Hi there... This is the first page of the Letter "M" 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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Kids Books -- "M" By Title
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"Madeline"
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)


"Madeline's Rescue"
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.
(A-)


"Madeline And The Bad Hat"
Written by Ludwig Bemelmans
Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
(Viking Press, 1956)

Horrible! "The bad hat" is Madeline's code for a little boy named Pepito, who moves in next door to the school. Pepito is the Spanish ambassador's son, and while we can be thankful that he isn't just an ethnic stereotype (he dresses up in a toreador's costume, but that's about it....) the behavior he models is simply atrocious. Pepito is supposed to be a male version of Madeline's willfulness and misbehavior -- in 1950s Dennis The Menace style, he shoots people with a slingshot and plays tricks, etc. But when Bemelmans shows the boy tying a cat up in a pillowcase and releasing it into a pack of dogs, that's just a bit too much for me. Yeah, the point is that this behavior is too violent, and goes beyond mere mischief -- Pepito gets hurt and goes to the hospital, presumably learning his lesson. But, jeez, even with the moral lesson, this seems pretty extreme, if you ask me. There are plenty of other books that you can use to discuss bad behavior -- they don't have to be so graphic, and so dark. Even if you were charmed by the other "Madeline" books, you might want to skip this one... It is definitely not suitable for the youngest, toddler-age readers. (D)


"Mailbox Magic"
Written by Nancy Poydar
Illustrated by Nancy Poydar
(Holiday House, 2000)

Potentially, a nice exploration of the lost art of letter writing... A young boy becomes fascinated with the thought of getting mail sent to him, but the book swiftly gets sidetracked with his obsession with getting mail from a cereal company after he sends in mail for a promotional contest. Hmmm. Somehow, that's not as interesting to me as it would have been if he'd been writing, I dunno, a penpal or his grandmother. The corresponding with a corporation angle was a bit depressing. Kinda wordy, flat writing as well. Oh, well.
(C)


"Maisy Big, Maisy Small: A Book Of Maisy Opposites"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick, 2007)

Wow... this one's really trippy! One of the boldest, most visually challenging Maisy books, this volume vibrates with the usual barrage of bright, bold, primary colors, but also has a lot of kooky, creative artwork, and a decidedly surrealistic tone. The multiple madcap Maisy images are blown up to fill the pages, practically spilling out of the book while overloading the reader's senses. Illustrating over two dozen opposite concepts, this book takes great liberties with Maisy's visual appearance -- when Maisy flies, she has her own wings; when she swims, Maisy has a mermaid tail. For thin vs. thick, her body elongates and then compacts; for fluffy vs. spiky, first her edges soften and then she looks like she just stuck a fork in an electrical outlet. Strictly speaking, not all the concepts are opposites (swimming/flying, for example) but the book's blithe, puckish spirit will sweep away such quibbles. This is a very lively, visually stimulating picturebook, taking Lucy Cousin's cartoonist art style and pushing it in new directions. It's pretty cool... a great book for the littlest readers. (B+)


"Maisy, Charley, And The Wobbly Tooth"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick, 2006)

Another nice, brainless Maisy book, wherein Maisy and all the gang go with Charley on a (potentially) scary visit to the dentist's office. Maisy holds Charley's hand while the dentist x-rays the wobbly tooth and tells Charley that it's a baby tooth that's about the fall out; later it does, and Charley is happy because that means the Tooth Fairy (played by Tallulah) will come for a visit. Charley also learns to brush his teeth -- all in all, a nice going-to-the-dentist book. As with all Maisy books, it's simple and to the point, and the artwork is clear, colorful and visually appealing. Nice to see the supportiveness of the friends, too. Good book to read if your kid's about to lose one of those hard-earned chompers. (B)


"Maisy Goes To The Library"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick, 2005)

Generally speaking, one of the things that makes the Maisy books both so successful and so vacuous, is her complete lack of personality and the lack of meaningful drama in the text. This book -- a fine piece of pro-library propaganda -- is unusual in that it has a sustained narrative, in which Maisy visits her local library, looking for a book on fish, and winds up staying for storytime before going out to play. It's a nice book. As always, Lucy Cousins' bold, simple artwork makes this story instantly appealing, and anything that steers kids towards libraries and books is alright by me. My one quibble is that it describes a bunch of things you can do at "the library," including using computers, making xerox copies and looking at fish in an aquarium. It would have nice if instead Cousins had said "at Maisy's library you can..." do all these things, since obviously not all libraries are equally well-funded or geared towards non-print experiences. Other than that, though, this is quite a nice book. Yay. (B+)


"Maisy's Amazing Big Book Of Words"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick, 2007)

Another fun, colorful Maisy book. This volume is an oversized word primer, filled with about 300 words and illustrations (and a bunch of flaps to open, too!) all in Ms. Cousins' bright, blocky style. The words are organized by theme -- on the farm, at the park, etc. -- and while there's nothing really in the plot department, it's as eyecatching as all Maisy books, and sure to enthrall the littlest readers. (B+)


