Hi there... This is the second page of the Letter "S" 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 -- "S" By Title
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"Schools Have Learn"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Amanda Haley
(Blue Apple Books, 2004)

Call me a fusty old killjoy (Alright: "You're a fusty old killjoy!") but I just have a problem with children's books that intentionally use bad grammar. I don't like 'em. I don't see the point. I also don't think that kids are that "dumb," or that they need to be talked down to. Ms. Ziefert has more than a few fine children's books under her belt but she also has a penchant for "cute," humorous linguistic lapses -- she followed this book with the similarly irritating Families Have Together, which also has her wobbling back and forth between good and bad grammar. It's disheartening. I mean, really, what is the point of writing stanzas like "Kids have sing/school bells have ring/lines have push/monitors have shush" or "Schools have learn/books have return"? Ziefert seems to think that kids will latch onto her sense of humor, and that the book's message -- showing the daily routines of grade school -- will penetrate minds that otherwise might not pay attention. I'm not so sure. And even if she's right, what's the advantage to sugar-coating knowledge under a veneer of willful ignorance and demi-literacy? It seems to me entirely the wrong message to send young readers. Also, with this particular book, the problem is compounded by grotty artwork, cartoonish drawings reminiscent of David Shannon's work that show kids as gangly, gap-toothed munchkins -- Haley's illustrations convey emotion and humor,but I still find them unaesthetic and unappealing. Other folks might enjoy this formula, but it was a wash for me. (D)


"Scribble"
Written by Deborah Freedman
Illustrated by Deborah Freedman
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

This book expects a lot from its readers, but it pays off well. It works on several levels -- as a fairytale-related lark, as a book about visual art and creative thinking, and as a snapshot of sibling conflict. Two sisters, Emma and Lucie, are each drawing their own pictures... Emma, the older child, is in the middle of a complicated princess fantasy, and made a really fancy picture of the princess in her sleeping-beauty bed, while little Lucie has scrawled out a scribbly yellow kitty kat. After Emma makes fun of Lucie's picture, Lucie retaliates by scribbling all over the princess. Emma leaves in a huff, off to tell the 'rents, and that's when things get weird. Lucie and her cat get sucked into the pink construction paper world of the princess, and the only way back out is for Lucie to erase all the scribbly lines she plastered over the page. In the meantime, the cat and the princess have fallen in love, and formed their own fairytale romance. The plot is complicated and fantastical, and may be hard for younger children to follow, but it hits a certain kooky, whimsical tone that the right readers will love. Worth checking out. (B)


"The Seals On The Bus"
Written by Lenny Hort
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(Henry Holt, 2000)

An entertaining riff on the well-known "wheels on the bus" kiddie songalong song -- various unexpected critters climb on board the bus, including a pair of stinky skunks who make everyone run to the back... This one was good, clean fun, though it didn't really stick to my ribs... (B-)


"Secret In The Garden"
Written by James Mayhew
Illustrated by James Mayhew
(The Chicken House, 2003)

Inspired by The Secret Garden A young girl named Sophie (literally) peeks through the die-cut pages to see into an imagination-laced garden, and to meet a friend who may or may not be real. Nice, pastoral artwork... The peephole idea is fun, but the execution makes it seem almost unnecessary -- the text will carry you through to the next page anyway, and the look-here gimmick is more of a distraction than a help. Still, it's nice to have some variety in the way you can look at and think of books. (B)


"Serious Farm"
Written by Tim Egan
Illustrated by Tim Egan
(Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

His crops look nice, but Farmer Fred is kind of a killjoy: "Nothin' funny about corn," he likes to say. Nothing else is funny to Farmer Fred, either, and after a while all the animals on his farm get tired of his all-work, no-play attitude. They try to cheer him up an make him laugh; pigs climb trees, goats do handstands, a cow tries to crow like a rooster, but Fred just keeps grumbling about how farming is serious work, and tells the critters to cut it out. Finally, they quit and leave for happier ground, which causes Fred to do a little soul searching and lighten up a little. But only a little: it turns out Farmer Fred didn't need cheering up after all, because he wasn't sad so much as he's just plain serious. He doesn't mind if other people have fun, though... A funny story, and a little less abstract than some of Egan's other gems. Plus, it gives adult readers a good opportunity to work on their monotone... Here, try it with me: "Broccoli's no fun. I never laugh at bell peppers." (B+)


