Category: Picture Books

Review: Over the River and Through the Wood by Linda Ashman


Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)

This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.

I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!

The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.

A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.


Review: Goodnight, Good Dog by Mary Lyn Ray

Goodnight Good Dog by Mary Lyn Ray

Goodnight, Good Dog by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Rebecca Malone (InfoSoup)

The little dog knows when people are heading to bed. The light clicks off, quiet night noises start, and the moon comes up. But even though he has a wonderful warm bed, the little dog is not sleepy. He remembers his day filled with playing outside in the sun, running on the grass, and eating. He’s still not sleepy though, so he explores the house with the sleeping people. He climbs into his round bed, still not sleepy. Well, perhaps a little. And before he realizes it, he has slept all night and it is day again with plenty of time to play and eat once more.

This book is magnificent. It is simple yes but also offers a lot of depth. The writing is very special, using symbolism in a way that is appropriate for very small children. Ray beautifully ties together the quiet round of the moon with the warm round of the puppy’s bed with the hot round of the sun during the day. Yet this is not a concept book, it is a book about the magic of night and the lure of bedtime even if you are not sleepy. It is a book that explores words and emotions, that is dreamy and quiet and lovely.

The illustrations by Malone are done in acrylic. They are big and bold, the objects clearly outlined in black and just asking to be pointed to by small fingers and talked about. The little dog is enchanting, his head tipped to the side thinking or listening. He is childlike in his unwillingness to sleep and in his daydream of the day. The book is warm, quiet and cozy.

A delight of a dog story, this bedtime book has a quiet charm that is very special. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (InfoSoup)

Told by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, this is the true story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the Pooh. The book takes the format of a mother telling a bedtime story to her young son. It is the story of his great-great-grandfather, after whom he was named. Harry was a veterinarian sent from his home in Winnipeg to care for the soldier’s horses in World War I. On the train in Canada, he saw a little bear cub at a station and purchased the bear, even though he was headed into war. Winnie soon charmed all of the soldiers and got her own post to climb in the tent city. Winnie stayed with Harry when they were posted in England, but he had to make a difficult decision and put her in The London Zoo when he was headed to the war zone. It was at The London Zoo that a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie and inspired his father to write the beloved stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Lindsay Mattick has shared the story of her great-grandfather in different formats through the years, including a radio documentary and an exhibition. In this very personal story, she shows real pride in the great heart that her grandfather showed by seeing something special in a small bear cub. It is clear that it is his dedication and care for Winnie that helped her become the loving and approachable bear that could inspire a series of stories. Mattick’s writing contains just the right amount of detail to keep children fascinated.

Blackall is an incredible illustrator and here she shows a beautiful touch for recreating historical scenes. From the expanse of Canada to the big city of London, she offers just enough visual detail to anchor the scenes in those distinct places. She also shows again and again the bond between Harry and Winnie, from sleeping together to sharing food. The historical photos at the end of the book add to the story, letting readers see the real Winnie.

A wonderful read, this book is an inspiring look at what small choices in our lives can lead to if we only follow our hearts. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! by Aaron Blecha

Goodnight Grizzle Grump by Aaron Blecha

Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! by Aaron Blecha

Grizzle Grump is a huge bear who is ready to hibernate for the winter, but he has to find the right quiet place to do that. He’s so big that even his yawns can blow the other animals around. He tries to sleep in the trees first, going through an elaborate ritual of scratches, wiggles and flopping. Then he is asleep and snoring until the noises of the woodpeckers wake him up. He heads off to find another spot. But when he sleeps near the stream, the beavers are too loud. The gloomy swamp seems like a good choice until the frogs start to croak. He finally finds a snowy cave, far from everyone else. Then it is his turn to make huge snoring noises that drive everyone else away.

Blecha has created a great book to share aloud with a group. The humor is flawlessly presented in a way that makes it effortless to share. The ritual that Grizzle Grump goes through each time will have children giggling and is also something that you can get the audience to participate in. Inventive story time librarians will have children help make the noises of the woods and swamp with hands and feet.

The illustrations add to the humor from the bucktoothed squirrel who watches it all to the frenzied reaction of the bear every time he is woken once again. The wild energy of the story line is reflected in the illustrations with the noises themselves part of the art. Even the proportions of the huge bear and his little blanket and pillow add to the humor.

