Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in January-February, 2009. These are new(ish) books, but might 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.
"You Can't Go To School Naked!"
Written by Diane Billenstrom
Illustrated by Don Kilpatrick III
(G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2008)
A potentially hilarious premise -- about a kid who doesn't want to get dressed before school, and says he'd just as soon go there in the nude -- gets lost in iffy rhymes and a general myopia about the book-reading public. The pitch is made directly and almost exclusively towards young white boys -- its concerns and tone are very male, and the text itself focuses directly on the child's whiteness: ("If you went to school naked, your teacher would think/you must be a pig, all bristly and pink!/Being a pig, all bristly and pink/you'd roll in the mud. Phew! You Would stink!") In this day and age I was quite surprised to find a picturebook that was demographically so narrowcasted (wouldn't it be nice to let kids from other racial backgrounds in on the fun?) an non-inclusive but also found the writing to be a little forced and flat... This idea could have been executed much better, but as it is this is a disappointing read. (C-)
"Big, Bad Bunny!"
Written by Fran Billingsley
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2008)
A super-adorable bedtime book about a little mama mouse who notices one of her children is missing at bedtime, and goes out to find her, even though some scary character named Big Bad Bunny is out stomping around in the forest. It turns out that little Baby Boo-Boo and Big Bad Bunny are one and the same -- the picture of the little mousie wearing her costume rabbit ears is just about the cutest darn thing you'll ever see in your life! I'm a big fan of G. Brian Karas' artwork, and this is a story with a strong narrative that matches his strengths. The underlying issue of the book is of a small toddler asserting their independence, but the story stands on its own, with a delightful comedic twist, and a gentle, snuggly moment at the end. Cute, fun -- recommended! (B+)
"Maisy Goes To The Museum"
Written by Lucy Cousins
Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
You gotta love Maisy... No, really... I mean it: you have to love Maisy. Otherwise, they kick you out of the club. Really. Anyway, the premise here is simple: it's a rainy day and Maisy and her posse go to the museum... Not just any museum, though -- this is the most fantabulous, well-stocked museum ever, with dinosaurs, vintage cars, airplanes and rockets, dollhouses and animal exhibits galore -- even a dress-up room! Okay, so we don't all actually live next door to the Smithsonian... but it's nice to dream, right? Another nice, colorful, cheerful, harmless Maisy saga. Nice for a rainy day. (B)
"Grace For President"
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by LeYuen Pham
A great introduction to electoral politics, particularly the presidential politics of the Obama era... This book, which came out just as the 2008 primary was heating up, cuts it both ways: it could be seen as pro-Hillary, since the heroine is motivated to become the first "girl" president, but since she's also African-American, it works as a Barack book, too. The text introduces the basics of electoral politics -- including the much-reviled electoral college system -- through the eyes of grade-schoolers, as a young girl named Grace notices that all the all the past Presidents of the USA were all men (although not also pointing out that they were also all white guys..) "Where are the girls?" cries young Grace Campbell, thus kickstarting a semester of politicking in which she competes against Thomas Cobb, a popular boy from another classroom who is a soccer star and science whiz. In a tweak on the classic tortoise-and-the-hare fable, Thomas is so sure he's going to win (he counted the electoral votes, and saw that boys ha a one vote edge over girls) that he doesn't spend much time campaigning. Grace, on the other hand, rolls up her sleeves and gets active, first in finding out which issues are important to the other kids, and then in working on those issues as the campaign heats up. Significantly, she doesn't wait until she wins to start working on the issues, and when the votes are tallied, everyone gets their mind blown when one of the boys pledges his votes to -- gasp! -- a girl, not a boy! The story invites a more nuanced discussion of issue-oriented politics: the simplest division is between boys and girls, but what about kids who like fish sticks for lunch and those who do not? What happens if you like a candidate on some issues, but not on others? I discovered this book in the wake of the '08 election and '09 inauguration, so my kid was primed to be receptive... And it worked great as a spur for a real, substantive discussion on the rudiments of democratic politics. Plus, what a cool last panel, when we see the adult Grace getting sworn in on the Capitol steps! Recommended reading for classrooms or home. (B+)
Written by Gail Gibbons
Illustrated by Gail Gibbons
(Holiday House, 2008)
A nice nonfiction book about one of our favorite grains... And so much to learn! DId you know that there are four main kinds of corn? I did not know that... but now I do. This book won't do much for fans of narrative stories, but if you're looking for a food-related informational resource, this is an excellent book -- the information is clearly and cogently presented, with inviting artwork and well-measured text. Recommended. (B)
"Silvermist And The Ladybug Curse"
Written by Gail Herman
Illustrated by various arttists
(Random House, 2008)
This is a good entry in Disney's Tinkerbell-related "Pixie Hollow" series... In it, a cheerful, optimistic fairy named Silvermist has her self-confidence shaken when her friends tell her she's been "cursed" with bad luck because she's come across a rare white ladybug. A series of clumsy accidents starts to convince Silvermist that the curse is real, and she has to find a way to overcome the jinx. Taken as a girl-power book, the plot works fine, but in the context of the Pixie Hollow reality, the whole that's-just-superstition, you-make-your-own-luck lesson is a little less clear, since in the Pixie Hollow world, magic is real... and if magic is real, why not "bad luck," too? Still, this is an okay book for new readers to delve into -- if your kid has glommed onto the Tinkerbell movie, etc., and wants more of that world, this book is a good episode. (B)