"Serious Trouble"
Written by Arthur Howard
Illustrated by Arthur Howard
(Harcourt, 2003)

This one was an instant favorite in our household... Admittedly, we've been on a princess-and-castles kick, so a fable about a little boy who doesn't want to be a king when he grows up -- but would rather be a jester -- struck the right chord. The story opens with King Olaf and Queen Olive, two verrrrry serious monarchs who want their son to be just as stern and grave as they are when he grows up, and are flabbergasted when little Earnest tells them he'd rather grow up to be a buffoon. There's no time to talk about it, though, because a terrible three-headed dragon has come banging at the palace gates and it's up to Earnest to chase it off. The dragon, whose three heads have distinct and mutually combative personalities, is a big selling point for this book -- their three-sided conversation with the wily young prince gives adventuresome adult readers a chance to really stretch out and ham it up, and the story itself his a nice comedic stride from start to finish. Cute, fun, amusing. Recommended. (A)


"Seven Silly Eaters"
Written by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt-Gulliver, 1997)

Well-constructed, but a bit weird. A husband and wife, living, apparently, off the grid in a mountain cabin, keep popping out one child after another, winding up with seven kids who are all extremely picky eaters. Each has a labor-intensive specialty -- applesauce, eggs, pink lemonade, etc. -- that is the only thing they will ingest, and which has to be made from scratch by the increasingly frazzled mother. One day, they accidentally combine all their favorite foods and create a big, pink cake that becomes the family food. From then on out, it's the only thing the family will ever eat... Oh, yum. The rhyming text is very well written, and the artwork -- by the ever-fab Marla Frazee -- is finely detailed and richly packed with visual gags. Still, the story's a bit screwy: yeah, I guess that picky eaters are a big topic of concern, but I'm not sure how this narrative addresses the problem, particularly as the mother deals with it by catering to her kids' whims to the point of dropping from exhaustion. So is the book really about her frustration and burnout (which is explicitly presented as a plot point), and if so, what the heck is the burly, smiling, bearded cipher of a Dad doing the whole time? Chopping wood? Working on his novel? Why doesn't he help out a little? And why is this something that little kids would want to have read to them? I dunno... Food issues are so emotionally fraught that I'm wary of delving too far into a book like this. Maybe there's something I'm missing here, but I thought this story was a little "off" in what it was trying to present... Can't say I was too wild about it. (C-)


"17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore"
Written by Jenny Offill
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
(Schwartz & Wade, 2007)

A charming first-person narrative of semi-innocent misbehavior, as a young girl (perhaps about six or seven years old) tells of all the mischievous things she's done (recently) and is no longer allowed to do... Some are harmless enough, like walking to school backwards (and back home, backwards, as well...), while others, particularly those that involve torturing her little brother with staples and glue, show a teensy bit more malice. For older kids with open-minded parents, this book could be a real delight -- this cheerful young lady would have a real blast hanging out with Ramona and Beezus -- but with younger readers, you might want to file this away under, "Why give them any ideas?" I really enjoyed the artwork, which deftly captured both detail and emotion... Every page was genuinely funny, although admittedly in the funny-because-it's-painfully-true category... Definitely worth checking out! (B+)


"The Sheriff Of Rottenshot"
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Victoria Chess
(Greenwillow, 1982)

