Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in Spring, 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.
"Up On Daddy's Shoulders"
Written by Matt Berry
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
(Scholastic Books, 2006)
Not much to the story, but a nice "daddy book" with all the action taking place from the viewpoint of a young boy riding on Daddy's shoulders all day long, from the moment they leave the house 'til nighttime, when the boy gets plunked down into the top bunk of his bed. A very simple story that takes in nature, shooting hoops and a trip to the zoo -- definitely geared towards the littlest readers. (B-)
"Maisy, Charley, And The Wobbly Tooth"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
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)
"Please Play Safe! Penguin's Guide To Playground Safety"
Written by Margery Cuyler
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
(Scholastic Books, 2006)
A nakedly preachy safety-first text, which asks "Is it okay to kick sand in other kids' face? No! It is not right to kick sand in his face," etc. The message is welcome, but the presentation is pretty artless. This follows an earlier volume in which Penguin teaches kids the basics of politeness and manners. It's doubtful there are many kids out there who would enjoy reading this book... but who knows? Couldn't hurt. (C-)
"Bebe Goes Shopping"
Written by Susan Middleton Elya
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
An engaging, entertaining multicultural baby book, following a bright-eyed latino toddler as he goes through the supermarket with his mother. While Mama goes down her shopping list, Bebe picks out a few things of his own, until she distracts him with some animal crackers. The trip to the supermercado is punctuated with plenty of Spanish words and phrases -- flores, dulces, manos, hijo, dinero -- and, when the crackers come out, animal names such as leon and oso. The stylized, cartoonish artwork is cheerful and easily understood, and contains plenty of fun visual asides (the baby dropping the box of crackers while they're standing in line, etc.) Nice book! My little girl picked up several Spanish words after we read this a couple of times. (B+)
"F Is For Fiesta"
Written by Susan Middleton Elya
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(G. P. Putnam & Sons, 2006)
This small-size alphabet primer introduces several nice Spanish words (and reinforces others already seen in earlier Elya books...) as well as some of the special characters used in the Spanish alphabet ("CH," "LL," "RR," and the tilda-ed "N") It's more workmanlike and less magical than her other titles, though, in part because the unnamed boy whose birthday is the source of all the regalos and dulces isn't as vivid or individual a character as Bebe or the little girl who has to pee in Oh No, Gotta Go! But it may suffer only in contrast to the other books: if you're looking for a good introductory bilingual text, this is every bit as accessible and effective as her other books... Elya has a real knack for giving the information without laying it on too thick, or making it seem like a chore... The stories are fun, the characters' enthusiasm is contagious and the rhymes read well. What more could you want? (A)
"Heron & Turtle"
Written by Valeri Gorbachev
Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
Three simple stories about friendship and the little compromises and accommodations it can entail. Two neighbors who are very different -- a small, slow turtle and a tall, fast heron -- share a love of nature and each other's company. It's hard taking walks together (because of their different paces) but easy to enjoy passing the time together. Although still slightly didactic, this has a much lighter touch than Gorbachev's other recent work, which can be a little too focussed on anxieties and difficulty... This is more of a feelgood book, and more enjoyable as a result. Worth checking out. (Mildly weird, though, that the gender is given for the (male) turtle, but not for the dress-wearing heron... Maybe they wanted to de-emphasize the romantic nature of their friendship? Oh, well. I'm probably just nitpicking...) (B-)
"The Trouble With Dogs... Said Dad"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
The much-welcome sequel to Bob Graham's 2001 dog-adoption classic, Let's Get A Pup! Said Kate. Kate's family is back, with two new members: lovable, lumpy Rosie and the irrepressible, untrainable Dave, two dogs they'd rescued from the pound eight months earlier. An older dog, Rosie is totally mellow and housebroken, but Dave the pup is a holy terror, running through flower patches, tearing people's clothes and -- gasp! -- eating cupcakes off their plates. So, the laid-back slacker family once again turns to the phone book and calls up Pup Breakers, whose top dog trainer, codenamed the Brigadier, comes to bring poor Dave in to heel. The Brigadier is a no-nonsense, tough-love, discipline-first kinda guy, and a poor match for the softer-than-marshmallows familymembers... Or for poor Dave! After his first lesson, the puppy falls into a funk, and loses his "spark." Naturally, Kate (and her parents) tell the Brigadier his services will no longer be required, but he takes it surprisingly well. Here's another great book from Graham: Kate and her family have return with al their lovable quirks intact -- these are people you'll recognize, the tattooed, scruffy, sideburned hipsters who live down the street. Oh, and their dogs are pretty cute, too! (June, 2007.) (A+)
Written by Pat Hutchins
Illustrated by Pat Hutchins
A nice farming/gardening book, primarily notable for the vivid, illustrative artwork, which gives very clear, easily understood looks at all sorts of crops -- peas, root vegetables, fruit trees, etc. The text also imparts the thrill of growing one's own food, but it's plagued by an uneven and inconsistent rhyme scheme, and is needlessly choppy and disjointed. A teensy bit of editorial tinkering and this would have been perfect. (B-)
Written by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
A great book about a big, gentle lion that wanders into a local library and becomes a favorite friend of the head librarian and all the kids who come to storytime. He runs afoul of the persnicketty circulation manager, Mr. McBee, who doesn't think that lions belong in libraries -- especially not his library. But as long as he doesn't break any rules, like running or roaring, then Miss Merriweather (who's a stickler for rules) doesn't have any problem with it. One day, when Miss Merriweather has an accident, the lion has to roar to get her some help, but he thinks he'll be in trouble for making noise. Turns out it's alright, though -- one of the lessons of the book is that there are times it's okay to break the rules. Eventually, even mean old Mr. McBee comes around, and becomes the lion's friend. Great story, easily understood and full of wry humor -- the artwork is delightful and perfectly supports the text... This one is a real winner, and also has the durable, timeless feel that will make it a classic. Check it out! (A+)
