Hi - this is Page 4 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
"Leonardo The Terrible Monster"
Written by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
A beautifully designed picture book about a little monster named Leonardo who wants to be scary, but just isn't. He picks on a boy named Sam who, Leonardo has determined, is the most scaredy-cat kid in all the world... But when he succeeds in making Sam cry, Leonardo realizes that he's actually hurt Sam's feelings, and rushes to make amends... The story may seem simple (it is, but in a good way...) but it's really the art and the layout that makes this such a wonderful book. The luxurious use of empty space -- with entire two-page spreads devoted to small, single images -- is reminiscent of Jules Fieffer's groundbreaking work of the 1960s. Likewise, other elements of the book seem to draw consciously on other popular wellsprings -- the fuzzy-maned Leonardo looks like a wee growler straight out of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Thing Are, while the book's premise has more than a little in common with Monsters, Inc. Mo Willems does a fine job synthesizing these classic influences to present a playful, emotionally evocative, visually arresting story, one that will draw small children in right away... And you'll have a lot of fun trading "BOOS" with your kid after each reading. I enjoyed this one a lot, and it's frequently requested at storytime. (A++)
"Let's Get A Pup! Said Kate"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
One day, a young girl named Kate wakes up and decides it's time for the family to get a puppy... Her parents agree, and off they all zoom to the local animal shelter, where they find not one, but two dogs that tug at their hearts, the cute little puppy of their dreams and his companion, an older, bigger furball named Rosie. As with other Graham titles, it's nice to see scruffy, earringed, alterna-parents, and to see regular, non-rich families living nonchalantly amid urban environs... Plus, the story of how they wind up adopting both dogs is a real tear-jerker. A wonderful book! (Also see the 2007 sequel, The Trouble With Dogs... Said Dad, which is equally charming.) (A)
"Let's Go Home, Little Bear"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Barbara Firth
The two bears are tromping through the snow when Little Bear starts to hear funny sounds. Their journey home is slowed by his half-playful need to stop repeatedly and have Big Bear reassure him that there's nothing scary in the woods. Once again, Big Bear is the model of kindness and compassion, and childhood anxieties are diffused and transformed into a source of delight. The text verges on being cumbersome, but you'll probably wind up liking this book as much as we do. Wonderful artwork: skillfully rendered, the tenderness between the two bears leaps out at you on every page. (A)
Written by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
A great book about a big, gentle lion that wanders into a local library and becomes a favorite friend of the head librarian and all the kids who come to storytime. He runs afoul of the persnicketty circulation manager, Mr. McBee, who doesn't think that lions belong in libraries -- especially not his library. But as long as he doesn't break any rules, like running or roaring, then Miss Merriweather (who's a stickler for rules) doesn't have any problem with it. One day, when Miss Merriweather has an accident, the lion has to roar to get her some help, but he thinks he'll be in trouble for making noise. Turns out it's alright, though -- one of the lessons of the book is that there are times it's okay to break the rules. Eventually, even mean old Mr. McBee comes around, and becomes the lion's friend. Great story, easily understood and full of wry humor -- the artwork is delightful and perfectly supports the text... This one is a real winner, and also has the durable, timeless feel that will make it a classic. Check it out! (A+)
Written by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
Illustrated by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
A delightful birthday book that reflects -- with surprising emotional depth -- on the anxieties of growing old. Little Gorilla is just about the cutest little critter in the whole jungle, and all the animals love him. His parents and relatives, the giraffes, elephants, birds and even the boa constrictors dote on the fuzzy little guy. But what about when he grows up and gets all hairy and big? Yup. They still love him then! Everybody comes to his birthday party and sings and shares cake, and Little Gorilla knows he's still the same person, just a little bigger. The artwork is perfectly suited to this sweet, simple story -- bold, blocky and colorful, the information leaps off the page, easy to understand and quite inviting. A true classic, with deservingly long-lived appeal. (A)
"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 Burton's other books, Katy And The Big Snow 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)
"Little Robin Redbreast"
Adapted by Shari Halpern
Illustrated by Shari Halpern
(North South, 1996)
A classic Mother Goose rhyme, beautifully rendered in colorful, vibrant collages by artist Shari Halpern... A calico cat with an impish grin is snoozing in a flower garden when a perky little robin wakes her up... and you know the rest! The classic text is brought to life with bright, playful images... This was the book that brought Haplern's work to my attention... A perfect book for infants and very young readers! (A)
Written by David McPhail
Drawn by David McPhail
(Little Brown, 1990)
Great book. Really great. I came to this one after flipping over The Puddle (reviewed below) and found it equally enchanting. These are the books that put McPhail on my radar, and though he has a lot of other stories that don't really wow me, these ones do. In Lost, a curious bear climbs into a stalled delivery truck and winds up in New York City. A friendly boy finds the bear, who is confused and scared, and helps him get back to the forest. Their adventure through the city has a deliciously fantastic flavor -- the bear rides in elevators, goes to the park and the library, and while a few people do little doubletakes, for the most part his presence is accepted. The artwork is beautiful, and the tone of the writing is both whimsical and gentle. It's a fun, sweet, perfect story, the kind of book that feels like a timeless classic to me. Highly recommended. (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! (A)
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.
