Hi - this is Page 2 of the "A List," a super-special section of Read That Again! featuring many of our favorite children's books of the last few years. We've read a ton of books (literally!) and these ones are the best.
This section is organized alphabetically by book title... you can also browse all the books reviewed on the site, listed by author or by title in the main part of the website. The "A List" will be added to along with the rest of Read That Again!, as more new books come our way...
By the way, we're always looking for new stuff to read... If you have recommendations for books you think we'd like, please feel free to write and tell us about your favorite books!
The A-List: A-C | D-G | H-K | L-M | N-R | S-Z ~ New Books ~ Other Reviews
"The Dearest Little Mouse In The World"
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
(North-South Books, 2004)
This one, a translation of a book from Belgium, is a longtime favorite at our house... Highly recommended! It's the story of an adorable little girl mouse, Fay, who walks to school by herself and one day is frightened by a big black dog (actually a small, fuzzy puppy) who just wants to say "hi!" but scares Fay because of his size. Fay's parents sort the misunderstanding out, and the little girl goes back to make friends with the friendly dog. It's a very European story and moral -- we can sort our differences out through openness and understanding -- which is fine by me. Best of all is the delightful artwork by Quentin Greban, warm, playful and richly detailed, it makes fun of the little mice living inside a big human house, and also presents some of the cutest little black-nosed mousies you'll ever see. Great book. You'll love it.
"Don't Forget I Love You"
Written by Miriam Moss
Illustrated by Anna Currey
(Dial Books, 2004)
Another bear book. This one explores emotional transitions and daily rituals: a mama bear gets her daydreaming little boy ready for school, but when they start to run late, she drops him off quickly, accidentally forgetting to leave his favorite toy Rabbit, and also forgets to tell Billy she loves him and will pick him up later. Billy cries, because he expects the ritual goodbye, and also because and he feels bad that his dawdling made them late. Mama Bear, realizing her mistake, comes back and makes Billy feel better. A sweet book with good humor and a happy ending, and lovely artwork. The emotional life of Billy is quickly and deftly drawn, and given the respect is deserves, while also showing how exasperating it can be to herd little children around... A compassionate sketch of the emotional relationships between small children and their caregivers... Recommended!
"Don't You Feel Well, Sam?"
Written by Amy Hest
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
Aw, poor little Sam! He's got a cold, and has to take his cough medicine. Yucky! But after several tries, he steels himself for the blechiness and swallows the goop, and feels better in the morning. Great book to follow these loveable characters, as well as to build or reinforce a positive attitude about taking medicine. My kid cracked up when we read the parts where Sam wouldn't open his mouth ad said yuck... She thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard! (The second book of the highly-recommended "Sam Bear" series...) (A)
Written by Peter Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
A great book about artistic creativity and how to encourage it. A young girl named Vashti feels uninspired in her art class, and faced by a blank paper, declares that she has no talent and "can't draw." Her teacher tells her to put something down on the paper -- anything -- and when Vashti petulantly stabs a single dot onto the page, the teacher asks her to sign it, and later puts the picture up on the classroom wall. This piques Vashti's interest, and she figures, well, if the teacher calls that "art," I can do better than that! Then she embarks on an expansive, joyful series of dot-themed pictures and paintings, eventually showing them, to great acclaim, atthe school art show. The artwork is nice, done in a scratchy style similar to Quentin Blake's, and the text has a magical elegance about it -- Reynolds hits just the right note throughout. Highly recommended. (Followed by the similarly-themed Ish.) (A)
"Ella The Elegant Elephant"
Written by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
Illustrated by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
(Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2004)