Mostly a series of oddball character sketches, with Philbert Phlurk, an inventor who specializes in things that don't work (an amusing list); Cecil Snedde, who sneezes mightily; Twickham Tweer, who eats weird stuff and gets a stomach ache, etc. I wasn't fond of most of these poems, though a few hit the spot. Ones that I didn't like include "Sadie Snatt," about a piggishly obese woman who eats weird stuff (food issues, obligatory grossouts) and "Huffer And Cuffer" about a pair of bellicose giants who box each other silly (too violent, also needlessly grotesque). There may be a juvenile appetite for unsavory material, but many parents may choose not to actively feed it... If you're among those parents, this is a Prelutsky volume you might want to skip. (C)


"Shhh!"
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
(Hyperion, 2004)

A disappointing offering from the UK... A little shrew goes around trying to get all the noisy folks around him to be quiet for a while so he can tell them his new, wonderful idea. Elephants on cell phones, sheep banging away on typewriters and dirtbiking amphibians all ignore the tiny guy, and while the various sound effects are fun to read, the zinger ending -- that the shrew wants to tell them that we can have peace on earth if we all just take a moment out to be quiet -- falls so flat and is so drably preachy that the book really is a wash. I'm a fan of stories that teach lessons, and of pacifism, and of serenity, but I also appreciate subtlety and in that regard, this book falls like a ton of bricks. Oh, well. (C)


"Shirley's Wonderful Baby"
Written by Valiska Gregory
Illustrated by Bruce Degen
(Harper Collins, 2002)

Blechh. This book is just so drenched in negativity and convoluted plot points... it's not much fun, or (I would imagine), particularly helpful. Shirley is a little hippopotamus girl whose new infant brother makes her fume with jealousy. Each page features a Shirley pouting on the floor, wondering how any adult could love a drooly baby who "looks like a prune" or has "legs like a turkey..." The first half of the story wallows in her sourness and nasty tone, which the mother and father hippo cheerfully ignore. It isn't until a beatific nanny, Ms. Mump, shows up and pretends to agree with Shirley that the older sister starts to stick up for her little brother, and to show an interest in helping take care of him. I dunno, maybe this approach works, maybe not. Probably depends on the kid. But as far as the ultra-negative tone of the story goes, I figure this one is best left in the don't-put-ideas-in-their-head category. Plus, the resolution is dramatically weak, so the"positive" message is unlikely to get through to the kids who need it. I hated this story. Didn't care for the artwork much, either. (See also: sibling rivalry )
(D)


"Shoe Baby"
Written by Joyce Dunbar
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
(Candlewick, 2005)

Hmmm. I thought this one was kind of dumb. A baby, sitting in a king-size red shoe, drives it like a car, flies it like a plane, sails it like a boat, and sees all kinds of kooky critters, and even a king and queen... Then it turns out the shoe belongs to Daddy and the baby was mysteriously, magically magically made tiny, and when she steps out of the shoe, she gets normal-sized, which elates her mother, who had thought she was lost. The story (I think) is kind of blah, the rhymes are kind of blah, the artwork is crazy and hectic and difficult to focus on or easily understand. The age level this seems to be aimed at seems unlikely to be able to appreciate the busy, overwrought artwork... But then again, what do I know? My girl asked to have it read four times in a row. But maybe she was just doing that to mess with me. She's been like that lately. (C-)


"The Shoemaker And The Elves"
Written by The Brothers Grimm
Adapted by Adrienne Adams
Illustrated by Adrienne Adams
(Scribner & Sons, 1960)

One of the very few fairy tales that isn't completely disturbing on some level... In fact, there's a happy ending and nothing bad happens to anyone! A shoemaker who has fallen on hard times gets a helping hand from mysterious agents -- a trio of elves who sneak into his shop every night and turn what little leather he has left into beautiful shoes that customers buy for top dollar. The cobbler's fortunes improve, and he becomes wealthy and happy, and when he finally discovers who his benefactors are, he thanks them by making special miniature outfits to wear, and they then go off to enjoy themselves. This is a fine adaptation by Adrienne Adams -- the artwork is old-fashioned but appealing and the story is still magical and mysterious, and holds up well over time. Recommended! (B+)




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