Hi there... This is the third page of the Letter "L" in an alphabetical listing 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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Kids Books -- "L" By Title
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"Little Baa"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Candlewick, 2001)
A frisky young lamb and his mother get separated while grazing in a large field -- when the shepard notices the ewe (named "Ma") looking for her baby ("Baa") he treks across the pasture to find the little lost lamb. And the dog he takes with him? Why, it's none other than our friend, Floss! Beautiful, pastoral artwork which may stand in lulling contrast to the underlying anxiety of the story... But the pages turn quickly and the happy ending comes soon, so there's not really much opportunity for kids to get too freaked out about the mother-child separation issues. Nice book. (B)


"Little Bear"
Written by Else Homelund Minarik
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
(Harper Collins, 1960)

Hmmmm. Well, these are the books that made illustrator Maurice Sendak famous... and he certainly infuses the artwork with a richness and lively detail that makes them kinda cool... But, if the truth be told, I'm not really that wild about the series. There's a certain whiff of -- oh, I dunno -- purposeful rule-breaking, a convention-defying oddballishness about these books that makes them less than ideal for reading to small children. It's kind of like the Edward Gorey dark-perspective thing, but less overtly adult-oriented, so you look at these books and still think they're standard-issue kids books. And yet, behind it, there's this Gothic oddness, an unsettling undercurrent that makes me think... Hmmmm: do I really want to read this to my kid? This introductory volume also has a weird dynamic between the Little Bear of the title and his mother, who for some reason seems bent on quelling LB's interest in some imaginative little-kid project he's got going on. I suppose that's what's so weird about it: this supposedly innovative children's book has such a pronounced emphasis on controlling and channelling a child's imagination, telling Little Bear what's "wrong" and "right" in his play. Screw that. If Little Bear wants to fly to the moon, let him fly to the moon. Butt out, Mother Bear! Anyway, these are supposed to be classics, but I guess they aren't so classic for me. The artwork looks great, but it's in the service of a flawed text.
(C+)


"Little Bear's Friend"
Written by Else Homelund Minarik
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
(Harper Collins, 1960)

On the other hand, this one I like! The storyline is fairly conventional, the characters are likeable, the stern parental figures are more in the background. It's a fun book. There are four interconnected chapters, each of which could stand as it's own mini-story, telling the tale of how Little Bear meets his friend Emily, a little human girl who has come to stay in the forest for the summer. Emily and her doll, Lucy, have a few adventures with LB, babysitting some ducklings and going to a Wonderland-ish tea party with the other forest animals... Then, in the final chapter, Emily has to go back home and get ready for a new schoolyear... The hinted-at separation betweenthe worlds of childish play and adult work resonates powerfully in these brief pages, and Little Bear's sorrow is our own. Still, he's able to keep up his friendship with his summertime friend, learning to write and sending Emily a letter, which sweetly closes the book. A friend gave us this book as a birthday gift and they were right: this is the best of the series. Recommended!
(B)


"Little Bear's Visit"
Written by Else Homelund Minarik
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
(Harper Collins, 1961)

The young cub goes to visit his grandparents and they tell him weird stories -- one about a captive robin whose owner (Little Bear's mother, when she was young) loved it enough to set it free, and another about a gnomelike woodland goblin who gets scared by the sound of his own shoes chasing him through the forest. It's too weird and too psychologically fraught for me... Maybe this kind of bent, creepy material plays well for older children, but I wouldn't recommend it for toddlers. It's too hard to track, and the stories just aren't that interesting.
(C-)


"A Little Bit Of Trouble"
Written by Sally Grindley
Illustrated by Elanor Taylor
(Bloomsbury Books, 2004)

The sequel to Grindley's No Trouble At All. A loveable, absent-minded grandfather bear takes his two grandcubs (and their kitten!) out for a walk and a picnic lunch in the country. Chaos breaks out all around him, largely due the accidental misbehavior of the cubs, but he is seldom aware of what's going on, and tends to blame himself for the mishaps. When the cubs forget to close the gate to a pasture, a giant bull comes out and charges through their picnic... It turns out, though, that the bull isn't being mean: he just wanted to get into the field where his wife and calves are. Although you could get persnicketty and say that this book makes fun of senility, actually the message is slightly different: the old bear blames himself when things go wrong, but really it's never his fault. More about hijinks than actual trouble, this is a sweet book with a gentle tone... Nice reading, particularly for kids who pay attention to artwork and visual details, although something still hits me a little wrong about these books. (B)


"Little Green"
Written by Keith Baker
Illustrated by Keith Baker
(Harcourt, 2001)

