Hi there... This is the first page of the Letter "J" in an alphabetical list of children's books reviewed on ReadThatAgain.com... All these books are also listed by Author in another section of the site.
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"Jack And The Dreamsack"
Written by Laurence Anholt
Illustrated by Ross Collins
A fantastical bedtime story about a boy who doesn't just want to have dreams, he wants to capture them and see what makes them tick. Jack waits up late and only pretends to go to sleep, then, when the dreams come, he tries to stuff as many as he can into his magical "dreamsack," moving from one surreal scene to the next. There are some cool, kooky images and a generally dreamy, imaginative vibe (and a clear debt to Winsor McKay's Little Nemo In Slumberland, both conceptually and visually...) While the evocative, creativity-friendly story is welcome, the ending is a little muddled. Jack wakes up and, naturally, finds all his captured dreams have evaporated back into the aether, but the concluding message, that "the best kind of dreams are the wide-awake dreams" doesn't quite follow, and seems tacked on. Also, it is accompanied by cameo pictures of random people who we hadn't seen before -- lovers in the park, a mother with her baby, a boy with his dog. Okay, so Anholt is telling us to bring the wonder of sleeping dreams with us into the waking world. But who are all these other people we see all of a sudden? Minor quibbles, though -- mostly this is a very nice book, just the sort of thing to light up young minds... and maybe a few old ones, too! (B+)
Written by Holly Keller
Illustrated by Holly Keller
A delightful book about growing up featuring a little bear/boy named Jacob who is impatient to do all the things his older sister and brother can do, and slips into a funk when a new pair of overalls from his grandmother is too big for him to wear. Winter comes, and the family hibernates, and in the spring, just like Mama said, the Jacob has grown tall enough to do many of the things he wanted to do: he can climb the jungle gym with his siblings, see over the edge of the bathroom mirror, and even wear his cool, new, red overalls! Every emotional note is struck just right -- a very sweet book with a very positive tone. (A)
"Jamaica And Brianna"
Written by Juanita Havill
Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien
(Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
Two friends fight for a while when they get jealous over each other's clothes. It starts when Jamaica goes to school feeling bad because she has to wear her brother's old, hand-me-down boots (the message about families that have to scrimp and save to buy things is a welcome change of pace from the world of privilege that defines most children's books...) Her friend Brianna's pretty, fluffy pink boots make Jamaica jealous and she takes out her frustration out by pooh-poohing Brianna's boots when Brianna doesn't like hers... and the two of them stop speaking to each other for a while, until tempers cool and they are able to talk about it. Overall, this one was kind of on the negative side, but it is a good story about working out problems, expressing feelings, and keeping friendships going, despite the rough patches. (B-)
Written by Eboni Bynum & Roland Jackson
Illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
A fascinating folk tale set in a West African village, where a young child named Jamari learns a sacred drum rhythm that keeps his village safe from disaster... When he grows to be a man, though, he forgets about the duty that was passed on to him by one of the village elders, and rather than take up his place as a musical griot, he gets enmeshed in more mundane, "real world" activities, like farming and raising a family. When the earth actually does open up and the skies turn black (volcano), Jamari remembers what old Baba Mdogo had taught him, and he sits down n the town square and beats out the rhythm that makes the mountain calm. The story is nice, evoking nature and hidden mystical powers that surround us, as well as a reverence for "the old ways..." This is matched by the expressive imagery, a brightly colored folk art style that is quite appealing. Although the traditional tribal life depicted here is clearly endangered by modernity and consumer culture, it's still nice to explore the agrarian lifestyle of the villagers. It's distant from the culture of most children's books and a nice breath of fresh air... Also, it's neither exoticized nor overly idealized, so the story has a pureness about it that's kind of nice. Definitely worth checking out, espeically if you have any interest in drumming and percussion... it's a lot of fun reading the drum beats aloud! (B+)
Written by Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan
(William Morrow & Co., 1987)
A late entry in Ms. Cleary's oddball "Jimmy And Janet" series... There's a lot going on in this book, which starts out with Janet collecting little "thingamajigs" around the house -- paperclips, buttons, empty thread spools, etc. -- and her brother Jimmy getting jealous that he doesn't have any cool tchotckes to play with, too. Things escalate, naturally, and Mom has to referee the weeklong running battle. Once again, Cleary's portrait of childish petulance and playfulness and stubborn pride rings true -- she really knows how to write "real" kids, negative emotions and all. If you're trying to avoid books with this kind of interpersonal conflict in them, hold off on this one, but if you're looking for a good book that shows how kids fight, but doesn't get too nasty, this could make it on the short list. (B+)
"Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear"
Written by Nancy White Carlstrom
Illustrated by Bruce Degen
(Simon & Schuster, 1986)
