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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 "J"






Kids Books -- "J" By Author

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"My Friend Whale"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1990)

The narrator, a young boy, tells of his friend, a blue whale that takes him on midnight swims... He also tells us a little about how, despite their size, whales are gentle creatures that eat tiny "fishy things," and about how they dive into the ocean and can hold their breath for over an hour. The book has an odd, unresolved tone, though: after we meet the whale, one day it just stops coming to visit the boy, who is left alone to look out his window and wonder if the whale is okay. Even taking this as a metaphor for the passing of childhood or losing one's friends, the book has an odd, off-balance feel. It has a magical tone but ends abruptly... Still, fans of whales and other cetaceans may get a kick out of it -- the magical part is very sweet. (C+)


"Sally And The Limpet"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1991)
A kooky, waterlogged tale tale about a little girl named Sally who finds a cute little ,a href= "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limpet">limpet while playing in a tidepool... Sally doesn't take the hint, though, when the limpet won't let loose of its rocky perch, and after she pulls it loose, she winds up with a mollusk stuck to her finger... The little critter stays put day and night until Sally wises up and takes it back to the ocean... It's kind of an odd story, but has that nutty Simon James appeal to it... Scientifically accurate, too, as far as I can tell. (B)


"Leon And Bob"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1997)
A sweet story about a boy named Leon who creates an imaginary friend called Bob, who comforts Leon while his father is away (in the army) and his mother is away at work... Leon is the also newest kid in his neighborhood, at least until another new kid moves in next door... When Leon works up the courage to ask is neighbor out to play, he brings imaginary companion along with him, but Bob disappears before Leon can ring the bell -- he is about to be replaced by a real-life friend... And after Leon takes the simple first step of saying "hi" and asking the new kid to come to the park with him, a new chapter opens up. One nice thing about this book is that it isn't judgmental or problem-oriented: the imaginary friendship is presented in a very matter-of-fact way, and the story isn't about how adults try to curtail an unhealthy fantasy, but rather how that fantasy helps a kid get through a rough emotional time. A simple, soft story that will ring true on many levels. (B)


"Little One Step"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 2003)
A nice, cute book about learning to walk -- three ducklings are lost in a forest, and the youngest gets them back home, doing the "one step, one step" walk that his older brother teaches him. I like the art, the outline of the story is nice, and the message was well-received by my kid, who was learning to walk at the time. The actual book is a little clunky, though -- it starts abruptly, with no prologue (first line: " 'We're lost!' said the oldest duckling.") and the art doesn't always compliment the text as well as it could. Still, it's a sweet story, and certainly worth picking up if walking is the new big event in your family... Also a nice metaphor for problem-solving, confidence-building and perseverence in general. (B-)


"Baby Brains"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 2004)
A hilarious, light-hearted skewering of the contemporary yuppie trend towards declaring all children total geniuses, and pushing the littlest kids towards academic achievement at ever-younger ages. You think your kid's remarkable? Well, how about Baby Brains, who finishes medical school before he dirties his first daiper! Of course, word gets around about such a special little guy, and he's recruited by the space program later that same day, although it turns out that even a kid with planet-smashing intellect just needs his mommy sometimes... When Baby is out in orbit, pulling a Major Tom, he freaks out and tells Ground Control that he wants back down. James makes his point softly, with humor and grace, but it remains to be seen whether the message will be heard in the vacuum of those gathering letters of recommendation for their preschool applications. (A)


"Baby Brains Superstar"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 2005)
This follows the template of the first Baby Brains book almost exactly, except that this time around , the infant genius becomes a rock star instead of a rocket scientist. Once again, James's deft timing and lackadaisical artwork hit just the right tone... And, of course you can sing Baby's rock-festival anthem any way you want -- my kid thought the alt-grunge "guitars" I mixed in were a real hoot. I'm not sure where this franchise would go from here -- this one's an unrepentant retread of the first book, but I suppose there are other gags that could be fleshed out as well. Anyway, the formula still works here... it's a fun read! (A-)


"Baby Brains And Robomom"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 2007)
In the third entry in the Baby Brains series, the premise is great, but the execution is a little disappointing... Seeing that his mother is a little stressed out taking care of him, Baby Brains builds a robot helper, but the automaton winds up being too bossy and also not as snuggly as the real deal. I love this series but wasn't wowed by this one... There's not much that's surprising here, and this book lacks the sparkle and wit of the first two. It's okay, but could have been better. (B-)


"Three Little Kittens"
Written by Marilyn Janovitz
Illustrated by Marilyn Janovitz
(North South, 2002)

A nice adaptation of this kooky nursery rhyme; the artwork is cartoonish and functional, and Janovitz comes up with a nice workaround for the weird closing lines about smelling a rat nearby... Instead of being afraid of the rat (as in other versions) here the kittens playfully chase the rat (which looks like a cute little mousy), short-circuiting the mildly upsetting undertone of the original version. This is a good version of this rhyme, one of my girl's favorites. (B)


"The Best Picnic Ever"
Written by Clare Jarrett
Illustrated by Clare Jarrett
(Candlewick, 2004)

Lively, purposefully amateurish artwork adds to the sense of playful abandon in this simple story about a boy named Jack who goes on a picnic in the park with his mother and meets several imaginary (?) animal friends -- a giraffe, an elephant, a leopard and a tiger -- which he invites to lunch, after they all play for a while. Each animal has its own style of play (the giraffe goes "gallopy, gallopy," for example...) and as each is added to a running tally, the book takes on a "Fiddle-I-Fee" type feel... Not great, but fun-loving and upbeat. You could do worse! (B)




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