Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in January, 2008. 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.
"The Twin Princes"
Written by Tedd Arnold
Illustrated by Tedd Arnold
A fairytale-style story about two young princes -- one nice, one sneaky -- who are given a challenge to see which one will succeed their father as the next king of Chickenlandia. Since they are both chickens, there are a lot of poultry-related puns woven into the text. The book's other gimmick is that it poses a riddle at the end: how can the two princes have a who-goes-slowest race, if both one wants to win? Not surprisingly, the good brother comes up with the answer, and the wicked one's sneaky deeds prove to be his undoing. The morality lesson is nice, although I found the artwork to be blocky and the punning a bit egregious. It's an okay book, though -- best for a kids who are on the older end of the picturebook spectrum. (B-)
"The Incredible Book-Eating Boy"
Written by Oliver Jeffers
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is a kooky book, and it's meant to be, but it has an oddly mixed message... A boy named Henry is really into books -- not reading books, but eating them. He takes big chomps out of all sorts of printed material, and with every book he devours, he absorbs the information and gets all smart and stuff. A nice metaphor for reading, right? Sure, but then Henry starts wigging out and getting all his book knowledge mixed up and has to give up his midnight snacks... Which eventually leads him to -- golly! -- start actually reading books instead of eating them, and soon finds out that this has pretty much the same effect. The weird thing is that Jeffers sets up the info-positive metaphor, with Henry gaining knowledge from books, and then undercuts it by having Henry get confused about what he's learned, which muddles the pro-book message. (Couldn't he get a tummy ache instead?) Still, it's a cute story, with wild, creative collage-style artwork and a clever little die cut chomp mark at the end. Worth checking out, and probably fun for kids with a weird sense of humor. (B-)
Written by Daniel Kirk
Illustrated by Daniel Kirk
(Harry Abrams, 2007)
A little mouse named Sam lives in the local library and, naturally, he's a total bookworm. One day he decides to start writing books of his own, and he slips them into the stacks at night, to see if anyone will want to read them. The children and the librarians all enjoy the little, stapled-together, handmade pen-and-pencil books, and finally they encourage the shy author to show himself. Sam knows that people don't like mice that much,and he also doesn't want to be in the spotlight, so instead he sets up a do-it-yourself bookmaking station for the kids to use. For Sam, "meet the author" means that the kids should look in the mirror -- and become writers themselves. It's a nice message (and reminded me of how I used to make little booklets like this myself, when I was a kid) although I have to admit that the book itself may be a little lacking in dramatic ooompf. The message is a little preachy, the story is kind of goofy, and the surprise twist ending (with the mirror) is too abstract for a lot of little kids to understand, even after an adult explains it. Also, I find Kirk's blocky artwork to be a little stiff and formal, even mildly grotesque at times, so that may pull some readers out of the story as well. Still, I'm always in favor of pro-book and pro-library picturebooks, and this one is worth checking out. It would probably be a good springboard for showing kids how to make their own handmade booklets -- so bust out the scissors and staples if you pick this one up! (B-)
"Has Anyone Seen Winnie And Jean?"
Written by E. B. McHenry
Illustrated by E. B. McHenry
Two corgi dogs escape from their backyard and have all sorts of wild misadventures while their owners look for them, along with a bunch of police and animal control officers. When one of the dogs falls into an open pit, it is trapped overnight and then both pooches are brought back home... only to escape again the next day! This is meant to be a giddy romp, but I found the images of a police dragnet to be a little disturbing (and disproportionate - how many police hours would really be spent searching for a couple of lost pets?). I suppose if your family does own dogs, then this book might be a good tool to use to start a discussion about the importance of taking proper care of your pets, etc. It may be a little less entertaining for the average, non-dog owning reader, though. (C)
"Ready, Set, Skip!"
