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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 "F"






Kids Books -- "F" By Author

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"Sunflower"
Written by Miela Ford
Illustrated by Sally Noll
(Greenwillow, 1995)

A girl plants a sunflower seed, waters it and watches is grow. Soon it towers over her head and the birds and butterflies come to share in the bounty. A few seeds are saved to plant next year, and the story cycles around again... The text and pictures are clear and read well; there is no mistaking what the story is about, and the celebration of life, growth and nurturing comes through loud and clear. My little girl loved this book, and wanted to plant some seeds right away... Too bad I read it to her in November! Recommended. (A)


"What Did You Do Today? The First Day Of School"
Written by Toby Forward
Illustrated by Carol Thompson
(Houghton Mifflin/Clarion, 2004)

A going-to-school book with a split-screen narrative structure: on the left-hand side we see the boy at school, while on the right we see his mother at her office job. Their activities though the day roughly parallel one another -- work, writing, snacktime, etc. -- which, actually is kind of a depressing concept, if you stop to think of it. I'm not a big fan of dual-narrative picturebooks, and didn't think this one really rose above the problems inherent to the format. It was okay, but there are better books with similar themes out there. I'm a bit of a fan of Carol Thompson's artwork, but it didn't really click for me here. Oh, well. (Reissued in paperback as The First Day Of School.) (C)


"Time For Bed"
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
(Gulliver, 1993)

A top-notch going-to-sleep book, with beautiful illustrations and a gentle, soothing, effective rhyme pattern. A mother coos to her child, telling her how each of the animal babies are falling asleep, all across the world -- lambs, deer, cats, birds, even sleepy, scaly snakes. The text verges on the ooey-gooey, but that's okay, it's supposed to. The delicate, flowing rhythm of the verses will enchant little readers for many months, and help instill a love of language as well. Recommended. (PS - we have it in board book form; it's a well-chewed book.) (B+)


"Zoo-Looking"
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Candace Whitman
(Mondo Publishing, 1996)

A nice animals-in-the-zoo story which also functions as a daddy book, since he takes the kids to the zoo. The text isn't Fox's strongest work, but overall this is a very colorful, appealing book, with bright artwork and a lively pace. One page is troubling, as it refers to how one baby animal "got a smack"... It takes a while to figure out that she meant a kiss and not a spanking... Other than that, this one's okay. (B-)


"Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild"
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt, 2000)

Little Harriet, a toddler on the three-ish end of things, has a tendency to be a little accident prone, spilling juice, breaking a plate or two now and then, and she can also be a kinda loud at times. Her work-at-home mom, "who didn't like to yell," finds her patience taxed until, one day Harriet and the family dog play tug of war with a pillow and send feathers flying all over the place. Mom blows her stack and yells and yells and yells, causing Harriet to burst into tears. Then they make up, and the mom explains that she didn't mean to lose her temper, but sometimes that just happens, the same way as Harriet's little accidents. It's a really sweet book about parent-child communication, discipline and negotiation, although smaller readers may find the parent's anger (and the baby crying as a result) to be a little upsetting. At the heart of this book is the wonderful, detailed artwork from Marla Frazee (of Everywhere Babies fame)... Recommended! (A-)


"Roller Coaster"
Written by Marla Frazee
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt, 2003)

If you like roller coasters (personally, I'm scared of them!), then this book is pretty groovy... Like Frazee's Everywhere Babies, this is packed with vivid, detailed visual information, as a dozen people go onto the roller-coaster ride and each has their own reaction -- kids and grandparents wave their arms and go wheeeeeeeeee, parents cringe and get green around the gills, lovers steal a kiss in the back seat. Each set of riders has its own story, which is largely told through the pictures, while the text deals with the experience of the ride itself. The art has a gloriously kinetic quality, really giving a sense of that a roller-coaster ride is like. Cool beans, if you're into it, but don't eat a big meal before you read it... (B)


"Walk On! A Guide For Of All Ages"
Written by Marla Frazee
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt, 2006)

