Hi, there!

Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in Winter, 2007. These are mostly new(ish) books, but also include some older books we just found out about and liked more than others. Recommendations and submissions are welcome: please feel free to contact us about other books, new and old.


Many more books are reviewed in the site's permanent archives... These are organized alphabetically, either by Author Name or by Book Title.






New Book Reviews: Winter, 2006-07


"Nutmeg And Barley: A Budding Friendship"
Written by Janie Bynum
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Candlewick, 2006)

Opposites attract in this tale of a shy field mouse named Barley, and his rambunctious, chatty neighbor, Nutmeg the squirrel. Nutmeg is always inviting Barley over to visit, and he is always too shy and self-contained to consent. Finally, when the mouse gets a bad cold, Nutmeg takes over and nurses him back to health, cementing a lifelong friendship and/or romance. I wasn't wild about this book, but my daughter loved it (for about a week...) The artwork was okay, but the story struck me as fairly old-fashioned, with stereotyped gender roles and a clumsy resolution. But in one of those Barney-like moments, it rang a bell in my kid's imagination, so instead of shuffling it out of the way (as planned), I wound up reading it for much longer than I'd have guessed... Might not strike a chord with parents, but some kids will love it. (B-)


"Slinky Malinki"
Written by Lynley Dodd
Illustrated by Mallinson Rendel
(Gareth Stevens, 1991)

My favorite cat name to recite from Hairy Maclary, Scattercat has always been "Slinky Malinki..." Turns out I am not alone, and Lynley Dodd graduated the ebony meowser from footnote to full-on protagonist, with a series of his own.... This is the first volume of the S. Malinki saga, in which a kleptomaniac kitty-cat goes prowling through the neighborhood, kiping old gloves, sneakers and bits of string. When his pile of trashy treasures topples over at home, Slinky's secret is discovered, and he has to quit his klepto ways. Once again, Lynley Dodd's artwork is a delight, and the bouncy rhymes propel us along as well. A fun book, even if the protagonist is a sneak thief... (PS: Thanks to the folks from Tricycle Press for reprinting these wonderful, daft gems!)
(B+)


"Slinky Malinki, Open The Door"
Written by Lynley Dodd
Illustrated by Lynley Dodd
(Gareth Stevens, 1993)

Slinky learns how to master the doorknob... One of the great developmental milestones in any kitty's life! His partner in mischief is a parrot named Stickybeak Syd, who helps Slinky topple furniture, unravel scarves, tip over vases and generally wreak havoc. Now, my wife actually had a black cat who could open doors (her cohort was a golden retriever) and I'm told that this book is entirely true to life... And the big twist at the end? The humans don't come back and put an end to the hijinks! Once again, Dodd crafts a nice, fun book, with a rollicking plot and an effective rhyme... If your kid values meyhem, this is definitely worth checking out!
(B)


"Slinky Malinki -- Catflaps"
Written by Lynley Dodd
Illustrated by Mallinson Rendel
(Gareth Stevens, 1998)

The cats from Hairy Maclary, Scattercat return -- with a few new additions, such as the Pappadum Kittens -- to join Slinky in a midnight seranade. The neighbors don't appreciate it, though, and after a bit of yelling and shushing, the cat choir retires to Slinky's house, to sit by the fire. Another nice one from Lynley Dodd; if your child likes to memorize characters and lists, this one's a winner. And great artwork, too, as usual.
(B+)


"Dimity Dumpty: The Story Of Humpty's Little Sister"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Candlewick, 2006)

A behind-the-scenes look at the Dumpty family, where the rambunctious Humpty falls off a wall while spray-painting his name across the bricks, and shy little sister Dimity sits by herself on quiet hillsides where she can play the flute alone. In this incarnation, the Dumptys are circus performers (an acrobatic act, no less!) although the demure Dimity shies away from the spotlight. She's the one who rescues her little brother, though, when he has his great fall, showing that though she is shy, she can still have great courage. This one's a bit of an oddball lark, different than most of Graham's other books, but no less appealing. A fun reimagining of a classic nursery rhyme, as well. This one was a big favorite in our household, with numerous requests to readitagaindaddy and lengthy discussions about Humpty's mishaps and Dimity's bravery. Chances are, you'll like it, too! (B+)


"Duck And Goose"
Written by Tad Hills
Illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade, 2006)

A comedy of errors, as two young, hotheaded waterfowl meet in the middle of a gentle, grassy field and spend the day fighting over possession of an "egg" they discover... The object is really a soccer ball, but they are so caught up in their rivalry that they don't even notice... In the meantime, as they spend all day there, each perched on top of the sphere, refusing to move, they get to know one another and become fast friends. By the time they realize their mistake, they have become inseparable best buddies. A nice parable about kids having trouble sharing, and how the flipside of that behavior can sometimes lead to lasting relationships... Nice artwork, too! If you loved the "Gossie And Gertie series, but wish they had more plot, you should check this one out! (B+)


"Duck, Duck Goose"
Written by Tad Hills
Illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade, 2006)