I really love the Ella series... The books are nice and sweet, and presents a marvelously imagined, self-contained world that will strongly appeal to little kids. It has a similar feel to the Curious George and Babar books, except without all the weird, disturbing undertones that make those classics a bit troublesome. A great choice for some fun books that you don't have to worry about. Here, we meet little Ella as she sets off on her first day at a new school, happy as a clam, wearing her big, floppy, "lucky hat." Of course, the other kids make fun of her, but Ella wind them over. Because of the anxiety-provoking theme, we avoided this one until our kid had a chance to experience school (without putting negative ideas in her head first), but it's still a very nice book. The artwork, in particular, is fabulous: the crayon-y pastels have an old fashioned formality and elegance to them, and are strongly reminiscent of H.A. Rey's work in Curious George. Very classy, and visually appealing. (B+)
"Ella Takes The Cake"
Written by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
Illustrated by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
(Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2005)
While helping her mother in the family bakery, Ella volunteers to deliver a huge cake to the other side of Elephant Island. She runs into her self-centered friend, Belinda, who sidetracks her and leaves Ella in a lurch. Our little heroine perseveres, though, and gets the cake to the party on time, showing self-reliance and pluck the whole time. A very enjoyable story, particularly as it takes us on a tour of the Island... heck, there's even a map on the endpapers! Just the thing for kids who like to immerse themselves in well-defined, self-contained imaginary worlds. Plus, Ella's such a cutie! (A)
"Ella Sets The Stage"
Written by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
Illustrated by Carmela & Steven D'Amico
(Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2006)
When all the other kids in school sign up for a big talent show, shy Ella runs the support committee, eventually helping them all out in big ways and small. Another winner in this series, this introduces several compelling characters among her classmates... Hope to see more of them soon! (A)
"Ella Sarah Gets Dressed"
Written by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
This is one of the best children's books of recent vintage, about a headstrong little girl who wakes up one day with a very specific -- and very distinctive -- outfit in mind: her pink polka-dot pants, a dress with the orange-and-green flowers, purple-and-blue striped socks, yellow shoes and her red hat. Although various family members try to discourage her, Ella Sarah sticks to her guns, and dresses the way she wants to -- just in time for a dress-up party with some visiting friends. I've seen where some parents find this book too negative (ie, Ella throwing a mild fit and then "getting her way..."), but I fall pretty flatly on the side of those who see this book as a celebration of individuality and the creative spirit. Plus the artwork is cool: it won a Caldicott award, and deservedly so. Recommended! (A)
Written by Susan Meyers
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
One of our favorite books during our pre-toddler days... This wonderful volume shows little babies in a wide variety of activities -- eating, sleeping, pooping, playing, going out in the stroller, learning how to walk, etc. -- always surrounded by loving, attentive adults. There are other books that cover this same territory, but I have yet to read one that does it as well. A huge part of the success is the fabulous artwork by Marla Frazee, who captures toddlers perfectly and gives you glimpses of personality while ably conveying all the information the text calls for. (Wish she'd do more work!!) If you check out reviews of this book elsewhere (on Amazon, mainly) you'll find a sizable contingent of people stewing over the fact that same-sex couples are presented matter-of-factly, without comment, alongside single parents and hetero couples. All I can say is, this is great book, and the adults depicted within clearly love and protect the children they are taking care of, and that's what matters. All that other stuff is being projected on the book from outside, and shouldn't be allowed to chase people away from one of the best baby books on the market. Our kid loved this picturebook, and it really helped her understand her role in life and the kind of adventures she could have. Highly recommended. (A)
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
David Wiesner, the king of the trip-out books, returns with a wordless fable about a boy who finds a mysterious magical camera that washes up from the bottom of the ocean. The camera still has some film in it, and when the boy develops the negatives, he sees a fantastic vision of a hidden world, with robot fish and treasure chests, mermaid cities and octopus villas -- as well as portraits of other children who have had the camera, stretching back over the decades. The boy takes a picture of himself, holding the infinity photo, and casts the camera back into the sea, for the whole cycle to start anew. Visually sumptuous and amazingly detailed, this will captivate the attention of children and adults alike. Ppssibly the best of Wiesner's books (so far...) Pretty darn cool! (A+)
Written by Susan Cooper
Illustrated by Jane Browne
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002)
