Archive for October, 2009


The Clever Stick

The Clever Stick by John Lechner

This is one sharp stick, very smart and clever.  He is so bright, he writes poetry and enjoys listening to the birds singing.  So bright that he is frustrated when he can’t communicate with the other things in the forest.  Finally, he is so dejected that he just drags himself home.  But then he looks back and realizes that he is leaving a trail in the dirt, and that he can use that trail to communicate!  The stick draws a huge detailed picture that has everyone in the forest impressed.  Even when the rain comes and washes it all away, the stick is still happy because he knows he can always draw more.

Lechner has created a smart story about self-expression and finding innovative ways to communicate.  The book has a gentle sense of humor that works very well.  It is a quiet sort of book, one that is more about brains than action, more about creativity and imagination too.  The fact that the stick is special because of its intelligence is also a great message to send to children who may be hiding their own light in school.  Lechner’s illustrations done in ink and watercolor are simple and clear. 

A sharp stick for smart kids, this book is a quiet gem.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed by Books4YourKids.

Would I Trade My Parents? by Laura Numberoff, illustrated by James Bernardin

The author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie has a picture book that speaks to all families.  The question of whether you would trade your parents for another set is answered through a series of different families.  They all have differing routines, differing rules, differing perks of being a child in that family.  Some families have blueberry pancakes, another has chocolate milk, another allows lots of TV, and another allows all sorts of pets.  In the end, the boy narrating the book sees the positives about his own family even though he doesn’t have everything the other families have.  And he realizes that he would never trade his family because just like all of his friends, he think his family is the best of all.

Written with Numeroff’s trademark ease and humor, this book will inspire children to think about their own families in a positive way.  Bernardin’s illustrations are colorful and bright, showing a wide diversity of families.  The text and pictures meld into a friendly package that invites introspection and thought as well as smiles.

A positive view of families and all of their differences, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Book of Sleep

A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

The simple prose of this night-time picture book is made magnificent by its illustrations.  Owl is awake alone all night and watches all sorts of beasts sleep through the darkness.  Every creature sleeps differently even though they are all asleep at night.  Then when dawn comes, everyone else wakes up while owl falls asleep. 

According to the blurb in the book, the illustrations are a combination of handmade painterly textures with digitally generated layers compiled in Adobe Photoshop.  The result is complex and lovely.  The illustrations are filled with repeating motifs, patterns used as shadows, grass and skies.  They are large and while not bright-colored, they will project well for use with a group of children. 

Inspiring art in a simple picture book, this book is perfect bedtime reading for toddlers where the adults will enjoy lingering on each page just as much as the child.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

The Yellow Tutu by Kirsten Bramsen, illustrated by Carin Bramsen

For her birthday, Margo got a bright yellow tutu.  First she wore it around her waist and danced a bit, but then she had a brilliant idea and put it on her head instead!  Since it was a school day, she headed off to school with the tutu still on.  She looked like the sun, making flowers grow bigger, grass grow longer.  And she imagined what the others at school would say when they saw her, certain that they would be amazed and impressed.  But no.  Instead the other kids laughed, teased, and tried to tug it off!  In the end, Margo found another girl who was happy to put a pink tutu on and be flowers together.

This sister team has created a book that really speaks to imagination and individuality.  Margo is a sparkling character with bright eyes, great ideas, and lots of spunk.  Kirsten has written a book that nicely explains the imaginative process and what Margo is thinking.  Carin’s illustrations are soft-edged but not too sweet.  The dancing theme because of the tutu is secondary to the book, instead it is really about finding a new and innovative use for an item and also finding a friend.

Perfect for any imaginative child who views his or her world through a slightly different lens.   Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed at PlanetEsme.

In Our Mothers’ House

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

A joyous look at a family with two mothers and children of all different colors, this book is filled with laughter and love.  Children who live in all sorts of families will find themselves at home here as we learn about favorite sun-filled rooms, the surprise of puppies, building a treehouse, and a colorful blockparty.  The book basks in normalcy, family and everyday moments that mean so much to children.  There is a moment when a neighbor expresses her fear about their lifestyle, but that incident too is handled with a gentleness and grace that marks this entire picture book.  As the children grow into adulthood, we get to see the wonderful job of parenting come to fruition.  Most picture books would not need this button at the end, but in this case, it was important to underline this. 

Polacco has created a complete vision of a family here.  Readers get to see them be together for important events and everyday moments.  Her writing invites us into their lives, demonstrates their love for each other and their children, and leaves us hoping that we as parents can do this well.  Children of gay and lesbian parents will find this book a wonderful mirror of their lives, celebrating what two parents of any sex can create in a family.  Polacco’s art enhances the story, underlining the warmth and love that is inherent in the book.

An important book to have in public libraries, this is a real celebration of families and the many forms they come in.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Hush, Baby Ghostling by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre.