"Butterfly, Butterfly: A Book Of Colors"
Written by Petr Horacek
Illustrated by Petr Horacek
I do enjoy Horacek's graphic panache, and can think of few artists better suited to do a learn-your-colors book than him. The story involves a girl named Lucy who plays with a butterfly in her garden, but discovers a bunch of other colorful bugs there as well. There are some Eric Carle-esque track pages, mostly small die-cuts that peek into the colors on the surrounding pages -- these special effects are fairly modest, but the lone pop-up page (with the butterfly) is a real stunner. A nice book, certainly worth checking out. (B)
"Arabella Miller's Tiny Caterpillar"
Written by Clare Jarrett
Illustrated by Clare Jarrett
A charming book about a little girl who loves to play in her garden with a cute little caterpillar. One day, though, the caterpillar disappears (gasp!) only return a while later as (you guessed it!) a beautiful butterfly. No surprises here, but the big, bold artwork is fun, as is the book's bright, playful tone. The text seems to rhyme at times, and not at others (which drives me crazy) but it still reads pretty well. Cute -- worth checking out. (B)
"Stay Awake, Sally"
Written by Mitra Modarressi
Illustrated by Mitra Modarressi
(G. P. Putnam & Sons, 2007)
Nocturnal parents can be so difficult sometimes! Sally, a responsible young raccoon, is constantly tempted and teased by her nocturnal parents, who want her to stay up late and enjoy the night. They offer snacks and games, glasses of water and all sorts of stalling tactics, but Sally steadfastly refuses to misbehave... She brushes her teeth, gets her jammies on and kicks them out of the house until they're ready to settle down. The messaging is a little over-obvious, but the artwork is great -- a strong sense of design with a nice, fluid look. This book has a very similar theme to Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Little Hoot (where the child is an owl) and since I came across that one first, I'm more partial to it... This is okay, though; kids'll think it's fun. (B)
Written by David Soman
Illustrated by Jacky Davis
A charming story of a girl named Lulu who loves to pretend... When her older brother says she's too little to tag along and play baseball, she goes into a fantasy-play world where she is the mighty Ladybug Girl, a pint-sized superhero who rescues any colonies and braves the wilds of the big backyard. Lovely illustrations and an affectionate text take us deep into a well-crafted world with a child's-eye view, obviously a labor of love from this husband-wife team. Nice book for families with little girls who are into superheroes and make-believe... (I also really liked the insets, which show Lulu in about a dozen other costumes, suggesting all kinds of other games she can play. Fun, cute book. (B+)
"To Be Like The Sun"
Written by Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
The main draw here for me was the colorful collage artwork by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (I love her look!) but the plainspoken text, about a child who raises a gigantic sunflower, then shares the seeds with the birds (and saves a few to plant next year) is equally charming. The circle of life, with its remembrance and hope, has rarely been presented more simply and eloquently... A nice one! (A)
"A Birthday For Cow"
Written by Jan Thomas
Illustrated by Jan Thomas
Cow's friends all want Cow to have a fun birthday, but while they're planning that goofy darn duck keeps insisting they give Cow a turnip. A turnip?? Who wants a turnip for their birthday?? Turns out Cow does, and even though all the other farm animals keep telling Duck to pipe down and stop being silly, it turns out that Duck was right, and that Duck knew what his friend Cow liked better than did any of the other animals. This is a cute, goofy book with a good repetitive joke that will draw little readers in and get them squealing with delight -- first because Duck is so silly, and then because Duck is so right. (B+)
"Rosie And Buttercup"
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
(Kids Can Press, 2008)
Sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level... Big sister Rosie had a whole, lovely princess-y life going until her little sister showed up... And even though Buttercup wasn't really all that bad, Rosie still can't think things might be better if they'd go back the way they were, so she hauls her sister over to their babysitter's house, and gives Buttercup away. The babysitter -- a good-natured, normal adult -- calmly agrees to the plan, and lets Rosie trot off to enjoy her new, happy single-child life. Mysteriously, though, Rosie finds she actually misses her little sis, and runs back to see if she can swap to get her back. It's a weird story, but I find Uegaki to be a charming writer, and the finely detailed artwork is a delight, very refined and easy on the eyes. This is worth checking out, if you've got a sense of humor about these issues... it certainly provides a good opportunity to talk about these issues! (B+)
"Shaun The Sheep: Off The Baa!" (DVD)
(Hit Entertainment, 2008)
A hilarious set of short claymation cartoons featuring a mischievous Shaun The Sheep (previously seen in the "Wallace And Grommit" series...) These clever, slapstick-y stories are told largely without dialogue, as an adorable, troublemaking flock of sheep quietly drives their dimwitted shepherd a bit loopy. The comic timing and comedic brilliance of the Aardman Studios crew is undiminished, and while some other other post-Grommit projects ("Creature Comforts, et. al.) may have been a bit too mature for younger viewers, this collection is appropriate for all ages. Recommended! (A)
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The e-mail address is: joesixpack AT slipcue DOT com.
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