A young boy sits at a window seat and watches a ruby-throated hummingbird whiz about the garden, describing what he sees. The collage-style pictures of the hummingbird and flowers are quite nice; the book also turns out to be about art and creative thought, because at the end, we find that the boy has been painting what he sees -- not a literal, representational picture, however, but a bunch of dynamic squiggles and splashy dashes that show how the bird's wild flight felt to the boy. The end result, a wild, chaotic, joyful picture, looks like the kind of thing a much younger child might make, thus validating the artistic work of budding young artists. Nice. (B)


"The Little Engine That Could"
Written by Watty Piper
Illustrated by George & Doris Haumann
(Platt & Munk, 1930)

This is one of those old, classic books that you go back and read and think, omigod, I had no idea all that stuff was going on in this book! In this case, it's the political content that surprised me... You know the story, right? After a train filled with toys and "good food" breaks down on the far side of the mountain, the toys beg various engines to help them and are rebuffed until a kind, little engine stops to help them. It's the rejections of the first trains -- and their not-too-shrouded political symbolism -- that are so fascinating. The first is a passenger engine train, symbolizing the spoiled, upper-class bourgeois, sniffing haughtily that it hauls around people who are really important, not just dumb old toys. The second seems to symbolize the unions and proletariat (this was the 1930s, remember...), a mighty freight engine that huffs and snorts about how it hauls mighty machines and tools of industry, and it doesn't have the time for some silly toys... Then comes a worn-out, rusty old engine -- the used-up average man? -- which wheezes its way past the little train, sighing, "I cannot, I cannot, I cannot..." Then finally, comes the plucky, all-American, Good Samaritan, can-do Little Engine That Could, who agrees to hitch up and pitch in, singing to herself the whole way up the hill that famous refrain: "I think I can, I think I can..." It's that well-known message of optimism and self-empowerment that stuck with everyone and entered the popular consciousness, but omigosh, all the other stuff that's in here! WHO KNEW?? Admittedly, this book is structurally awkward, particularly the super-repetitive, lumbering text... And yet, it's still a great story, one that continues to resonate from one century to the next... Chugga, chugga, chugga!! Puff, puff, puff!! Whooo-whooo!! (B+)


"Little Farm By The Sea"
Written by Kay Chorao
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
(Henry Holt, 1998)

A very nice, very explicit presentation of life on an independently-owned, small family farm (based on a real farm on the East Coast...) It's kinda on the long side for smaller children to sit through, but if your kid is fascinated with food farming, this is a very good book to present an idealized, idealistic version of that life. Beautiful, realistically rendered artwork balances a slightly dense, flat text. Worth checking out! (B)


"The Little Girl And The Dragon"
Written by Else Homelund Minarik
Illustrated by Martine Gourbault
(Greenwillow, 1991)

A cute, simple story about a strong-willed, confident little girl who has a little problem with a dragon coming out of one of her fantasy books and eating all her favorite toys. Rather than cry or recoil, she insists that the dragon give all her stuff back, and faces the mighty fire-breather down... And once he goes back into the book from whence he came (a copy, by the way, of Else Homelund Minarik's The Little Girl And The Dragon...) she ties the book shut and stuffs it under the leg of her bed. It's not a very complex story, but it's a satisfying book, particularly the artwork, which has a modern flair, but makes both monster and maiden seem quite likable. Worth checking out. (B)


"Little Gorilla"
Written by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
Illustrated by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
(Clarion, 1976)

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)


"The Little Island"
Written by Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Leonard Wiesgard
(Doubleday, 1947)

Another weird Brown book. The first half of the book is a beautiful, dreamy, well-observed nature text, detailing all the things that happen on a small, wild island somewhere on the East Coast of America... Flowers bloom, birds roost, strawberries ripen. It's a wonderful sequence, one of the most successful evocations of the natural world I've seen in a children's book (so many authors try to capture the essence of nature's magic, so many fall short). The text is greatly aided by Leonard Wiesgard's gorgeous artwork. Yet, in typical Brownian fashion, MG mucks it up with the introduction of some weird, inscrutable philosophical obsession. Suddenly, a little black kitten arrives on the island and has a bizarre dialogue (first with the island, and then with a fish who speaks for the island) about autonomy, interconnectedness and faith... Does that sound like a weird transition? It is. Like many of Brown's book, this lurches into some pet obsession, explored at the expense of plot or consistency of tone. The dialogue is basically this, that the cat (why a cat?) comes to the island by boat and disparages the island as being small, which prompts the island to say, au contraire, I am not so small and am in fact connected to all the world, since an island is just part of the earth that is not covered by water. Supposedly the fish (an agent of the island's will) explains this to the cat, but the actual conversation takes place off screen, and is merely paraphrased by the cat after she "gets it." And even the summary is vague: if you aren't an adult and able to keep a step or two ahead of Brown's line of thought, how the hell are you supposed to understand what the heck she is talking about? I just don't get the continuing popularity of her work -- I think it's clumsy and fuzzy-headed, and generally not well suited to read-aloud situations. Maybe it's great for introverted eight-year olds... I dunno since we haven't gotten there yet, but if so maybe I'll let you know in a few years. In the meantime: yeesh. (C-)