It’s morning, so it’s time for Baby Ghostling to head to bed in their castle tower.  Mother ghost tucks him in and urges him to think about monsters, owls, bats, and more.  She leaves the darkness on in the hall, because he is scared of the light.  And finally, she reassures him that the blonde boy he sees in his dreams is not there because “childlings” are make-believe. 

This is a clever twist on the bedtime story.  I especially like the part about leaving the darkness on in the hall.  Beatty’s text is rhyming and has a nice lilting rhythm.  It is a lullaby of a book where the rhymes work well.  Lemaitre’s illustrations nicely combine a softness of background and light with characters drawn in thick lines.  The parts about the different monsters, bats and owls are illustrated with a variety of beasts, but they appear playing in playgrounds, blowing bubbles, and doing other silly, everyday things.

This is perfect for a Halloween story time with smaller children because it isn’t scary at all.  In fact, children will enjoy being seen as the frightening ones.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed by Anastasia Suen.

The Treasure Bath

The Treasure Bath by Dan Andreasen

This jolly wordless picture book has a toddler who is busily helping his mother bake a cake.  All messy after the cake goes in the oven, he is put in the bath.  His facial expression makes it clear that he is not happy to be headed there.  But once he is in the bath with his boat, his imagination goes to work and he is surrounded by colorful fish who join him in swimming down deep into the sea to find a treasure map.  They follow the map to the treasure chest which is filled with soap and shampoo.  From there he is grabbed by an eel and scrubbed by an octopus as a whale rinses him off with his spout.  The little boy complains to the fish about how he was treated, then he returns to reality in the bath with his hair neatly combed and his mother waiting to get him out.  And what is waiting when he gets out of the bath?  Cake! 

The joyful and jolly spirit of this book is what captured me immediately.  Yes, the little boy is grumpy when being put into the bath, but then the magic begins.  The scenes underwater are just as crisp and clear as those in reality.  The lines between the two are seamless, letting the book really feel like a vivid daydream.  Andreasen’s art is done in oil on bristol board and has a nice depth, great colors, and a perfect dappled effect in the underwater scenes. 

A sudsy, jolly book that is perfect for toddlers who may not enjoy baths and for those who do too.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from book received from publisher.

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock

Sangoel’s father died in the war in Sudan and now he and his mother and sister are refugees headed for America.  Sangoel has little more than his name to take with him.  The family is put in a small apartment, dressed in donated clothing, and Sangoel starts school.  But no one ever says his name right.  They all say San-go-el and Sangoel worries that he has lost his name entirely.  That’s when Sangoel has a great idea and creates a t-shirt that uses symbols to tell them how to pronounce his name: a sun and a goal.  The children understand immediately and all of them start to create their own symbols for their names. 

This book concisely and concretely tells the story of a young refugee.  Though his life circumstances may seem distant and unique, readers will immediately relate to having their name pronounced incorrectly and the frustration and dilemma that it causes.  Williams and Mohammed have written just the right situation here to make Sangoel relatable and his circumstances universal.  They also explore the dizzying changes a refugee faces from not knowing how to cross the road to dealing with new appliances.  Stock’s illustrations are paintings that are colorful and realistic.  They work well with the story, as Sangoel and his family struggle to understand the new land they are in.

This is not an ideal story time book, rather it is best for longer discussions, building understanding, and learning about the world.  This would be well-used as a featured book in a unit or in a setting that allows discussion.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from book received from publisher.

Wicked the Movie

No, not that Wicked.

This Wicked is the series of YA books written by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie.  There are five books in the series so the obvious hope is that this will become a successful movie franchise like Twilight has. 

Dreamworks has acquired the rights to the books.

Thanks to FirstShowing for the news.

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Johanna Wright

Clover is a sensible girl who isn’t bothered by being a housekeeper for a witch.  In fact, now Clover doesn’t have to tidy up after her many younger siblings at home and can have a bedroom all her own.  Tidying the witch’s cottage, cooking, cleaning and running errands is all very normal and domestic, but it can’t be that simple when magic is involved.  Clover meets Wilf, an exceedingly clumsy boy, who always seems to be in the middle of some sort of trouble.  But it takes a magic potion, a wicked witch, an invisible flying horse, and a lot more to really cause mischief and strife!

This book is funny and fast-paced.  The pace is a romp through a surprises, cunning plans, and twists.  Urmansky has written a book filled with magic that is not sentimental at all and happily pokes fun at the entire genre.  Clover is a wonderful and unexpected heroine in all of her quiet and clean glory.  Wilf is a great foil for her as he pratfalls around the book, causing confusion wherever he goes.  This book is not subtle.  It is vaudeville comedy wrapped in fairy tale paper. 

This would make a grand read-aloud for a 2nd or 3rd grade classroom where the broad comedy will play extremely well.  Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

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