In this wry sequel, Duck and Goose's friendship is tested again, as Duck brings a new, third-wheel friend into the mix. Her name is Thistle, and she is an entirely self-centered, overly-competive narcissist who keeps bullying Goose and talking about herself. It takes a while, but Duck eventually gets tired of her, too, and they finally figure out a way to ditch her without being too mean about it. Another nice, gentle exploration of the complexities of early friendships, once again with really compelling artwork. Recommended! (B+)


"AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First"
Written by Alethea Kontis
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Candlewick, 2006)

This is an absolutely brilliant children's book, completely breaking the mould for ABC primers, with a clever premise and a vibrant, richly multi-layered presentation that can give hours and hours (indeed, years and years) of reading pleasure. The premise is simple -- that the letter "Z", tired of always coming last, stages a little coup and insists that they do things backwards, and let him go first for once. "A", who was just about to do the same old "is for apple," isn't happy about the disruption, but lets it happen anyway, and then the fun begins. Maybe Z has a point, but once you break the rules one way, there's no telling what might happen next... And sure enough, all the other letters want to do things *their* way, too -- some start doing more than one word, which makes other letters unhappy, and they start trying to top each other, and going in completely random order. Chaos rules, and even Z starts to get irritated and confused. Meanwhile, we readers have a total blast -- the bright, colorful artwork is as playful and anarchic as the text, packed with countless sight gags and fascinating details -- just the kind of thing little kids can really dig into. And since each letter gets their own cameo, there are a lot of opportunities for adult readers to do funny voices, etc., as well as have great dialogs with their kids about what's going on in each picture. Easily one of the best children's books of the decade... Highly recommended. (A+)


"Swimmy"
Written by Leo Lionni
Illustrated by Leo Lionni
(Random House, 1963)

This sea tale starts on a Bambi-ish note that may be disturbing to the youngest readers (a school of little fish gets gobbled up by a bigger fish, leaving only one survivor, Swimmy, to wander about alone), but its message of social justice and unity is welcome (Swimmy finds another school of little fish, and teaches them to swim in formation, thus scaring off potential predators). Lovely artwork, as with all of Lionni's books, though the first half of the book is kind of a downer. Little Nemo, eat your heart out. (B)


"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+)


"You And Me, Baby"
Written by Lynn Reiser
Illustrated by Penny Gentieu
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)

This definitely is destined to become a board-book, but you might want to pick up the big version while you can... A fine picturebook for pretoddlers, filled with cheery pictures of parents and little babies interacting -- smiling, waving, taking baths, playing peekaboo -- with plenty of love and affection oozing from each frame. Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of photographic picturebooks, but this is an exception to the rule. Penny Gentieu, a well-known (even ubiquitous) commercial photographer, has a nice touch, and the interactive, contextual aspect of the pictures, with babies in the middle of their primal social relationships, should draw the littlest readers in... The text is pretty basic, but if you're in the newborn/infant headspace, it'll be absolutely perfect. Nice one! (B+)


"So Few Of Me"
Written by Peter Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
(Candlewick, 2006)

A charming, genuinely funny book that recaptures the elegant, offhand magic of Reynolds' earlier gem, The Dot. Here a young man named Leo finds himself swamped under rapidly multiplying to-do lists and chores -- schoolwork, laundry, classes, cooking -- and he idly thinks to himself, how nice it would be if there were two of me, so I could do all my work faster. Well, poof! then there are two of him... then three... and eventually ten Leos, all running around, taking out the trash, studying calculus, rushing to soccer practice, making more to-do lists and trying to coordinate all their Leo labors... It turns out, though, that the more of you are, the harder and more hectic it gets: Leo winds up spending as much time managing his doppelgangers as he does getting any actual work done! A funny, gentle, incisive look at the modern problems of overbooked, overscheduled people everywhere, both kids and adults. The solution Leo comes up with is pretty nice, and the story is a great, entertaining read. I love Reynolds' artwork, too, especially how it evokes Jules Fieffer's old cartoons. Another highly recommended book from a guy who's rapidly becoming one of my favorite new children's book artists. (A)


"Clip-Clop"
Written by Nicola Smee
Illustrated by Nicola Smee
(Boxer Books, 2006)

A purely kinetic, cartoonish barnyard tale about a cat, a dog, a pig and a duck who go for a big ride on Mr. Horse's back. When Mr. Horse clipitty-clops a little too fast and they ask him to slow down, he skids to a halt and sends them flying into a nice, soft haypile. And what do they say next? "AGAIN!!" in big, bold 300-point type!!! Sure to strike a chord with many in the under-three age group, this is a nice, uncomplicated baby book... No deep thinking, but plenty of fun when read with gusto (and maybe a few choice sound effects...) Great for the littlest readers. (B+)






Other Stuff

This is not a blog...! I promise! But there are a few cool things I've come across that I figured I'd mention. The SF Gate's parenting blog, The Poop, mentioned this cute video about a nerdy Irish kid hanging out with his dad... While I'm at it, I should mention Poisson Rouge, which is the koolest kiddie website in the world... Another dad in the park told me about it, and we were floored when we checked it out. A great (bilingual) French-made website with a beautiful visual aesthetic, and lots of cool stuff to do. My kid learned how to use a computer mouse in about an hour after we went to the site... Instructional value aside, it's just a really fun site. Beats the hell out of the rickety site Sesame Street that hosts.


Okay, that's all for now... Please feel free to send us other recommendations if you find anything equally cool.





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