A tongue-in-cheek how-to guide for babies who want to become toddlers... Told, with great earnestness, from the baby's point of view, this actually is a functional primer on how to learn to walk, taking the process step by step and encouraging little ones to be brave and move forward. This book probably has a pretty short shelf-life, though: if your kid has already been walking for a while, this stuff is old news... But if you read and talk a lot to your pre-toddler, and believe that they are basically "getting" everything you say to them, this could be a prefect book for a kid on the cusp of taking off... This doesn't quite have the lightness of touch and universality of Frazee's Everywhere Babies, but it's still awfully cute, and a pretty good peptalk. Worth checking out. (B)


"Scribble"
Written by Deborah Freedman
Illustrated by Deborah Freedman
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

This book expects a lot from its readers, but it pays off well. It works on several levels -- as a fairytale-related lark, as a book about visual art and creative thinking, and as a snapshot of sibling conflict. Two sisters, Emma and Lucie, are each drawing their own pictures... Emma, the older child, is in the middle of a complicated princess fantasy, and made a really fancy picture of the princess in her sleeping-beauty bed, while little Lucie has scrawled out a scribbly yellow kitty kat. After Emma makes fun of Lucie's picture, Lucie retaliates by scribbling all over the princess. Emma leaves in a huff, off to tell the 'rents, and that's when things get weird. Lucie and her cat get sucked into the pink construction paper world of the princess, and the only way back out is for Lucie to erase all the scribbly lines she plastered over the page. In the meantime, the cat and the princess have fallen in love, and formed their own fairytale romance. The plot is complicated and fantastical, and may be hard for younger children to follow, but it hits a certain kooky, whimsical tone that the right readers will love. Worth checking out. (B)


"Corduroy "
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
(Viking Books, 1968)

A nice, simple story about a battered, old department-store bear who languishes on the shelves until a little girl who loves him takes him home, seeing beyond the shabby exterior into the soul of the sweet bear underneath. Nice, also, that the little girl is African-American, and that the book doesn't make a big deal of it... It's just there, a matter-of-fact part of the story. This is a classic that lots of baby-boomer parents grew up with and adore (I missed out this one myself, but am happy to report that it still holds up...) I'm not totally wowed by Couduroy, and it took a couple of tries for my kid to warm up to it, but after she did, she was into the story, and asked to have it read several times. Cute story; worth checking out. (B+)


"Quiet! There's A Canary In The Library"
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
(Viking, 1969)

When Cary goes to the library, she really gets into it, thinking of nothing else but the book she's reading. One day, when she picks up a book about zoo animals, she daydreams about what she would do if she were the librarian, how she would invite all the animals to a special bird-and-beast day at the library. She greets each animal as it comes in, and things go great until a flock of mice scamper in an upset the elephant... Then she has to restore order, and is helped by a little canary. A fun, fanciful story and a welcome celebration of the halls of knowledge. Another nice one from the author of Corduroy. (B+)


"A Pocket For Corduroy "
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
(Viking Books, 1978)

Fuzzy little Corduroy enters into the 'Seventies, going to a groovy, multicultural laundromat with Lisa and her mom, replete with hippies and bohemians and other local folks. For some reason my daughter wouldn't let me read this book -- at all -- and after several attempts, we took it back. Who knows? Maybe the copy at the Berkeley Public Library just has too many bad vibes, man. I dunno. Anyway, she did NOT WANT TO READ THAT BOOK, and she's the boss of me. So I never found out if Lisa got her bear back after she lost him at the laundromat. I sure hope so! (B...?)


"Manuelo The Playing Mantis"
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman & Jody Wheeler
(Viking, 2004)

A lonely, sensitive praying mantis who likes to sit and listen to classical music in the bandstand of the local park tries to find an instrument that he can play. Manuelo makes several attempts -- he builds a harp and a flute, picks a flower and tries to use it as a horn, but everything he tries flops, at least until he finds a friend who can help him out. Once they make a cello, however, Manuelo finds his muse, and his beautiful music attracts all the other nighttime bugs and critters by the pond, who click and croak and sing along with him. A sweet celebration of music and creativity, and also a clever tale abou tthe power of persistence and perseverence. Apparently this comes from an unfinished manuscript that Freeman's son, Roy Freeman, saw to completion. Good thing, too -- it's a winner! (B+)