"Little Puppy"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Walker Books, 2001)
One of the nicest and simplest of Kim Lewis' farm books set in the English countryside. None of the too-realistic severity of the author's other books is present in this slim volume, making it ideal for the smallest of readers. A little girl named Katie visits a newborn litter of puppies and falls in love with the first one to open its eyes. The story is sweet, simple and short, almost like a haiku, and lends itself to being read again and again. Perfectly captures the magic of a small child learning about baby animals. Recommended! (A)


"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-)


"Little Rabbit Lost"
Written by Harry Horse
Illustrated by Harry Horse
(Peach Tree Press, 2002)

The start of a cute, compelling series in which a headstrong little bunny accidentally gets into all kinds of mischief. In this volume, it's Little Rabbit's (fourth) birthday, and his parents take the whole family to Rabbit World, an amusement park for bunnies that includes carrot-shaped water sleds, a roller coaster called the Big Hopper, and so on... Little Rabbit can't wait to go on all the rides, and gets grumpy when his parents tell him he's still too young to go on the "big" rides. He goes off on his own and eventually gets lost, only to be found by his mother after a big crowd of well-wishing wabbits gather 'round him and his red birthday balloon. The whole getting-lost theme may be frightening to the youngest readers, but the author moves through it very quickly, wisely choosing not to linger on the scariest part. Little Rabbit learns that his actions have consequences, but he isn't presented as a "bad" kid, just as impetuous and enthusiastic... like a little kid! The book taps into the sense of childhood wonder and naivete, and speaks on a level that most kids will instantly recognize. Plus, the artwork is lovely, cartoonish and exuberant while also richly packed with zillions of little details -- commenting on the art is at least as rewarding as the text itself. Nice book! (A-)


"Little Rabbit Goes To School"
Written by Harry Horse
Illustrated by Harry Horse
(Peach Tree Press, 2004)

Another fine book book in this notworthy series... This time around, Little Rabbit is going to his first day of school, and decides to take his toy wooden horse, Charlie, along as well. Through Charlie, Little Rabbit is mischieveous and disruptive, although the school's kind, patient teacher handles the trouble well, letting Charlie "rest" on her desk, and take a time-out in the corner. Little Rabbit gets lost during a field trip (after "following" Charlie) but quickly finds his way back, after which he learns to listen more closely when adults tell him that maybe school isn't the best place for toys from home. The book also explores friendship and sharing -- the other kids are naturally interested in the charismatic horse, but Little won't share his toy with them, at least not until two of the nicest kids share with him after he loses his lunch... Although this book shows misbehavior and a slightly scary situation with Charlie and Little getting lost in the woods, the overall tone is affectionate and forgiving; Little is shown more as self-centered and forgetful than "bad," and he learns from his mistakes and becomes nicer and more self-aware. As with the other books in this series, this has gorgeous, delightfully detailed artwork... Lots of fun to look at, and a perfect compliment to the equally engaging text. Recommended! (A-)


"Little Rabbit Runaway"
Written by Harry Horse
Illustrated by Harry Horse
(Peach Tree Press, 2005)

We checked this one out of the library, then I instantly regretted it.. This fits in the "why-put-ideas-in-their-heads" category: Little Rabbit throws a tantrum and runs away from home, so that no one can boss him around anymore. When he sets up house with another runaway, Molly Mouse, he finds his fantasy isn't as much fun as he thought. Eventually the mommy bunny and mommy mouse find their kids and take them home where they are hugged and loved and thankful to be their families. A happy ending, sure, but the journey there is a little rough -- lots of negative behavior that most parents won't want to have imitated, and the narrative flow isn't as clean or as strong as the earlier "Little Rabbit" stories... Love the artwork and the sense of whimsy, but I don't think we'll be reading this one very often around here. (C)


"Little Rabbit's New Baby"
Written by Harry Horse
Illustrated by Harry Horse
(Puffin Books, 2006)

(-)


"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)


"Living Color"
Written by Steve Jenkins
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
(Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

A cool book, but really meant for older kids... This natural history book groups animals by color -- blue dart frogs along with hyacinth macaws and blue-tailed skinks -- and explains how each animal uses their distinctive coloring as an adaptive or defensive trait. There's a lot of tooth-and-claw action here: most of this stuff has to do either with killing prey, avoiding being eaten, or finding a mate. There's also a lot of text -- each of the dozens of animals being profiled gets a little explanatory paragraph next to their picture. The artwork is beautiful and there's tons of great zoological information. Just the thing for a budding naturalist to pore over for years to come. (By the way, if you like this book you might also want to check out Jenkins' earlier work, Biggest, Strongest, Fastest... ) (B+)




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