In general, the Jesse Bear series is a little too syrupy for me, verging on the icky-sweet. The writing can also be a little cluttered or awkward. However, it hits a chord with the little ones, and provides a recurrent character for children who enjoy that sort of thing. The artwork is cheerful and packed with cute details and diversions that are fun to talk about, if slightly cluttered at times. This is the first Jesse Bear book, and focusses on the clothes that Jesse puts on at various times of the day -- PJs, outdoor clothes, There's one confusing part where he says he'll "wear" his highchair during lunch -- the passage doesn't make much sense, though I suppose it's meant to be written off as an imaginative, childish flight, but other than that, this volume is nice enough, in an innocuous kind of way. The writing isn't great, nor are the rhymes, but it's still an enjoyable book. (C+)
"Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
Little Annabelle lives in the middle of the city, her backyard is right next to a filling station... But she still looks for fairies wherever she goes, and one day, when the Byrd family's ice cream truck crashes in the parking lot next door, she helps Jethro, the little fairy child and his family, and invites them over for tea. Mom and Dad can't see the fairy family, but they are polite anyway, and Jethro and Annabelle have a wonderful afternoon playing together. A lovely celebration of magic and magical thinking, this shows -- as many other Bob Graham books do -- regular kids living happy, imaginative lives amid crowded urban environs... The story is nice, the art is a delight, the only trouble is that the text is a little crowded. Everytime we hear from one fairy, each member of the family speaks as well, each in quick succession, and it's hard to keep them all separate, do different voices, etc. Still, this is a nice book, and for those who can see faeries, destined to be a classic. (For more books by this author, see our Bob Graham profile page) (B+)
"Joey & Jet"
Written by James Yang
Illustrated by James Yang
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)
A quick moving, stylishly cartoonish romp, with a loyal dog (Jet) chasing a ball thrown by his boy (Joey). The ball goes past birds, through the woods, over the water, into a cafe, down a hole etc., and yet the energetic Jet zips along, finally fetching the ball and bringing it back... only to have Joey throw it again!! Writer/artist James Yang does commercial graphic work for a number of national magazines, and this digitally-rendered book bops along at a brisk pace, delivering its zippy punchline after an action-packed outing. Not much depth, but a fun read with strong visual appeal. (B)
"Joey & Jet In Space"
Written by James Yang
Illustrated by James Yang
(Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2006)
A weak follow-up to Yang's previous volume... In this overly-kinetic, wildly designed romp, Joey and Jet are in outer space, but the cosmos is cluttered and ill-defined, as is the story. Jet zaps off somewhere, and Joey searches for him, past brightly colored blips, spaceships, robots and a big Saturn-like planet... Then, just as his search hits a hysterical peak, his mom calls him to lunch and snaps him out of his playtime . The story's flimsy and the presentation falls flat, largely due to the haphazard layout. It's colorful and dynamic, but uninspired and unoriginal. (C-)
"Jonathan And His Mommy"
Written by Irene Smalls-Hector
Illustrated by Michael Hays
(Little, Brown & Co., 1992)
A young boy and his mother like to take walks together and walk silly walks -- zig-zags, backwards, hopping, crisscrossing each other's legs, etc. Monty Python would be proud! The setting is urban, but the tone is joyful and bright; also includes passing references to hip-hop and reggae, for the musically inclined. The text has a nice lilt to it, with a genuinely childlike tone, as Jonathan tells us about taking a walk with his upbeat, playful mom. Nice to read aloud, with lively, realistic artwork that was probably painted working from photos. Worth checking out. (B)
"June 29, 1999"
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
(Houghton Mifflin, 1992)
A young pre-teen girl named Holly Evans has a science experiment gone wrong, at least that's how it seems when, a few months after she sends some potted plants attached to hot air balloons up into the sky with a slow-drip of super-food feeding each one, giant veggies start to sail out of the sky. Holly is sure the skyscraper-sized celery stalks and mammoth squash must be hers, at least until new foods -- plants she didn't sprout -- begin to float down from the heavens as well. Turns out there are other astro-farmers out there as well, and in typical Wiesnerian brilliance, the panels that show all this kooky chaos are super-detailed and super-silly as well. A great trip-out book, with a clearer, more conventional narrative arc that some of Wiesner's other work. (A-)
"Just A Little Bit"
Written by Ann Tompert
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
(Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
An elephant and mouse try playing on the teeter-totter together, but it doesn't work, since the elephant weighs so much more. One after another, other animals playing at the park climb on to the mouse's side to help even things out, but it sure takes a lot of other critters to weigh as much as an elephant! Just when they're about to give up, a tiny beetle lands on the mouse's nose and tips the balance, and then the game begins. An amusing, if mildly awkward, story that helps introduce the physics involved in using the see-saw. One trouble with the text is that the elephant keeps urging the other animals to push down to try and make it work, but it's up to reader to know that this won't work (the text never makes it explicit that weight alone will make the see-saw work). Other than little blip, this is a pretty nice book. Amusing artwork from Lynn Munsinger packs in a lot of detail and humor into her pictures, especially where she shows the poor mouse getting crowded off his seat by all the bigger animals who are trying to help -- Definitely a strong point of this book...) (C+)
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