"Make New Friends"
Written by Rosemary Wells
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
(Hyperion, 2003)

A nice entry in Rosemary Wells' "Yoko" series... A new girl, Juanita, comes to Yoko's school and Ms. Jenkins asks Yoko to help her fit in... Yoko is an exemplary pal, making sure Juanita knows how to sing the little songs the class sings for snacktime, etc. and that she isn't alone or left out of any activities. She even stays after school while Juanita waits for her mother to pick her up... Nice role modeling of positive social behavior and solicitousness... Another nice entry in the Hilltop School series! (B)


"Make Way For Ducklings"
Written by Robert McCloskey
Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
(Viking, 1941)

A deservedly enduring classic. Two ducks fly over Boston, in search of a place to nest and raise their young -- at first they flutter down into one of the city parks, but when they find that location too chaotic and dangerous, they fly on and find an small islet on the Charles River, which serves them as home base while they roost and raise their young. The first half of the book gives a brief, nostalgic tour of the Boston area, circa 1940, while the second section deals with the comic misadventures of Mama duck as she teaches her ducklings to face the world, and takes them back to the park where the story started. Since the brood is too young to fly, she walks them over to the commons, and nearly causes a traffic pileup when they try to waddle across a busy thoroughfare. The kindly neighborhood cop, Mike (a friend of the duck family), is a classic character and provides parents a nice opportunity to bust out their best Irish brogue... He calls in all cars to help the little quackers get to the park, and once they get there, it's time for our happy ending. A wonderful, old-fashioned story, with rich, appealing artwork. Still a winner, after all these years! (A)


"Mama Always Comes Home"
Written by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Brooke Dyer
(Harper Collins, 2005)

A sweet book dealing with a child's separation anxiety, when Mama goes off to work... The book first shows numerous animal moms -- cats, birds, dogs -- all going off on necessary errands -- getting food, catching worms., etc. -- and coming back to soothe their worried children. Finally we see a human mother leaving for work (with a stay-at-home dad waving bye-bye!) and coming home at the end of the day, just like she said she would. The writing isn't quite on a par with Wilson's best books, but the message is still welcome... Working mothers may find this book very useful. (B)


"Mama Loves"
Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
(Harper Collins, 2004)

A nice concept, nice art, a little rough structurally, though. This is a rhyming book about all the kinds of things a cool mom likes to do with her kids -- cooking, gardening, playing outdside, etc. The trouble, though, is that the text is written in the first person (so that the mom likes to do these things "with me!") but the artwork shows six little children-piglets and has her doing different things with each child. There's no coordination between the artwork and the text (to tip readers off which kid is now suddenly "me") and, worse for readers, the rhyme scheme is pretty wobbly and weak -- Dotlich never finds a consistent meter, and I found this text pretty difficult to get read. Other than that, though, this is a nice mommy book -- a bit icky-sweet, but not too much. Worth a try! (B-)


"Manuelo The Playing Mantis"
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman & Jody Wheeler
(Viking, 2004)

A lonely, sensitive praying mantis who likes to sit and listen to classical music in the bandstand of the local park tries to find an instrument that he can play. Manuelo makes several attempts -- he builds a harp and a flute, picks a flower and tries to use it as a horn, but everything he tries flops, at least until he finds a friend who can help him out. Once they make a cello, however, Manuelo finds his muse, and his beautiful music attracts all the other nighttime bugs and critters by the pond, who click and croak and sing along with him. A sweet celebration of music and creativity, and also a clever tale abou tthe power of persistence and perseverence. Apparently this comes from an unfinished manuscript that Freeman's son, Roy Freeman, saw to completion. Good thing, too -- it's a winner! (B+)


"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)


"Marigold And Grandma On The Town"
Written by Stephanie Calmenson
Illustrated by Mary Chalmers
(Harper Collins, 1994)

A lovely chapter-book about a little girl bunny-rabbit named Marigold who goes out for a shopping trip with her kindly grandmother. They go to a department store together and buy a summer hat, then to the park, then out for a bite to eat, and finally just to have some goofy fun in a photo booth. There's lot of activity, the artwork is nice, the level of the writing isn't completely moronic, and the emotional interplay is fairly nuanced and complex. At the heart of it is an innocent, straightforward portrait of a little girl (about four?) learning how to find her place in the world. She's too shy to tell a saleswoman that her new hat is uncomfortable, and she cries when she thinks her grandmother will be disappointed when she isn't "wonderful" enough to show off to her friends. The grandmother eases Marigold's self-consciousness by assuring her that she'll always be wonderful as far as she's concerned -- but that she still wants her to eat with a fork when she's sitting at the table. We really enjoyed this book and were sad to find that, while Calmenson has written numerous picturebooks, this appears to be the only Marigold book available. Definitely worth checking out.. (A)


