Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in November, 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.
"I Went For A Walk"
Written by Gregory Attonito
Illustrated by Shanti Wintergate
I was singularly unimpressed with this celebrity-written children's book, written by latter-day punk rock star Gregory Attonito (of the Bouncing Souls) and his wife, Shanti Wintergate. Perhaps it's because it's hard for me to separate the book out from its online incarnation in this horrendous YouTube video, which I thought was really, really lame. Mostly it's Wintergate's flaccid, sing-songy narration that leaves me cold. How could she have so little connection to something that she herself wrote? I like the book's let's-go-to-outer-space, everybody-be-yourself message -- clearly the Attonito-Wintergates are enthusiastic about their work -- but the book itself seems more like a hipster vanity product than a functional children's story. The writing is iffy, the art is iffier, and the book has an overall structure that seems a little far-flung for preschoolers. (Not to get too personal or anything, but do these guys actually have a kid of their own?) I don't want to tick off any Bouncing Souls fans, but I thought this was pretty bad. Maybe they should stick to making records. (C-)
"Poetry For Young People"
Written by William Blake
Edited by John Maynard
Illustrated by Alessandra Cimattoribus
A beautifully illustrated collection of poems by English poet and mystic William Blake... The subject matter (and the didactic tone) may seem remote to many modern readers, and secular-minded parents may wish to steer clear of the constant talk of angels, creators and shepherds, but for those wishing to immerse their children into the English canon, it would be hard to imagine a better introduction to Blake's work than this. The soft-textured artwork recalls Blake's own fantastical visual style, with its wild celebration of nature, and perfectly compliments the text. Although some of the loftier verses may be hard to crack, many poems are easily understood, including the well-known "The Tyger" ("Tyger, tyger, burning bright...") and "The Nurse." Part of an excellent series of introductory poetry sets. (B+)
"Your Personal Penguin"
Written by Sandra Boynton
Illustrated by Sandra Boynton
Another winner from Sandra Boynton... One of her goofier books (and that's saying a lot!) this features a steadfast penguin who follows a gigantic hippopotamus around, extolling the virtues of their friendship-to-be. The meter of the text may be hard to get a handle on if you're reading it cold out of the book... BUT, if you take advantage of the free song download at www.workman.com/boynton Davy Jones of the Monkees can help walk you through it, courtesy of the Internet's digital magic... Both the song and the book are extremely cute, sure to be a favorite with Boynton fans everywhere. (A)
"Julie Black Belt: The Kung Fu Chronicles"
Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
An interesting book about a young Asian-American girl who wants to take martial arts lessons so she can be like her idol, a high-kicking, glamorous action film star named Brandy Wu. Like many young'uns, though, Julie thinks she knows everything and can do anything in the world right away without even trying. It takes her a while to settle into and accept the discipline and humility that martial arts (or any apprenticeship) demands. The process of mentorship is shown rather superficially -- her youthful sifu (or teacher) is cheerful and encouraging, but what we, the readers, see is mostly on the surface. Still, it's just a kid's book, and the central message -- that to really learn something you have to both apply yourself and take your time -- comes through loud and clear. Not the most graceful narrative, but certainly a good story to read to kids who are thinking about taking up kung fu, aikido, judo, or other martial art... It might give them a good idea about what to expect. (B)
"Quiet! There's A Canary In The Library"
Written by Don Freeman
Illustrated by Don Freeman
When Cary goes to the library, she really gets into it, thinking of nothing else but the book she's reading. One day, when she picks up a book about zoo animals, she daydreams about what she would do if she were the librarian, how she would invite all the animals to a special bird-and-beast day at the library. She greets each animal as it comes in, and things go great until a flock of mice scamper in an upset the elephant... Then she has to restore order, and is helped by a little canary. A fun, fanciful story and a welcome celebration of the halls of knowledge. Another nice one from the author of Corduroy. (Recently reprinted, but still good for modern readers!) (B+)
"I'm Going To Grandma's "
Written by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Tiffany Beeke