"My Buddy Slug"
Written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)
. The device of having an eight-foot tall banana slug as a best friend for a (human) boy is a bit gimmicky, but it'll probably do the trick and draw kids in, and that's great, since this is a pretty good book about emotional maturity and the fine line we sometimes walk to maintain our friendships. Alex has two best friends -- Kevin and Slug -- but when Kevin moves away, suddenly it's like Alex and Slug are joined at the hip, morning, noon and night. At first it's cool, but after a while Alex is surprised to find that his buddy is really getting on his nerves... One day, when Slug has invited himself over for dinner, Alex blurts out that he's really sick of having him around, and suddenly finds himself friendless, with Slug nursing his hurt feelings and avoiding him at school and in the neighborhood. Finally Alex works up the courage to talk to his friend and apologize... It's nice to have a book like this, modeling emotional communication, especially for young boys, who aren't always taught that it's okay to express your feelings, or to admit that you've made a mistake. Geared towards older kids, but definitely worth checking out if you want to stir up a conversation about this kind of stuff. Not too preachy, either. (B-)
"The Knight Who Took All Day"
Written by James Mayhew
Illustrated by James Mayhew
(Scholastic/Chicken House, 2005)
A gleefully cartoonish book that takes the knight-in-shining-armor paradigm and playfully turns it on its head. Here, the knight in question is a puffed-up, macho blowhard, who longs for the chance to trounce a big, bad dragon so that he can win the heart of the fair princess. When the chance finally arises, he takes so long preening himself getting ready -- he's got to look right before he can go out to best the beast -- that the princess takes matters into her own hands and dons armor herself, and tames the dragon rather that kill it. Afterwards, she ditches the knight and elopes with his mild-mannered squire. This book is a delight on so many levels -- the text is very tongue-in-cheek and sly, and is easily matched by the artwork, which has plenty of amusing details, including the steadfast preparations of the princess, who calmly marshals herself while the knight vainly dithers about in his tower. Plus, it's a great tomboy saga, and it's pro-dragon, too, which is a nice change of pace. This is a fun, funny book... recommended! (A)
"Time To Get Up, Time To Go"
Written by David Milgrim
Illustrated by David Milgrim
A really cute little book about a boy who spends the whole day taking care of his doll the way a parent would -- feeding it, dressing it, putting it in a stroller, taking it to the park, bathing with it, putting it to bed. Nice, light touch on the gender issues: yes, it's a boy playing with a doll and being all nurturing and cute, but the best part is that the text doesn't make a big, explicit point about it. We just see the boy doing all kinds of fun stuff and are left to draw our own conclusions. I like the artwork (friendly, direct, effective) and the text, too, which has an uncomplicated, simple rhyming structure. All in all -- recommended! (You could also read this along with William's Doll, if you wanted to hammer the gender stuff home.) (B+)
"Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing And More"
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Two titans of the kid's lit scene team up for a lively celebration of sports and physical endeavors... Prelutsky is now literally the Poet Laureate for children's literature and is still one of the most engaging, intelligent writers in the field. Since I'm not much of a jock myself, and since my kid is still a toddler, I wasn't sure how much we'd get out of this book, but it's still pretty cool. Team sports, such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer, dominate the book, but there's also a lot of space devoted to less overtly macho pursuits: frisbee, swimming, gymnastics, track, even -- haayyyyahhh!! -- karate! offering a little bit for everyone. There's the characteristic Prelutsky wit at play, and his characters enjoy on-field triumphs as well as little losses that help them grow. Also, this is some of the most engaging work that Chris Raschka has done in years -- I'd like to see him illustrate more poetry; he seems well-suited to it. Definitely recommended, especially for kids who are, oh, 4-6 years old? (B+)
"The Amazing Ghost Detectives"
Written by Daniel San Souci
Illustrated by Daniel San Souci
(Tricycle Press, 2006)
The third volume in Daniel San Souci's riotous Clubhouse series... The ever-changing club has expanded to include a girl, Allison, and has a new, ghostbuster-y mission: someone -- or something -- has been breaking into the clubhouse at night, making a big mess and eating all the candy bars! What could it be? After careful consideration, a ghost seems to be the only answer, and the gang has to figure out how to get rid of their otherworldly visitor. The comedy comes from the pictures: when the kids hear about "strange" things happening in the neighborhood, they see the ghost at work (whereas we, the readers, see the real causes: gophers, alley cats and raccoons...) Nonetheless, they do their research and figure out the best way to chase a "ghost" away...and it works! Another fun evocation of the split-second enthusiasms and all-consuming interests of the pre-teen set. Fun! (B)
"A Beautiful Girl"
Written by Amy Schwartz
Illustrated by Amy Schwartz
(Roaring Brook Press, 2006)
A cute, goofy book about a little girl named Jenna who runs into several animals -- an elephant, a robin, a goldfish, a fly -- who each mistake her for one of their own kind and ask about the odd appearance of various body parts -- her trunk, beak, gills and compound eyes. When she explains to each in its turn that she is actually a little girl, and that she only has a nose, mouth, ears and regular old binocular eyes, they take it well, and tell her what a nice girl she is, then ask if they can tag along while she walks to the market. At the end of the book, they all have a picnic and the girl's mom comes to pick her up and take her home for bedtime. It's an oddball outing, but has a certain kooky charm... Also opens the door for discussions about non-mammilian biology and the like, if you are so inclined. Recommended! (B)
This is not a blog... I promise! But there are a few cool, non-book 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 super-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 groovy.
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