"Martin MacGregor's Snowman"
Written by Lisa Brodie Cook
Illustrated by Adam McCauley
(Walker Books, 2003)

In an abnormally warm winter, a boy named Martin MacGregor grows impatient for his chance to make a snowman, and comes up with all kinds of mischievous substitutes (shaving cream snowmen, etc.) that invariably get him in a lot of trouble. when at last, it does snow (in April) Martin makes a whole phalanx of snowpeople, but then when the weather turns rainy, he gets bored again and wishes for sun, so he could go swimming. A cute story about the human tendency towards dissatifaction, though the modeling of misbehavior, etc. is probably better for bigger kids to read. (B-)


"Mary And The Mouse, The Mouse And Mary"
Written by Beverly Donofrio
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 2007)

A stunner...! The story, about an adorable little girl who forms a lifelong relationship with an equally adorable mouse that lives in the walls of her house, is cute, but what will really knock your socks off are Barbara McClintock's detailed, delightful illustrations. This is perhaps her most precise, most formidable artwork to date, building on her love of architecture and the beauty of detail in the physical world. The dualistic structure of the story, contrasting the mouse's world to the girl's, lends itself to formality, but McClintock really outdoes herself on this one, mixing joyfulness with a level of draftsmanship that is almost unheard of in modern children's books. Panels such as the two-page spread contrasting the girl and mouse's college dorm rooms, or the sequence showing Mary's daughter "accidentally on purpose" dropping books on the floor so that she can see her mouse friend are absolutely magical. The text has its problems -- mostly its just a teeny, tiny bit overwritten (Donofrio is entering the picturebook field after the success of her autobiographical memoir) but the overall feel of the book sweeps all of it aside. This is a wonderful book, and fully deserves to become a classic. Maybe you'll dig it, too. (A)


"Matthew's Truck"
Written by Katherine Ayers
Illustrated by Hideko Takahashi
(Candlewick, 2005)

An excellent entry into the boys-love-trucks genre. (Although, I kinda wish there were more girls-love-trucks out there as well...) Matthew is, well, a little boy who loves to play with his yellow toy truck. He imagines himself driving it around and doing all kinds of work stuff... The twist is that in his imagination, Matthew is driving a toy-sized truck, not a big one, cruising around his living room, underneath tables and chairs,down the stairs and along the kitchen countertop. The artwork is bright, simple and appealing, and works perfectly with the straightforward, understated text. I like this one -- it's really about imagination and fantasy play, and less about kicking up big clouds of mud and going vrooom, vrooom, vrooom while destroying a hillside somewhere. Definitely worth checking out. (B+)


"Max"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Candlewick., 2000)

In a nice twist on the "super-kid" theme, Bob Graham presents us with Max, the youngest member of a famous superhero family... He dresses up with a cape and all the other colorful acoutrements, but for some reason his super-powers fail to manifest themselves. His parents try not to make a big deal out of it, but the kids at school give him a hard time, and ask why he doesn't do any super stuff. The book is somewhat of a preview of Graham's Dimity Dumpty, presenting an accidental hero, after a minor crisis prompts Max to start flying... So, instead of smashing renegade asteroids or wrapping bank robbers with bent traffic signs, Max floats up and frees kittens and kites that are stuck in trees, etc. He does little things, but they are all good deeds, and though his efforts aren't earthshaking, Max is comfortably in his humble niche -- let mom and dad go off and stop the alien invasions. I have to confess, even as a comicbook kid myself, I wasn't totally captivated by this one. It was okay, and I suppose if my kid had read some superhero stuff herself, it would have been funnier or more resonant. As it was, it was okay: Graham's general aesthetic, thematic and visual, almost always appeals to me. (B)


"Max Found Two Sticks"
Written by Brian Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
(Simon & Schuster, 1994)

A nice music-appreciation story about a young boy who loves to drum and makes everything he can into a percussion instrument -- paint buckets, trash cans, soda bottles, whatever. In the end, a drummer from a marching band tosses Max a couple of "real" drum sticks, and encourages his creativity and talent. Nice art, nice story; good if your kid is into drumming to begin with. Also nice to see kids in an urban, inner-city environment, just being kids. (A)


"May I Pet Your Dog?"
Written by Stephanie Calmenson
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Clarion, 2007)

A straightforward primer to show small children the safest way to meet and approach strange dogs. Although this doesn't provide much in the way of dramatic storytelling, it does offer very practical information, in a way that may appeal to kids. Ask the owners first; show the dog your hand and let them sniff it before you try petting them; pet dogs from the side, not over their heads; pay attention to warning signs like crouching or growling, and don't make eye contact with an angry or anxious dog. As a narrative, this is pretty clunky, but even if you only get one or two readings out of it, the information they impart will be very valuable. (B)




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