Written by Jane O'Connor
Illustrated by Ann James
Even though she can do all kinds of other cool stuff -- jump and skate, dance and blow bubbles -- a little girl frets because she still doesn't know how to skip, like the other kids. Her mom shows her how, though, and together they skip off to school. It's not a dazzling story, but it's nice and reassuring and can help parents and kids talk about any number of things that kids are feeling anxious or inadequate about not knowing yet. The rhyming text is okay; the pictures are pretty cool. (B-)
"One Of Those Days"
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Rebecca Doughty
(G.P. Putnam, 2006)
Ever have one of those days? You know, a day when your hair won't sit right, or you miss the bus, or for whatever reason you keep getting in arguments with people, even though you just wanted to have fun? This book cheerfully explores bad days, with goofy illustrations that hit just the right forlorn, frazzled tone. A nice, reassuring exploration of dejection, frustration and anger... The only trouble is that it goes on a little too long, with almost two dozen examples of different "those" days; trimming it by about a third might have been helpful, just to keep the momentum flowing and the narrative crisp. Still, this is a nice book, and for the right sad kid, it might be a real pick-me-up. Recommended! (B-)
"Little Neighbors On Sunnyside Street"
Written by Jessica Spanyol
Illustrated by Jessica Spanyol
A semi-wacky portrait of life in several different houses on Sunnyside street... This is a cute book, although Spanyol does seem to have tried to cram a little too much information into the 32-page format. The narrative flips back and forth through several stories -- Patrick the cow, who likes to do crafts projects that always involve scotch tape and cardboard boxes, Kelly the piglet who makes big messes no matter how her parents try to keep things orderly, Ian the puppy and his little sister, Baby Jade, who looks on adoringly as he paints and reads and tells her stories. And then, there are The Bugs, who like to drive all kinds of cars, and who -- in an orgy of bad role modeling hitherto unheard of in kid's lit -- love to smash their cars into one another... Wheeeeee!! This seems to be an attempt to come up with a complete, enclosed universe -- why, it's practically a marketable stable of lovable, kooky characters! We could even turn this into a TV show! And, as such, it feels a bit forced. It's okay, but our attention started to wander halfway through -- about a third less content, and it might have been a lot more fun. (I did laugh, though, when I saw Patrick's bed at the end -- a bunch of cardboard boxes taped together, with a mattress on top... ) This was okay, but it fell by the wayside pretty quickly. (C+)
Written by David Ezra Stein
Illustrated by David Ezra Stein
(Penguin/G. P. Putnam, 2007)
A sweet, autumnally-themed book about a juvenile bear going through his first winter hibernation... The cutest moment comes when the first leave falls, and he stoops to ask it if it's alright. (Awwwwww.... ) Then they all start falling, faster than he can keep track, and soon the trees are bare. The fallen leaves come in handy as lining for his winter cave -- then snow piles on top of his den, and we see no bear until the Spring comes, and he reemerges. The leaves also return, and the cycle begins again, although this time the bear is a little older and wiser. A nice nature book, both cute and soulful, with appealing artwork and a very gentle tone. (B)
"The Bus Stop"
Written by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Illustrated by Janet Morgan Stoeke
A good first-day, going-to-school book, with minimal text and bright, cheerful artwork that is easy to understand and has a nice retro, Lois Lenski-ish feel. Most of the action centers around a big yellow school bus, as three children get ready to ride to school for the first time. They are a little anxious, but have fun once they ride, and have a great day at school as well. (There's actually only one panel of the kids at school -- also very good -- and then the bus comes back to pick them up.) There's not a lot of depth to this book, but the rhyming text and the full-of-smiley-faces artwork are both very reassuring and clear about the message. If riding a bus to school is a particular issue, I'd definitely recommend this book -- it may be a little too optimistic and suburban for many readers, but it's still nice to put a positive spin on things. (B)
Written by Dan Yaccarino
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Henry Holt, 2007)
A sweet, simple story about a father and son who have a weekly ritual where they go out for breakfast together every Friday before work and school. There isn't much more to the plot than that -- the pair pass by all the hustle and bustle of big-city life, watching the commuters rush about and the construction crews work. They stop and window-shop for a while, and slowly make their way to their favorite diner, where the waitress knows just what they want, and they sit down and talk for a while, before going on with their day. The uncomplicated affection between father and child is nice to see, and the Zen-like calm with which they walk through the city streets is also compelling. Best of all is Yaccarino's prim, retro-tinged artwork, like an old Hanna Barbara cartoon crossed with the stylist, clean-lined work of European illustrators such as Jooste Swarte... This is some of Yaccarino's finest work to date. Recommended! (B+)
"Who Likes Rain?"
Written by Wong Herbert Yee
Illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee
(Henry Holt, 2007)
All the elements click together in this sweet, simple celebration of rainy weather. Charming artwork, with a little girl putting on her raincoat and boots, exploring the drizzly day and describing all she sees. The rhyming text scans well, and many pages build on the "who likes rain" theme, by leaving the final rhyme until the following page, so we discover that it is frogs, fish and worms that like a little shower... So does the girl, as we see when she goes puddle-stomping at the very end. A delightful, classy little book, with a classic feel... Recommended! (B+)
"Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book Of Poetry"
Written by Jane Yolen & Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
A delightful introductory poetry book, featuring pieces by Lillian Moore, Langston Hughes, Eve Merriam, Michael Rosen, Spike Milligan, Gertrude Stein and dozens of others. The poems are grouped into four general themes -- "Me, Myself & I," "Who Lives In My House?," "I Go Outside" and "Time For Bed" -- all illustrated by the estimable Polly Dunbar, whose work I have admired in the past. An ideal collection for future poetry fans -- definitely worth checking out! (A)
"The Muppet Show (Season Two)" (DVD)
Hey, look what I got (my kid) for Christmas! It's... The Muppet Show!! Yahhhh-h-h-h-h-hh-h-h-hh!! Both my wife and I remember watching this as kids (hey, has anyone seen my cane? It was just here a minute ago...) and we were psyched when our kid also latched onto Kermit, Fozzie and the gang... We started by checking it out from the library, but when it was clear that the show was a hit, I decided to go for it and bring the box set home. I went for Season Two because the first season was a little shakier... They were still finding the show's rhythm, and the celebrity guests were sometimes a little, um, weak -- Connie Stevens, for example -- though by Season Two the guests were a lot more hip and happening. Steve Martin was fun, and Elton John's episode was a real gas. (The Don Knotts episode sucked, though...) Other than a lame and anachronistic, tacked-on rock video by Weezer, this 4-DVD set is pretty awesome. Anybody know when Season Three comes out? (A+)
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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