A nice story about a quiet boy who shows compassion for a small animal, this quick picture book deftly addresses numerous psychologically weighty subjects, and though it may be a bit dark for some young readers, its ultimate message is hopeful and life-affirming. It was written by fantasy writer Susan Cooper, author of the "Dark Is Rising" series; she doesn't shy away from the shadow side of human nature, and thus we are presented with a young boy named Joe who hasn't yet learned to swim, and who is mocked by and feels inferior to his older brother and sister. One day, a small frog falls into the family pool, prompting Joe's siblings and parents to freak out and harass the poor animal. When they are unable to capture it, they go inside for a snack, and the more sensitive young Joe rescues the frog, setting it free, while also learning to swim after observing the amphibian's graceful breast-stroke. This book might not be for everyone, particularly for parents who don't want to acknowledge (or exacerbate) inter-family tensions, or who are uncomfortable with the alienation represented in Joe's relationship to the rest of his family. Also, small children may find the frog's panic to be upsetting. However, the book's core messages of empathy, mercy and self-reliance are powerful and positive, and give this a little more emotional wallop than your average picture book. Definitely worth checking out. (A-)
"The Gingerbread Man"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 1998)
A wonderful adaptation of the old folk tale of the mischievous and fleet-footed Gingerbread Man... This is the first and best of McClintock's collaborations with fabulist Jim Aylesworth, and one of the best versions of this story you'll ever find. A large part of the charm is the artwork, which is strongly reminiscent of old, Edwardian-era children's books. Some of the animals (the sow, in particular) are a bit grotesque, but not so much so that it detracts from the story. The Gingerbread Man himself is so delightfully drawn -- all smiles, shiny button eyes and happy, reckless glee -- that it's hard not to root for the little fella, even if he is asking for trouble. This version bursts with energy and life; too bad the sweet, spicy speedster has to get eaten in the end! (A+)
"The Golden Egg Book"
Written by Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
(Golden Books, 1947)
A nice, old-fashioned kiddie book from the 'Forties, in which a lonely little bunny rabbit finds an egg, and does everything he can to try and get it to crack open. Exhausted, he curls up and falls asleep next to the egg and then -- crack! -- out comes a cute little duckling who does all the same thing to the bunny that the bunny did to the egg, finally pushing it down a hill, until finally the bunny wakes up. Then they become best friends. I like this book a lot -- it's sweet and simple and the artwork is really nice, very unflashy and clear. (Get it in as big a format as possible; these pictures were made to be seen large as life.) There's just one mildly troubling note, and that's when the bunny -- and later, the duck -- throw rocks... Maybe not behavior you want to encourage, but if so you can always read around it, or discuss it with your kids. Overall, this one's a winner! (A)
"Good Job, Little Bear"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Barbara Firth
The perfect introduction to this delightful, gentle, masterful series. Big Bear and Little Bear go for a walk through the woods, and Little Bear tests his own abilities as well as Big Bear's steadfastness and love. In a touching model of parental supportiveness, Big Bear watches patiently as his little boy climbs big rocks and jumps out of trees, helping him when he asks and rescuing him when he really falls down. Then, when Little Bear is discouraged, he encourages him to keep "exploring" and continue their walk through the woods. This is probably the best of the "Little Bear" books, although "You And Me" comes in a close second. And once again, the artwork is a delight: Firth's work really helps make these books magical. (A+)
Written by Abe Birnbaum
Illustrated by Abe Birnbaum
(Golden Books, 1953)
Beautifully drawn and expansively laid out (I recommend the "library" edition), this colorful story tells us about the first year of a young cat's life, exploring the world in the spring, lazing in the summer grass, frollicking as autumn leaves fall and snuggling up by the heater in the snowy season. The book deftly deals with many issues -- the passage of time, mastering the physical world, maturity, love of nature and appreciating the seasons as they pass -- all with a lightness of tone and cheerful embrace of life. The artwork is very clear and boldly drawn, the cat looks very friendly and the story is written in complete sentences and is very sweet. In short, this one's a real winner. It had to be read over and over for days, and made its way into the permanent collection. (A)
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