A cute story, with rhyming text, about a little girl who spends her first sleepover night-away-from home over at her grandparent's house. She's brave and happy right up until bath time, when she realizes she misses her home... But Grandma talks her down off the ledge by telling her a story about the handmade quilt on the bed, a family heirloom that traces back over several generations and wraps the girl in it's comforting, matrilineal warmth. I'm a big fan of Tiffany Beeke's artwork, and Ms. Hoberman's writing is particularly strong in this one. Worth checking out, especially for the more girly-minded readers among us. (A-)
"Nobody Notices Minerva"
Written by Wednesday Kirwan
Illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan
When Minerva, a little girl/puppy with big attitude, wakes up on the wrong side of bed, she really wakes up on the wrong side of bed. Minerva spends the whole day misbehaving -- jabbing her brother with a fork, pulling the stuffing out of chairs, stripping houseplants of their leaves, and sulking in various corners of the house. But nothing gets a rise out of her parents or siblings, and Minerva finally breaks down and cries, thinking that no one cares. Then her dad magically appears and tells her that, indeed, he had noticed her acting out all day, and suggests that there might be better ways to get attention. After mulling it over, Minerva decides he's right, and starts helping with household chores and being a sweetie-pie again. For families that can laugh at mischief and misbehavior, this book certainly offers a lot of good material, especially when Minerva tries so hard to top herself, making the humor build and build... However, as a charter member of Overprotectivoids Of America, I'll have to keep this book under lock and key until my kid turns 21 -- don't want to put any bad ideas in her head! Seriously, though, this is a pretty cute book; families will have to preview it and see if it feels right for them. (B)
"Punk Farm On Tour"
Written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
In this follow-up to 2005's Punk Farm, the rock'n'rollin' farm animals fix up an old van and hit the road, touring from town to town and bring down the house with an electrified update of "The Wheels On The Bus." They put on spiky leather bracelets, sunglasses and chains and "rock it" in front of wild crowds across the country (sea creatures at the beach, mountain goats in the Rockies, etc.) all the while racing against time, so that Farmer Joe, who went away on a business trip, doesn't know they've sneaked away. Not much of a plot, but this does capture some of the claustrophobia and interpersonal chafing that goes on between bandmembers on the road (especially when the lead guitarist, Pig, starts to get rock star attitude and won't help fix the van because he's worried he'll get his hands dirty...) This series seems aimed at the post-MTV, Generation Z set -- maybe kids from 6-10 years of age would enjoy it -- and tries to anchor itself in contemporary pop culture with already-passe slang such as "chill, homie" and "dude." Aside from instantly dating itself with yesterday's slang, the story is okay -- kinda dumb, but might be fun for all those little rockers out there. Rock, on, homies! (C+)
Written by Leo Landry
Illustrated by Leo Landry
(Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
One night, when little Nicholas is about to go to sleep, he finds himself bothered by all the noise around him -- a baby crying in the other room, the cars toot-tooting outside, his dog barking at the door -- who can relax with all that going on?? So, Nicholas packs a lunch, puts on his NASA regulation space suit, hops in his rocket and heads for the moon, to get a little peace and quiet. It works pretty well-- his sandwiches drift away in the low gravity, but at least it's quiet up there. Of course, it may be too quiet: after a while, Nicholas feels lonely and even misses the sound of the baby crying, so he packs his tuff up again and zooms back home. A goofy, likable fantasy, although on balance it doesn't really stick to the ribs. (B-)
"Time To Say Goodnight"
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
(Harper Collins, 2006)
A sweet, simple goodnight-little-animals book, with rhyming text and pretty, pastoral pictures... Very similar to Mem Fox's Time For Bed, with all the baby animals in the forest going to bed at the same time as the little kid at the end of the book. This has the added charm of Jane Chapman's ever-appealing illustration style: the text scans well, but also, who can resist all those smiley-faced, cartoony critters with the little India-ink dot eyes? A nice one! (B+)
Written by Jennifer Merz
Illustrated by Jennifer Merz
