year, by the encroachment of a nearby booming metropolis. Eventually, the house is left derelict in a seedy neighborhood and is about to be demolished so something shiny and new can be built, when someone comes along who recognizes its beauty and saves it from the wrecking ball. I remember this book making a big impression on me when I was a little kid... It's a great story, artfully told and with a complex, multilayered narrative. Also a message that's close to my heart (perhaps in part to how moved I was by the story when I was young...) When I rediscovered it as a parent, though, I realized just how crushingly sad it is. In dramatic terms, this is an remorseless tragedy, with page after page of ratcheting sadness, only bringing the happy ending at the very end. It's a powerful critique of the changes that 20th Century moderization and urban sprawl brought to America, and the device of personalizing these changes in the form of an anthropomorphized little cottage was a canny move on Burton's part. Still, it's a story that's pitched at sensitive kids, and those very kids may have a hard time dealing with it until they are ready: my kid, who enjoyed Katy and Mike Mulligan almost burst into tears when we read this one... I guess we might need to wait a few years to try it again! Still, this is one of the best environmentalist stories ever written for kids, right up there with Dr. Seuss's The Lorax. Highly recommended. (A)


"Katy And The Big Snow"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1943)

Another story about hard work, pluck and pride in a job well done, though this time around -- in the middle of the Second World War -- the tone is one of pure, undaunted optimism. Katy, the giant-sized snowplow who digs out an entire town after the biggest blizzard ever, is a pure, 100% All-American hero. (Indeed, the book could be seen as a parable for the War itself, with American might bringing civilization back to a frozen, dead world...) Technology and humanity combine in the form of the cheerful Katy, who likes nothing better than to work hard and feel useful... The book will appeal to kids who like big machines, and also following details: a map of the snowbound city is printed at the front of the book, so you can track Katy's progress as she digs out one road after another. Also nice for kids living in the Northeast and Midwest, where big blizzards are a regular part of life -- this shows both how nature can pin our ears back and how we're able to dig ourselves out and get traffic humming again. Love the old-fashioned artwork, and the old-fashioned story. It's also neat that the hero is female, even though the story is very macho. (B)


"Mike Mulligan And More: Four Classic Stories By Virginia Lee Burton"
Written by Virginia Lee Burton
Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
(Houghton Mifflin, 1942)

A handy single volume that collects Mike Mulligan, from 1939, The Little House (1942), Katy The Big Snow (1943) and Maybelle The Cable Car, from 1952. (A)


"Jamari's Drum"
Written by Eboni Bynum & Roland Jackson
Illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
(Groundwood, 2004)

A fascinating folk tale set in a West African village, where a young child named Jamari learns a sacred drum rhythm that keeps his village safe from disaster... When he grows to be a man, though, he forgets about the duty that was passed on to him by one of the village elders, and rather than take up his place as a musical griot, he gets enmeshed in more mundane, "real world" activities, like farming and raising a family. When the earth actually does open up and the skies turn black (volcano), Jamari remembers what old Baba Mdogo had taught him, and he sits down n the town square and beats out the rhythm that makes the mountain calm. The story is nice, evoking nature and hidden mystical powers that surround us, as well as a reverence for "the old ways..." This is matched by the expressive imagery, a brightly colored folk art style that is quite appealing. Although the traditional tribal life depicted here is clearly endangered by modernity and consumer culture, it's still nice to explore the agrarian lifestyle of the villagers. It's distant from the culture of most children's books and a nice breath of fresh air... Also, it's neither exoticized nor overly idealized, so the story has a pureness about it that's kind of nice. Definitely worth checking out, espeically if you have any interest in drumming and percussion... it's a lot of fun reading the drum beats aloud! (B+)


"Nutmeg And Barley: A Budding Friendship"
Written by Janie Bynum
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Candlewick, 2006)

Opposites attract in this tale of a shy field mouse named Barley, and his rambunctious, chatty neighbor, Nutmeg the squirrel. Nutmeg is always inviting Barley over to visit, and he is always too shy and self-contained to consent. Finally, when the mouse gets a bad cold, Nutmeg takes over and nurses him back to health, cementing a lifelong friendship and/or romance. I wasn't wild about this book, but my daughter loved it (for about a week...) The artwork was okay, but the story struck me as fairly old-fashioned, with stereotyped gender roles and a clumsy resolution. But in one of those Barney-like moments, it rang a bell in my kid's imagination, so instead of shuffling it out of the way (as planned), I wound up reading it for much longer than I'd have guessed... Might not strike a chord with parents, but some kids will love it. (B-)








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