A glorious read aloud for autumn months or any bedtime, this picture book is a silly and cheery delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: The Turnip by Jan Brett

The Turnip by Jan Brett

The Turnip by Jan Brett (InfoSoup)

Badger girl was weeding the garden when she noticed something odd. It was a huge turnip! She tried to pull it out, but it would not budge. Soon their whole family of badgers were trying to pull the turnip out with no success. Hedgie tried to use his prickles to get it out, Mr. Ram tried using his horns, and Vanya the horse hitched up and pulled too. Nothing worked. Then Rooster strutted up and insisted that he try all by himself. Meanwhile, down in the cave below a family of bears had also discovered the turnip and pushed hard to get it out of their bedroom. The turnip sailed into the air with a triumphant Rooster flying along too. Then it was turnip pancakes for everyone!

Brett excels at retelling folktales, enlivening them with her animal characters. This is a traditional cumulative tale that sticks very close to the original. The family of bears living under the turnip is a great addition that allows strutting Rooster to claim victory over the stubborn turnip. The pacing of the tale works well, each new attempt has a longer and longer line of animals trying to help and also dreaming of what delicious things could be made out of the turnip.

As always, Brett’s illustrations are filled with fine details. She again uses her framing on each double-page spread, showing the next animal to arrive before they come in. Readers will notice the bear family on these panels too, a subtle introduction prior to them taking center stage. The illustrations show that this is Russia where the badgers and bears live. They wear traditional Russian clothing and the frames on the illustrations show a similar influence.

Another winner from Brett, this picture book will make a crowd pleaser of a read aloud, but with Brett’s detailed illustrations it’s also a winner of a lap read. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder

How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder

How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Thomas made a pillow cave on a cold day. But when he went to get a flashlight to read by, he noticed that something big had taken over the cave. Something with two brown eyes looked back at him when he looked inside. It was a bear! To get the bear out of his cave, Thomas laid a trail of blueberries down the stairs and sure enough, the bear followed eating them up. Thomas ran to get books to read in his cave, but he was too late and the bear had already returned. He tricked the bear with a back-scratching stick and then got inside the cave, but stray bear fuzz had him sneezing and running for a tissue. In the meantime, the bear returned. Thomas tricked the bear again and again into leaving the cave, but when the bear returned finally and Thomas was already in the cave, something happened. The bear started to cry, revealing himself to be Thomas’ younger brother. There was only one thing to do!

Pinder has created a book sparkling with creativity. His young protagonist who is battling the invasive brother bear comes up with clever ways again and again to trick the bear into leaving the cave. Pinder keeps each of the tricks appropriate for both a bear and a little boy, keeping the audience entirely fooled until his reveal. I was completely convinced of this being a little bear and expected the book to end with a teddy bear of some kind. It was a delight to discover a different twist that speaks to how to be a good older sibling.

The illustrations from Graegin are key to keeping the audience convinced of the bear being real. She subtle makes sure that the face is not shown until that moment of reveal. The book glows with a yellow warmth that invites curling up under a blanket or in your own pillow cave to read it.

A great pick for bear story times, this picture book shows how hard sharing can be. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Review: North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (InfoSoup)

A girl tells about her grandmother who is not like other grandmas. She dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts and she’s bony. She doesn’t bake cookies or pies, but she does take long walks out in nature. With her trusty walking stick, the two of them explore the little paths near Grandma’s house. Every season there are new things to see, things in the garden to do. The two love winter best of all, especially winter nights with a full moon when they explore the snowy woods. Grandma may not be like other grandma’s but she’s pretty special and a north woods girl to the quick.

Bissonette captures the spirit of a north woods woman beautifully in her picture book. From the no-fuss long grey braid, the flannel shirts, the stout boots to the way that nature speaks to her and that she knows it so well. This book is a celebration of the north woods too, the ways that the woods changes in different seasons, the animals that fill it, and the glory of a winter woods.

McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations have a rustic beauty. The colors are deep and lovely, and they capture the spirit of the woods. In fact, there are moments when you can almost smell the pines and the grass. There is a subtle multiculturalism here too with the little girl’s darker skin tone and curly hair. The pages are crowded with details of the woods, filled with animals and insects.

A lovely look at the northern woods, this picture book celebrates unique grandmothers living in a unique place. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Minnesota Historical Society Press.