Trailing her mother and a red wagon full of stuffed animals behind her, a young girl dashes to the local playground, where children play and parents sit on benches, and she has a blast. On each page, the girl pulls out a different stuffed animal and pretends to be like it... ("I hop like a... BUNNY! I climb like a... MONKEY!") The story formula is pretty simple, but the tone of the book is lively and joyful, and the paper collage artwork is colorful and full of motion, with a central character that practically leaps off the page. This book should ring a bell with families that have spent a lot of time at the park together... or those who are planning to go! (B)
"Not A Box"
Written by Antoinette Portis
Illustrated by Antoinette Portis
(Harper Collins, 2006)
Isn't it funny how the simplest toys bring the greatest pleasures? Y'know... some kids, you buy then the whole set of My Pricey Ponies and twelve different fusion-hybrid Tonka Transformers with in-dash satellite radios... and then all they wanna play with is the cardboard box that their new sweater came in. This is a book for those kids. A little stick-figure bunny is seen in, on, under, on top of and behind what looks like a box, but every time the narrator asks what they are doing with the box, the bunny gets huffy and says, "It's not a box!" In the bunny's mind, it's a rocket, a robot, a race car, a sailing ship... Finally, exasperated at the adult intrusions in the land of pretend, the bunny finally labels the box as a "Not-A-Box," meaning that it is an object of imagination, something than can be anything you want it to be... But certainly nothing as drab as an ordinary old "box." This is a fun, quirky story -- kids might like the invitation to imagination, and the chance to talk about the way your can pretend to be or do anything. This book -- and its sequel -- might also make a good companion to Marisabina Russo's The Big Brown Box. (B)
"Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready For School?"
Written by Barney Saltzberg
Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg
In this sequel to Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready For Bed? our piglet hero gives hair-splitting answers to his mother's questions regarding his readiness for school. She asks if he's made his bed and he replies "Yes!" (he's "made" it into an elephant...); he says he's put his clothes on, but doesn't mention that he put them "on" the fishbowl... The list goes on, with the words telling one story and the art showing another as Cornelius provides technically truthful but somewhat misleading answers to all his mom's questions. Finally she sends Cornelius off to catch the bus -- but wait a minute! he's still wearing his pajamas! Turns out it doesn't matter, though, because Cornelius is going off to Clown School, and his p.j.s fit right in. So... then... were all those funny fibs really just Cornelius doing his homework? It makes my poor head hurt to think about it. The punchline is pretty funny, but I am still fearful of the story: the last thing I need to do is teach my kid how to use semantics against me! (Oh, it's hard being so uptight...!) Note-for-note, this is a comedic replay of the first Cornelius P. Mud saga: if you liked that one, you'll enjoy this one, too. (B)
Written by Eve Titus
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
A wonderful Francophile classic (reissued for its 50th anniversary) in which a teeny-tiny, beret-wearing Parisian mouse discovers that humans do not, in fact, like to have mice in their houses, and indeed consider them germy little freeloaders. Determined to pull his own weight, Anatole sneaks into a cheese factory and appoints himself the company's new taste-tester... When his suggestions dramatically improve the company's sales, he gets the job for real (although no one ever discovers that he is, in fact, a mouse...) Other than the lovely pictures, the love of cheese and a few cute phrases, the overt Frenchness of the series is a bit tangential, but it doesn't really matter... This is a lovely series, full of good humor and captivating artwork. Recommended! (B+)
"Anatole And The Cat"
Written by Eve Titus
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
Our plucky Gallic mousie find his new job jeopardized when a cat shows up at the cheese factory, giving Anatole a fright and causing his friend Gaston to quit working as his assistant. Memos fly back and forth between Anatole and the cheese factory's owner (now that sounds French!) until finally Anatole figures out a way to get the horrid feline out of his hair. Like the first Anatole book, this story is witty and charming, although the dramatic arc is much less clean, and readers may have to do a little more work to make it hit home. Still, we liked it. Probably better suited for older kids, but charming nonetheless, with some of Galdone's best artwork. (B+)
