Hi - this is Page 6 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
Written by Brenda Shannon Yee
Illustrated by Thea Kliros
Five young children (ages 5-8?) meet on the beach and build an enormous sand castle, complete with a moat, a wall, a canal to the water and a big road leading to the gate. Each kid builds their own part, and by cooperating, they are able to make something bigger than any of them could have made alone. Then, when the day was done, and their parents called them to go home, what next? Well, they stomped the castle into oblivion, of course! This is a very nice book about sharing and cooperation, with nice, realistic pictures. The only part I didn't like was how the first girl, Jen, who started the project, greets all the other children by saying this is "my castle," even though they've all been working on it together for a while. Minor point, though, in an otherwise nice book. (A-)
Written by Gayle Anne Dodds
Illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger
Yee-haww...!!! Though sadly out of print, this cowgirl comedy is worth tracking down, as it has a lively text and provides plenty of opportunity for parents and caregivers to sing as badly as they want. Little Sophie Adams has a song inside her that's just got to come out -- too bad no one in her family wants to hear it! They keep shoo-ing her from place to place, telling her to stop her "caterwauling" and give them some peace and quiet. She dutifully moves along, muttering folksy oaths ("Oh, fiddle-faddle!") and coming up with ever-more silly verses. Good story, with nice, fun artwork... And, of course, Sophie is eventually vindicated: her family eventually comes around and find they really can't live without her songs after all, then Sophie gets to yodel all she wants. Cute. It's nice, too, that although this is a "country" book, the author avoids hillbilly stereotypes and always uses proper grammar. (Thank you, Ms. Dodds!) (A)
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stphane Jorisch
(Kids Can Press, 2003)
A young Japanese-American girl (well, Japanese-Canadian, actually...) wants to go to the first day of school wearing a formal, traditional kimono that her grandmother bought her. Her sisters mock Suki and warn her that the other kids will tease her and think she's weird. Suki wears the kimono anyway, and though a lot of kids do make fun of her, the children in her homeroom class are won over when Suki explains why the kimono means so much to her and shows them a Japanese folk dance that she learned at a summertime cultural festival. This book wears its multi-cultural message on its sleeve, but the obviousness of it doesn't make a dent in the sweet, charming story (which is buoyed by gorgeous, captivating artwork)... All the messages here -- embracing one's cultural roots, willing to not be "cool", and following your own individual interests and a reverence for things that are old or old-fashioned -- all ring true for me. Maybe for you as well? At any rate, Suki can hang out at our house any time... I like that kid! (A)
"Swimming With Dolphins"
Written by Lambert Davis
Illustrated by Lambert Davis
(Blue Sky Press, 2004)
A little girl and her mother go to the beach and meet a small pod of dolphins, and swim with them for hours... The story is told from the girl's point of view, with bright, colorful, easy to understand artwork. It's an evocative, joyful celebration of nature and interspecies cooperation; while it's doubtful that many of the kids who will read this book will ever get the chance to play with dolphins this way, chances are they will really love the book. It gets a nice reception in our house. Recommended! (A)
"The Third-Story Cat"
Written by Leslie Baker
Illustrated by Leslie Baker
(Little, Brown & Co., 1987)
A gorgeously illustrated epic story of an indoor cat who escapes one day and has a big adventure in the park near her house, then comes back to curl up with the the little girl who "owns" her... This book perfectly captures the body language and attitude of a lissome calico cat, and the interior life of an innocent, vulnerable house pet. This book should be like capnip to felid fans everywhere, although the sequels were disappointing. (A)
"The Trouble With Dogs... Said Dad"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
The much-welcome sequel to Graham's 2001 classic, Let's Get A Pup! Said Kate. Kate's family is back, with two new members: lovable, lumpy Rosie and the irrepressible, untrainable Dave, two dogs they'd rescued from the pound eight months earlier. An older dog, Rosie is totally mellow and housebroken, but Dave the pup is a holy terror, running through flower patches, tearing people's clothes and -- gasp! -- eating cupcakes off their plates. So, the laid-back slacker family once again turns to the phone book and calls up Pup Breakers, whose top dog trainer, codenamed the Brigadier, comes to bring poor Dave in to heel. The Brigadier is a no-nonsense, tough-love, discipline-first kinda guy, and a poor match for the softer-than-marshmallows familymembers... Or for poor Dave! After his first lesson, the puppy falls into a funk, and loses his "spark." Naturally, Kate (and her parents) tell the Brigadier his services will no longer be required, but he takes it surprisingly well. Here's another great book from Graham: Kate and her family have return with al their lovable quirks intact -- these are people you'll recognize, the tattooed, scruffy, sideburned hipsters who live down the street. Oh, and their dogs are pretty cute, too! (For more books by this author, see our Bob Graham profile page) (A+)
"Two Girls Can"
Written by Keiko Narahashi
Illustrated by Keiko Narahashi
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2000)
I like this one. A lot. A pleasant, simple celebration of friendship (and girl power, though in a subtle, understated way..) Pairs of girls go through various everyday activities together -- playing games, reading inside, dressing up, hanging out -- and in the end, all the girls gather for a big dance party. The book is multicultural (again, without making a big deal of it...), life-affirming, and models many aspects of friendship, including negative emotions such as yelling at your friend, and then making up later. The artwork is joyful and appealing, with details that are easy to grasp and fun to talk about with little people. Nice! (A)
"The Very Best Doll"
Written by Julia Noonan
Illustrated by Julia Noonan
A very girly book, about a child who gets a fancy new doll for her birthday and promptly throws over her good, old, dearly beloved rag doll, Nell, only to discover later at night that she still needs to snuggle her old dollie in order to fall asleep. We're not doll crazy in our household, but this book got a good, polite reception. I liked the book's effective, lilting rhyme structure and its sentimental message -- Noonan affirms the value of the comfortable and old, while also acknowledging the allure of the flashy, accessorized newcomer. If your child is really into dolls (or tea parties), then they should go totally koo-koo over this book. (B+)
"Wake Up, Dad!"