"Oliver's Vegetables"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1995)

A nutritionally-challenged city kid goes for a weeklong visit to his grandparents' farm in the country, where they teach him to explore more veggies than just his daily dose of french fries. Spinach, carrots, rutabaga, beets, peas and cabbage are introduced to his diet, all of which he loves, much to his own surprise. That's all very well and fine, although there are some problematic aspects to the book, both in structure and tone. To start with, Oliver is kind of bratty -- he's a stand-in for all the petulant veggie-haters of the world, which is okay if you do have a kid you want to coax into a healthier diet, but if you're just looking for a book that will reinforce good eating habits, you may have to modify the text so that the anti-produce ideology doesn't seep into your household. Overall, Oliver isn't as irritating in this first book as in its sequel, Oliver's Fruit Salad, (reviewed below) -- so that his behavior doesn't overshadow the pro-veggie message , which comes through loud and clear, albeit it comes with some baggage. The other odd aspect of this book is the choppy writing, particularly the abrupt beginning, where the first sentence is Mom rushing Oliver to catch the bus to Grandpa's house, with no preface or explanation. Feels like an editor told French "soemthings got to go," and when they shortened the text, they just lopped off a few pages, without really rewriting the text. (Also, why is it "Grandpa's house," when Gram is also standing there the whole time? Hmmmm.) Anyway, if you're on the prowl for pro-produce propaganda, this book's a fine choice. It has some shortcomings, but they are mild in comparison to more positive aspects. (B)


"Oliver's Fruit Salad"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1998)

A celebration of fresh fruit, wherein young Oliver returns, sniffily telling his mom how much better the fruit that grows on his grandparent's farm is from what they have at home. Mom listens patiently, then takes Oliver to the store and picks out all the best fruit she can find, and when they get it home, the grandparents show up and suggest they make fruit salad, which again to his own surprise the boy discovers he likes. The pro-new stuff, pro-produce message is certainly welcome, but Oliver sure is a snotty kid... I found I had to read around the dialogue, so that Oliver's petulance didn't overwhelm the entire story and become the focus of the book. This is a sequel to Oliver's Vegetables, reviewed above. (B-)


"Oliver's Milk Shake"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1996)

Wow... I really, really hated this book. I mean, I realize that the goal of the "Oliver" books is to help encourage "picky eaters" to try to eat new, healthier foods, but the tone of this series, and the premise that kids need to be cajoled and tricked into eating healthily is just kind of icky, somehow. That isn't exactly what's happening in this book, but that's what it feels like, and that makes it an unpleasant read. This volume in particular hit me the wrong way, since on every, single page there's some reference to the milkshake that has to be made for Oliver in order for him to drink yucky old milk. At least with the other books in this series, you could kind of read around the weird parts -- in this one, though, it's all weird. I wound up just going, "Oh, look, there's a cow and there are some sheep. The end!" I dunno, I just don't enjoy reading these books that cater to (and model) bad behavior in small children. Plus, Oliver is such a whiny brat... He isn't really a character I really want to spend much time with...! (D)


"A Present For Mom"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Dana Kubick
(Candlewick, 2002)

A sweet, sappy story in which Stanley the kitten, the youngest of four children, worries about what to get his mom for Mother's Day. The older kids are giving great presents -- flowers, a box of candy, a cake -- but Stanley's only little and doesn't have any money to buy stuff or know how to make things himself. Finally, with a suggestion from his siblings, he decides to give his mom a box full of kisses, which of course makes her melt into a warm, happy puddle. It's sappy, maybe even saccharine, but it's gonna bring a tear to your eye, whether you like it or not! (B)


"I'll Teach My Dog 100 Words"
Written by Michael Frith
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1973)

An underappreciated winner from the "fake Dr. Seuss" Beginner's Books series... As an educational tool, this story is quite cleverly crafted: a man promises to teach his dog one hundred words, and as dog plows through an increasingly silly set of tasks, the narrator keeps tab of the number of words old Rover picks up. We learn colors, numbers, and various kooky concepts as the tally mounts. The text is funny, lively and rhymes well, and the story has a nice, zippy ending... This book's a real hoot! (A)




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