Written by Sarah Weeks
Illustrated by Sam Williams
A first-person narrative of a little baby bunny who likes to throw stuff -- out of the crib, out of the stroller, out of the bath, out of the highchair -- all the while accompanied by an impish mouse who urges him along in his mischief. This is a cute, joyful, high-energy story, with delightful, boldly blocky artwork from Sam Williams. Overprotectivoid parents (like myself) may wish to avoid it on account of the malevolent influence it may exert on our little ones. But mellower folks with a better sense of humor, those who can revel in the chaos and enjoy watching a toddler discover gravity, will get a big kick out of this one. One of those nice books that lets parents and kids laugh together about life's little ups and downs. (B)
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
David Wiesner, the king of the trip-out books, returns with a wordless fable about a boy who finds a mysterious magical camera that washes up from the bottom of the ocean. The camera still has some film in it, and when the boy develops the negatives, he sees a fantastic vision of a hidden world, with robot fish and treasure chests, mermaid cities and octopus villas -- as well as portraits of other children who have had the camera, stretching back over the decades. The boy takes a picture of himself, holding the infinity photo, and casts the camera back into the sea, for the whole cycle to start anew. Visually sumptuous and amazingly detailed, this will captivate the attention of children and adults alike. Ppssibly the best of Wiesner's books (so far...) Pretty darn cool! (A+)
"Delilah D. At The Library"
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Rosie Reeve
A bratty little girl, otherwise known as Princess Delilah, is the kind of kid who just can't be told anything she doesn't want to know... Instead of listening when she's told to be quiet and well-behaved in the library, Delilah comes up with an elaborate reason why she should be exempt from the rules. Turns out she's from a faraway country where all the rules are different, a land where librarians loudly give away cupcakes and encourage children to climb on the furniture. Even though she can't show anyone her country on the map, Delilah sticks to her guns, and comes home more convinced than ever that she is ruler of the universe. This book has some nice aspects -- I'm sure the princess syndrome will ring a bell with many parents, and the artwork is quite nice (it reminds me of Emma Chichester Clark's colorful, economical style...) Still, Delilah not a very pleasant character, and you want to spend the whole time either correcting her or avoiding her, not an auspicious quality for a storybook character. Although there are some clever details, the tone of the story isn't very appealing. I'm sure it gets mixed reviews from the pro-library faction as well. Fans of the "Charlie and Lola" series might like this brand of humor better than we did. (C+)
"Belinda And The Glass Slipper"
Written by Amy Young
Illustrated by Amy Young
Wow... I was really disappointed in this one, and hadn't expected to be, at all. We loved the first two Belinda the Ballerina adventures -- she's such an optimistic, patient character, and her world was so gentle, that it was really fun to read her stories. This third installment in the series is kind of a downer, though, as Belinda gets caught in a power struggle with an utterly mean, spiteful rival dancer, over who can play the lead in a production of the "Cinderella" ballet. The snottiness and dishonesty of the new character, Lola, is meant to mirror the negative qualities of Cinderella's wicked step-mother and step-sisters -- indeed, Lola even locks Belinda into a dressing room the same way Cinderelly gets locked into her room in the Disney film. But the Lola character's harshness is a poor match for the Belinda books -- in the past, people who were mean to Belinda, such as the haughty art critics and high society types, were mere caricatures, silly, silly people who would see that they were wrong, once Belinda got to strut her stuff. But Lola is really just plain evil and the tone of her character is all wrong -- her meanness is genuinely disturbing, and overplayed. Hmmm. Oh, well. I guess we can just pretend this book never existed, and enjoy the first two. (B-)
Dude! We got reviewed! The San Francisco Chonicle has a parenting blog called "The Poop," and they gave a kindly mention to ReadThatAgain: Yay. I'm famous! (I'm also a regular reader of The Poop, which can get into some pretty interesting territory at time. Thanks, guys!)
PS - Please feel free to send us other recommendations for books, websites, children's films and other cool stuff.
The e-mail address is: joesixpack AT slipcue DOT com.
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