Written by Sally Grimes
Illustrated by Siobhan Dodds
This is a hilarious book... written more for parents, perhaps, than for kids... But a child with the right sense of humor will enjoy is as well... Here's the story: a little girl bounds into her parent's bedroom at 6:30am and chatters away, trying to wake her oh-so-tired dad up. She opens the curtains, jumps on the bed, lets the cat in, and wonders aloud if that big spider on the floor is going to make a nest in Daddy's shoes... The details -- particularly the pained looks on the beleagured parents -- are quite amusing, and the infectious, bubbly personality of the irrepresible little girl comes through loud and clear. You can't help loving her, even if you feel sorry for the sleepy parents, too... This book rings true and never hits a false note. (B+)
"We're Going To The Zoo"
Written by Tom Paxton
Illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
(Harper Collins, 1996)
Wheeeee...! Wahoo...!! We'll see the lions and tigers and bears and the kangaroo will jump out of its pen and hang out with us for a while. Another fine kid's book from folksinger Tom Paxton; this was a fave around our house for a few weeks, and then we wound up singing several of the verses on a subsequent trip to the zoo. (An experience I usually find depressing, but having this book to refer back to helped make it more fun...) After a couple of weeks reading this, we were primed to go along singing it on our next zoo trip... (A)
"What Happens On Wednesdays"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007)
An immensely charming book about everyday routines, especially nice for single children and families that live in urban environs... A young girl walks us through her day, starting with a pre-dawn wake-up and storytime with Mom, then a to-school walk with Dad that takes us on a tour of her New York neighborhood. After lunch, Mom picks her up, they go home, have a nap, then go out for a dip at the pool and trip to the library, then back again for dinner, bath and bedtime. Sounds simple, but the richness of detail (both in the text and the marvelous drawings) makes this one a real winner. The young urban family feels familiar and real -- fans of Mo Willems Knuffle Bunny will recognize the Brooklyn landscape, and expatriate New Yorkers will yearn for a bite of their bagels. This book perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a preschool-kindergarten student's life, and will ring a bell for many readers, big and small. Recommended! (A)
"Where The Wild Things Are"
Written by Maurice Sendak
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
(Harper Collins, 1963)
Well, yeah. Of course you have to get this book... It's just so damned good. Beautiful art, canny, well-crafted layout, fun story, cute kid. And big, fuzzy monsters, too! What more could you want? Sendak really hit each note just right when crafting this book... That's why it's such an enduring classic. (Not sure that I'm all that crazy about his other books... but this one's a gem!) (A+)
"Wild About Books"
Written by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Marc Brown
A fast-paced, clever celebration of books and words... Consciously modelled after Dr. Seuss's classics, this sports a strong rhyming text and a bouncy exuberance. The plot is thus: a librarian parks her bookmobile at the local zoo, sparking a love of books in the various animals. Not only do they devour the books (sometimes literally!), the critters also get creative, writing novels, memoirs and haiku.. even literary criticism! The main attraction is the wild wordplay, which comes complete with lots of inside jokes for grown-ups to enjoy (funny book titles and clever choices for the various animals to read... ) Wonderful artwork, as well, from Marc Brown (of Arthur fame...) whose richly retailed, lively style looks detailed and dense yet playful appealing, and perfectly compliments the text. Maybe not suited to the littlest readers, but -- like the Seuss books it emulates -- it has a rhythm and liveiness that lends itself to reading aloud and can help introduce readers of any age the pleasure of the printed word. Recommended!