"The Mare On The Hill"
Written by Thomas Locker
Illustrated by Thomas Locker
(Dial Books, 1985)
A marvelous story about two boys living on a farm who are given a skittish mare to tame... She's been abused by a previous owner and is shy of humans, so they let her out into a far pasture and gently, patiently woo her into trusting them and coming into the corral by the time winter hits. The first-person narration gives us a sense of the decency and kindness of the boys, and paints a beautiful picture of their intuitive, caring style of animal husbandry. The illustrations -- luminous, evocative oil paintings by Mr. Locker -- capture the closeness between farmers and the natural world... Some readers might find this a bit fusty and old-fashioned, but that's one of the reasons I really loved it. Went over well with the little one, too, the first couple of times we read it, though it didn't have the sort of readthatagain-ishness as a more cartoonish, more modern book. Still, for horse lovers, this one is a must. (A)
"McDuff And The Baby"
Written by Rosemary Wells
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
The first book in the McDuff series... great stuff! Our cute little canine friend has a pretty good life with Lucy and Fred, but the applecart is in danger of being upset when -- gasp! -- Lucy has a baby! McDuff is jealous and feels neglected, until the humans figure it out and start giving him more attention and include him in the various family activities. Nice, low-key metaphor for early sibling rivalries, as filtered through the eyes of a cute little doggie. The artwork, as always, is quite nice, and the personalities and relationships between McDuff and his humans are given more texture and detail. This one's a winner! The kind of book that babies and little kids will ask to have read over and over. Recommended, as are the other McDuff books! (A)
"The MONSTER At The End Of This Book"
Written by Jon Stone
Illustrated by Michael Smollin
(Golden Books, 1971)
What a brilliant book! Using the same sort of boundary-breaking narrative style as the Sesame Street TV show, this story stars furry, loveable Grover, who -- having learned there is a MONSTER at the end of the book -- gets scared and mounts a furious campaign to make sure we stop turning pages and put the book down. Naturally, this plays into the impish side of childhood, and will elicit gleeful nods when you ask, "Should we turn the page? Even though Grover doesn't want us to?" Decades after it was written, this book story is still more genuinely inventive and interactive than practically any other children's book out there... But, poor Grover! He always tries so hard. And he gets so embarassed. (A+)
"More, More, More, Said The Baby: Three Love Stories"
Written by Vera B. Williams
Illustrated by Vera B. Williams
(Harper Collins, 1990)
One of the greatest books ever written. Seriously. Everyone should read it. This is a lovely trio of short stories about three children who get lots of love -- and playful care -- from the adults in their lives. The cast is multicultural, and since each child is seen only in relation to one caregiver -- a father, a grandmother, a mother -- it leaves room for many different types of nontraditional families to identify with the text. The text is well-written and flows quite well, capturing childish delight and the momentum of play, as well as the drowsiness of sleepytime. Although I do love the writing, I have one suggestion for improvement: Williams uses a nursery rhyme-like repetition in each story, like this for example: Just look at you/with your ten little toes/on your two little feet/on your two little feet/on your two little feet/good enough to eat! which I changed to: Just look at you/with your ten little toes/ten little toes/ten little toes/on your two little feet/good enough to eat... Yum! Yum! It just seemed to flow better for me. I made a similar adaptation on the other two stories; results may vary where you live. Regardless, this is a wonderful book... Highly recommeded! (PS - please note our well-chewed board-book copy. This one was a favorite.) (A+)
Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
Wonderful stuff. This book looks at life on a family farm, as seen through the eyes of Nora, a young girl who lives and works alongside her grandfather and grandmother. In this introductory volume, Nora helps mow the fields to lay the hay down to dry. Along the way, she and her grandfather cut wide swaths to spare the habitat of some of the animals that have built homes in the field -- it's a nice story which combines reverence for hard, honest labor along with mercy and kindness towards small animals, as well as a child's sense of wonder at the natural world. These books are probably best for an older reader (maybe ages 5-8?), although younger readers might like them as well. I find myself inevitably comparing Jessie Haas' work to that of Kim Lewis -- both authors deal with farm life and farmwork using a realistic touch, both in the writing and in the artwork. Unlike Lewis, Haas has a light touch, and doesn't dwell as much on the hardness and harsh realities of farm life. Nora is also a much stronger -- or at least more likable -- character than the typical Lewis protagonist. Anyway, I like these books; so does the rest of the family. Recommended! (A)
Written by Susan Jeffers
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
This one's a classic -- the ultimate little-girls-love-ponies book! Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers, and based on her own childhood, this tells the story of a young girl who dreams of owning a pony, but is told by her parents that horses are too expensive, and that they can't keep one at their house. So she creates a dream pony named Silver, who she rides to a horse-filled fantasyland, whenever she likes. The story is great, but the artwork is fantastic, evoking beauty and wonder... and, boy, does Jeffers know how to draw horses! Her work is consistently enchanting, but this book is her masterpiece... A real delight and a longtime favorite around our house. (A++)
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