"Winnie The Pooh"
Written by A. A. Milne
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Silly Bear! It's amazing how well the Pooh stories stand up, indeed, how much better they are than practically any other children's book ever written. There simply isn't anything else like it -- these are stories, full stories, not picturebooks or board books, that you can read aloud to the smallest child and have them enraptured and enveloped in a world or words. Milne's tone was playful, silly and kind, yet intelligent and deeply nuanced. Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve listening to these books, and I was delighted to find the stories even richer and more rewarding when I was the one reading them aloud to my kid. The characters are all limited and lightly flawed, yet they solve problems, are compassionate and persevere. Pooh is a font of innocence and creativity, of friendship, forgiveness and humility. And the stories themselves, with their wordplay and whimsy are so very, very funny -- visiting Pooh Corner and the Hundred Acre Wood is always an enriching, delightful journey. Now, I'm a Pooh traditionalist: I'm not fond of the Disney adaptations, or of volumes that collect all the Pooh stories together under one cover. There are two Pooh books, Winnie The Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner, and two accompanying books of poems, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, and each volume should be experienced and treasured separately, glowing with its own sense of wonder and completion -- that is the best way to become immersed in the world of Pooh. Each book has its place in the pantheon, its own feel and its own magic, and although publishers seem bound and determined to mash them up together, I recommend you go for the separate volumes. Here's the first... it's a gem. (For reviews of other Milne classics, see Books About Bears or the Letter 'A'. ) (A++)
"You And Me, Little Bear"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Barbara Firth
One of the best books in Waddell's outstanding "Big Bear & Little Bear" series... Big Bear is busy with housework and has to balance Little Bear's demands for attention with the need to get the cave clean. Little Bear is so eager to spend time with Big Bear that he tags along and helps with the chores. Later, when the chores are done, the two sit down and read a book together, and Big Bear reassures Little Bear they will always be together, even if sometimes Little Bear will have to be patient and wait for Big Bear to do grown-up things. The physical awkwardness/super-cuteness of small children is perfectly captured in Barbara Firth's artwork; equally charming is the gentle depiction of a parent making space for a small person's needs, including letting the child help out with housework and develop self-esteem and a sense of connection as a result. It's also nice to see such a compassionate, nurturing male figure as this powerful, cuddly papa bear. Highly recommended! (A+)
"You Can Do It, Sam"
Written by Amy Hest
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
Sam Bear and his mother have a big, secret project: to wake up at dawn on a snowy morning and bake cakes for everyone in the neighborhood, then leave them on their doorsteps before anybody wakes up. This becomes a story about independence and confidence building when Mom tells Sam to run up the sidewalks by himself and drop the bundles off... Mom gets extra cool points for driving a beat up old GM-style 1940s pickup truck... And, once again, there appears to be no dad to be seen... So more power to Mama Bear! This is cute, and though it's not my favorite in the series, it's still definitely recommended. (A)
Written by Quentin Blake
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
A very funny book about a young couple who get a baby -- delivered in the mail -- and have great fun with it until they start to have second thoughts when it begins getting less cute, transforming into a series of ess-than-pleasant animals. The clever metaphors for various childhood phases are witty and well-rendered: a screeching vulture for a collicky infant, a toddler as a rampaging miniature elephant, a fire-breathing dragon for the "terrible twos," and -- ultimately -- a shaggy, formless beast standing in for a teenage boy. This book, in the pacing of the text and the look of the art, clearly bears the stamp of Jules Feiffer's best work of the 1960s and '70s, and the humor is clearly intended for the amusement of parents and other adult readers... But little kids will like it too: the free-flowing artwork, the fantastical premise, and the main character's silly-sounding name all conspire to make this a fun little romp that will work on multiple levels for readers of all ages. Even if kids don't "get" that the fearsome zagazoo is a normal human baby, they'll still enjoy the story. (A)
Written by Joelle Jolivet
Illustrated by Joelle Jolivet
(Roaring Brook Press, 2002)
A spectacular, deluxe-size book with eye-popping animal illustrations that will immediately draw kids of all ages into its spell. Each giant-sized two-page spread features a different zoological theme -- beasts that have horns, animals with feathers, critters that like the cold, etc. -- with beautiful woodcut-style pictures of a couple dozen or so animals, each identified by name. Indeed, it's a classic, old-fashioned natural history book, brilliantly simplified and given a kid-friendly twist. Yeah, sure I know these kind of taxonomies are out of date in the scientific community, but they sure do make for compelling reading. (And when they make a book about DNA comparisons that has equal visual appeal, let me know...) Seriously, though -- your child will love this book. It's awesome. (A)
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